Tag Archives: song

BEAUTY AS AN ANSWER TO FEAR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW, CONTINUED (12.8.19)

Even the most obliviously optimistic among us have to admit that we live in dark times, however one defines that phrase.  I don’t know if there are sure-fire ways of making fear vanish permanently, but I do know that being able to focus on light and beauty is at least a temporary cure.  And the lovely thing about recorded music is that one can return to it over and over.  Side effects may include a brightening of one’s psychic vistas.  Go ahead, operate heavy machinery.

In that spirit, here is another installment of the magic that Barbara Rosene and Jon Davis created on December 8, 2019, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street.  I first encountered Barbara fifteen years ago when her repertoire often seemed to delve into the perky,  the sassy, the naughty.

As we all have changed, her approach has deepened: she sings of the eternal truths: not just of a desirable man who is six feel of tangible goodness, but of the courage it takes to fall in love and risk failure; the hopes one has for the future; immersions in feeling no matter what the odds.  She is braver and wiser, and although I was immediately struck by the beauty of her voice when I first heard her, it is immensely more beautiful now.

You can marvel at it  yourself in these four performances.  They won’t make the news go away, but they will give you space to have lovely clear thoughts of the best acts we are capable of as loving beings, brave enough to live tenderly.

FOOLS RUSH IN:

IT HAD TO BE YOU:

TIME AFTER TIME:

ON A CLEAR DAY:

In this brand-new era of Social Distancing, Barbara is its very opposite.  Even if she sang six to eight feet away from you, you would feel her warmth and her deep understanding of lyrics and melody.  And there is no Distance between her, the songs, and our hearts.

May your happiness increase!  

ARE YOU LOST?: CRAIG VENTRESCO and JOANNA STERNBERG TEACH THE LESSON (July 26, 2015)

NY map

I’ve known Deacon Craig Ventresco for more than a decade now, and learned a great deal from his moral teachings at Bar Tabac, the Cajun, and other pulpits on both coasts.

CRAIG

But I’d never heard him deliver such a serious sermon on the dangers of being destabilized in the cosmos as I did on Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street (that’s the Lower East Side of New York City).  In his stern peroration, he was supported nobly by another great teacher, Joanna Sternberg (to be precise, Craig plays guitar and sings; Joanna accompanies him on the string bass).  In their efforts to uplift the community, they are assisted by members of the congregation Tamar Korn and Meredith Axelrod.  Heed the words of Deacon Ventresco.  Take them to heart:

The song was a 1908 hit for Bert Williams, composed by Chris Smith and Cecil Mack:

RIGHT CHURCH BUT THE WRONG PEW 1908Given the ubiquity of the GPS and the smartphone, to say nothing of those antiquities, paper maps . . . don’t let this happen to you.  And — if a less serious moral statement of mine may be permitted — I think Craig should sing more often. He has noble stories to impart to us.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE, NOT DEATH. SONG, NOT HATE.

I feel immersed in the grief created by the 21-year old white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African-Americans in the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after sitting with them for an hour at a prayer meeting.  I will not show his picture or a picture of his gun.

In this immense sadness, I wonder, “Why does it seem so difficult for people to act lovingly to one another?  So many people have every advantage, every materialistic reward, the most sophisticated technology, but they still are ruled by hatred and fear of those they should recognize as brothers and sisters.”

As an antidote to hatred, I offer beauty in the shape of song.  Music is love floating through the air, an aural embrace aimed right at us. I do not mean the lyrics of these songs to be particularly relevant to our grief, but I remember the sensation of everyone — musicians and audience — connected by love and hope, optimism and joy.  It is the way we should be.

AZALEA, by Duke Ellington, performed by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Mezzrow on May 18, 2015:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Terry Blaine and Mark Shane at the Croton Free Library on May 8, 2015:

I know the four musicians in these videos would not object to my offering their performances in the name of healing.

May music — embodied love — help cleanse our hearts of anger, insecurity, and rage.  Please notice I do not say “Dylann Roof’s heart,” but our hearts.

And if any of my readers find my politics deplorable, I encourage them to unsubscribe from JAZZ LIVES: there’s a place at the bottom of the post to do this.  I won’t post inappropriate comments.

If the music and the sentiments move you, please share them.

