Tag Archives: Sonya Dunham

OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

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BECKY AND HARRY BRING WARMTH AND LIGHT: REBECCA KILGORE with HARRY ALLEN, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, KEVIN KANNER at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (March 7, 2013)

Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.

True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City.  It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone.  But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.

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Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)

Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations.  Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits.  Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.

This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us.  Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable.  Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening.  I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.

Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance.  For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN.  Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.

And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure.  Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself.  As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know.  And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades.  Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it?  She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”

Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too.  Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner.  But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too.  Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms.  And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time.  The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.

Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic.  One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man.  The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.

Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows.  Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it.  Details  here.

May your happiness increase.

FINE TIMES at FEINSTEIN’S with HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS (Oct. 3, 2011)

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095). 

The Beloved and I went there for the festivities of October 3, 2011, for what was whimsically but accurately called a Cavalcade of Singers.  The singers?  Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, and Lynn Roberts — backed by Harry Allen (tenor sax); Mike Renzi (piano); Joel Forbes (bass); Chuck Riggs (drums), and guest star Dan Barrett (trombone). 

Feinstein’s at the Regency is a very warm place — we got a friendly greeting and a very nice table with a good view of the stage, in a comfortably appointed, intimate room.  The atmosphere was very relaxed: a few of the musicians made their way from table to table, greeting old friends and making new ones, chatting and joking.  By the time the music started, the room was full, a very good sign — and we talked with Bill and Sonya Dunham (celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary!), Will Friedwald and friends, photographer Alan Nashigian, jazz friends Steve and Dafna, singer Melissa Hamilton, and a sweet surprise — I finally met Jeanie Wilson (whom I’ve known in cyberspace), the great good friend of Barbara Lea.

Everyone felt included, as if we had come to the most hip living room for a great yet casual evening of music.  And this warm feeling was firmly established even before I embarked on the Bloody Mary I had ordered, of a size and depth to require the Coast Guard.  The well-chosen soundtrack / background music was authentic Swing Era hits, entirely in keeping with the music we had come to hear, sweet and propulsive both. 

The instrumental quintet — Harry and Dan in the front line — began with a chipper PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, perhaps a nod to the weather that night, then moved to a sweet EMBRACEABLE YOU, where Dan showed off his Tommy Dorsey blue-steel control in the upper register, a rocking BEAN AND THE BOYS that featured some heartening cymbal playing from Chuck, a solo feature for Dan on a plunger-muted THE GLORY OF LOVE.  They ended the set with a deep-down version of Harry Edison’s blues, CENTERPIECE, which Dan introduced with the appropriate suggestion, “Turn out all the lights.”  Harry Allen usually looks serious, unflappable (unless he’s laughing or has his tennis racket), but he was rocking from side to side while the rhythm section was playing, and his solos soared throughout the set.

The Cavalcade of Singers began with our Becky: a cheerful PICK YOURSELF UP (“Good words to live by”), I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO that moved from a pensive start to deep improvising in the second chorus, with Harry purring obbligati behind her.  Nicki Parrott joined Becky for a duet on BETTER THAN ANYTHING, and took off on her own sultry BESAME MUCHO and an unusual WHERE OR WHEN — taken at a fast tempo with the verse.  Lynn Roberts (whose experience dates back to Tommy Dorsey in the Fifties but looks perky) joked with the audience before singing in her trumpetlike way THE LADY IS A TRAMP and a forceful AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  At the end of the set, the three women of song stood side by side and floated a deft S’WONDERFUL over Mike Renzi’s powerful chording, Joel’s splendidly deep bass, and Chuck’s floating hi-hat.

After a break, the band assembled for a vigorous LADY BE GOOD — Dan and Harry playing Lester Young’s 1936 solo in unison, before Lynn offered I’M CONFESSIN’ and a medley of Sinatra’s “saloon songs.”  Nicki created a