Let the air be filled with something not stifled tears.

May our griefs grow lighter.  May we remember how to love.

A SONG FOR THE SEASON: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

At the end  of their gorgeous Rodgers and Hart mini-concert at Mezzrow on March 17, 2015, Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie, those rebels, decided to “go rogue,” and do a song outside the R&H canon.  Luckily for us, their choice was the lovely THEY SAY IT’S SPRING, by Bob Haymes and Marty Clarke, made famous by the ethereal Blossom Dearie.

The snow in New York seems at last to have melted. Warmer weather makes everyone a little more amorous.  Being able to put one’s snow shovel and heavy boots away is positively erotic.  One thinks of lighter clothing with eagerness, and the possibility of being warm in the breeze . . . I’ll stop before I levitate.

The song is just right for the times, and it’s such a lovely performance too:

It’s a performance I want to hear over and over, which for me is the only real endorsement: art that doesn’t grow stale or give up all its secrets at once.

If you’ve missed the two songs I’ve posted from their Rodgers and Hart portion, here and here they are.  I will have more from Hilary and Ehud and Larry and Dick for you in future.

May your happiness increase!

ASKING THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION IN SONG

I am not suffering from romantic despair, so I don’t know what drew me to revisit this performance (recorded slightly more than two years ago) but I find it so delicate yet powerful that I want to draw your attention to it.

It is a performance of a melancholy Irving Berlin classic by the singer Abigail Riccards and the pianist Michael Kanan — recorded at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York, on October 6, 2013.  Abigail’s charades at the start made me giggle then and still do . . . but the mood turns quiet and serious quickly.

I think of this performance as a triumph of that indefinable quality called “phrasing” — how do musicians pace the notes and the words so that the message is clear without over-emphasis, keeping the melodic and rhythmic momentum going so that the song does not come to a stop?

And “phrasing” is always in tandem with other indefinables — “dynamics,” “interpretation,” “emotion.”  This performance could have become a dirge.  It could have become a protest, a near-shout of despair, of rage.  But here it is a translucent poem.

I do not know how Abigail and Michael do what they do, singly and as a team, but it moves me beyond words.  I blink back tears because of the quiet irrevocable gravity they create, yet I want to cheer because they remind me that such beauty is still possible in this world that sometimes seems to find beauty incomprehensible or irritating:

It was an honor to be there, a privilege to record this, and a deep experience to see and hear it again. And I would point you here to learn more about Abigail and Michael and her most recent CD, a trumph.

May your happiness increase!

A LOVE-DRAMA IN THREE ACTS, CREATED AND PERFORMED BY WESLA WHITFIELD and MIKE GREENSILL (Sept. 20, 2013)

I am now honored to present a love-drama in three acts — three moving musical performances by the irreplaceable duet of Wesla Whitfield (song, voice) and Mike Greensill (song, piano) — recorded on September 20, 2013, at Jazz at Chautauqua — now renamed the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Here, Wesla and Mike move through three moods of Amour:

Sweet wistful yearning for the Ideal.  

Erotic transports, enacted and imagined.  

The sadness when the relationship has faded.

Their script is musical and lyrical, sweetly intense no matter what the emotions depicted, with not a note out of place or a gesture too broad. Three dear dramas, knit together subtly yet powerfully.

They do this by reinventing three beloved songs: one, a pop hit from the 1946; a two, 1922 Youmans / Caesar song so venerable that it gets taken for granted; three, the mournful Bernstein / Comden / Green classic from ON THE TOWN:

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE:

TEA FOR TWO:

SOME OTHER TIME:

Whitfield and Greensill, master musicians, subtle dramatists, wise psychologists. There’s no one like them.

May your happiness increase!

“DON’T LET A GOOD THING GET AWAY”: MAUD HIXSON COMES TO NEW YORK (September 4, 2103)

MAUD cover

I know that the delightful singer Maud Hixson is not a thing, but I trust that my Corrections Officers might still be on holiday.  The title makes sense, though, because it is one of the charming songs Maud has recorded on her new CD — the title performance — a collection of songs by Michael Leonard. Here is what I wrote about that disc when it first appeared.

Maud is coming to New York City to sing those songs, and I am looking forward to a series of great pleasures.  “One night only!” as the ads used to say.  And you can tell she has great taste — not only in the songs she’s chosen, but the musicians who will be accompanying her: Warren Vache, Tex Arnold, Gene Bertoncini, and Steve LaSpina.  Come join me!

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Don’t let Maud Hixson get away . . . at least not before you’ve heard her in person.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: TAMAR KORN and MEREDITH AXELROD at CAFE ATLAS, AUGUST 10, 2013

One of my favorite stories, not just in jazz, comes from Jess Stacy’s oral history — a book I’ve commended on this blog.  He is lost and unhappy.  He is sitting on the edge of his bed, weighing his miseries yet vowing that he will not drink himself to death.  Eventually, Stacy tires of the introspection and hauls himself upright, telling himself, “Come on, Stacy!  Time to make some new memories!”  And he does.

The story bubbled back to me because of the performance I will share with you.  In it, two young women, one with a guitar, sing and offer deep feelings in a San Francisco eatery on August 10, 2013.

The women?

Eloquently deep-voiced Meredith Axelrod, who also plays guitar in a charming early-twentieth-century manner: she is a strolling troubadour who doesn’t need to roam boulevards.  And Tamar Korn, mistress of soulful explorations.

The song?  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s MEMORIES OF YOU.

Thank you so, Meredith and Tamar, Eubie and Noble, for a new memory I will not forget. My “rosary of tears” while listening and watching comes from joy and admiration.  Music should always come to us with such sweet, grave power.

May your happiness increase!

RESTORING THE REPERTOIRE

In the old days — define them as you will — it seemed as if everyone knew, and played, a thousand songs.  Some of that knowlesge had to do with the demands of the marketplace: members of Goodman’s or Ellington’s or Basie’s bands had to learn and play new pop hits (CALL OF THE CANYON, I KEEP REMEMBERING, POP-CORN MAN) — some ephemeral, some of them lasting.

Today it seems as if jazz musicians and singers still have a common language, but their shared vocabulary continues to shrink.  Often I hear a musician suggest a song that would have been well-known a few decades back — STAIRWAY TO THE STARS — and what would have been a delicious performance never happens because the other members of the group, ad-hoc or otherwise, don’t know the song.

SM7122_Sheet_Music_Stand-c3cc066e4bff44275698c333c0ae02b1

Enough already with SOME OF THESE DAYS and ST. LOUIS BLUES; give SATIN DOLL and EVERYDAY I HAVE THE BLUES a rest; could we move beyond EXACTLY LIKE YOU and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO? WHEN YOU’RE SMILING and PENNIES FROM HEAVEN are wonderful, memorable pieces of music . . . but they aren’t the only ones.

I am very fond of songs — all kinds of them, but particularly the pop songs of the period between the two World Wars — and their passing into obscurity makes me glum.

I am not proposing that we celebrate every pop hit or every forgettable song made memorable by a brilliant performance: my list below lacks I MISS MY SWISS and TAKE ME BACK TO MY BOOTS AND SADDLE.

But there are many many songs that never get performed — and they have lovely melodies and fitting, often deep lyrics — and are in danger of being entirely forgotten.

So what follows is purely an exercise in hopeful self-indulgence: a list of songs I think might make both listeners and musicians happy if they were to be learned and performed.  JAZZ LIVES readers are free to suggest additions to this list, and encouraged to do so.  I have put these song titles in alphabetical order to avoid any suggestion of ranking by merit.

And I mean no offense to some of my friends who perform a few of the songs on this list — I am not suggesting that their performances are obscure or forgettable.  Quite the reverse: I dream of a world where everyone knows the lyrics and melody and chord changes to these beautiful songs.  If my list seems heavily based in 1929-35 romanticism, it doesn’t bother me.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

ACCENT ON YOUTH

AFTER AWHILE

A HANDFUL OF STARS

ALL MY LIFE

APRIL IN MY HEART

BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART

BEAUTIFUL LOVE

BLACK BUTTERFLY

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH

BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS

BYE BYE BABY

BY THE FIRESIDE

CHARMAINE

CHASING SHADOWS

CHLOE

CONCENTRATIN’ (On You)

A COTTAGE FOR SALE

DEEP NIGHT

DEEP PURPLE

DIANE

DID YOU MEAN IT?

DON’T BE THAT WAY

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM

EVENIN’

EV’RY NOW AND THEN

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE

FIT AS A FIDDLE

FORTY-SECOND STREET

FOR ALL WE KNOW

GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY

GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL

GUILTY

HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN SO SOON?

HE’S THE LAST WORD

HERE IN MY ARMS

HOME

HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT

HOW ABOUT ME?

HOW ABOUT YOU

HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY

I APOLOGIZE

I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?

I CAN’T GET STARTED

I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS

IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS

IF I HAD MY WAY

IF IT AIN’T LOVE

I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN

I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY

I’LL CLOSE MY EYES

I’LL FOLLOW YOU

I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN

I’LL STRING ALONG WITH YOU

I’M A DREAMER (Aren’t We All?)

I MARRIED AN ANGEL

I’M FALLING IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE

IMAGINATION

I’M IN THE MARKET FOR YOU

I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY

I’M NOBODY’S BABY

I’M OLD-FASHIONED

I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE

INDIAN LOVE CALL

I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU

I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME

IT MUST BE TRUE

IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND

JEANNINE (I Dream of Lilac Time)

JUST FRIENDS

JUST ONE MORE CHANCE

LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS (And Go To Sleep)

LITTLE MAN, YOU’VE HAD A BUSY DAY

LOUISE

LOVE DROPPED IN FOR TEA

LOVE IN BLOOM

LOVE LETTERS

LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND

LOVE LOCKED OUT

LOVE ME TONIGHT

LOVE NEST

LULLABY OF BROADWAY

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES

MAKE BELIEVE

MAYBE YOU’LL BE THERE

ME AND THE MOON

MISS ANNABELLE LEE

MOMENTS LIKE THIS

MOONBURN

MOON SONG

MY BUDDY

MY OLD FLAME

NEVERTHELESS

NIGHT OWL

ONCE IN A WHILE (the ballad)

PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY

PENTHOUSE SERENADE

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE

PLEASE

PLEASE BE KIND

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS

PRINCE OF WAILS

PRISONER OF LOVE

P.S., I LOVE YOU

RAMONA

READY FOR THE RIVER

REMEMBER

REMEMBER ME?

RESTLESS

‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM

ROSALIE

SAY IT ISN’T SO

SAY IT WITH A KISS

SERENADE IN BLUE

SHOE SHINE BOY

SLEEPY HEAD

SLEEPY TIME GAL

SMILES

SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC

SOLITUDE

SWEET AS A SONG

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY

THAT OLD FEELING

THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN

THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION

THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE

THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU

THERE’S A CABIN IN THE PINES

THIS HEART OF MINE

TIME ON MY HANDS (with verse)

TRUE CONFESSION

UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE

WAIT TILL YOU SEE HER

WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME

WAS I TO BLAME (For Falling in Love With You)?

WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?

WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE

WHEN DAY IS DONE

WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN?

WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR

WHERE ARE YOU?

WHERE OR WHEN

WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY

WILLOW TREE

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG

WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE

WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A WALK?

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES

YOUNG AND HEALTHY

YOU’RE BLASE

YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME

YOU’RE LAUGHING AT ME

YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE

YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME

YOU STARTED SOMETHING

YOU WENT TO MY HEAD

ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART

Consider and remember the riches that are just waiting to be sung, played, hummed . . . .  And I know as soon as I press “Publish,” I will think of twenty more songs that I should have included . . . in fact, I COULD WRITE A BOOK.

May your happiness increase!

HER MAJESTY, MISS ETHEL WATERS

From the 1929 sound film extravaganza ON WITH THE SHOW, Miss Waters performs BIRMINGHAM BERTHA.  Once you’ve absorbed the feathered headdress, you can then move to the supple, amused, vehement glory of her voice, her subtly shifting delivery, her vivid eyes, her striking personality . . . what a theatrical presence she is!

Thanks to Mook Ryan for providing this film clip!  At eighty seconds, it’s far too short, but it shows that Ethel didn’t need a long time to make an indelible impression, then and now.  Close your eyes and you can also hear why every singer who heard Miss Waters was in her debt.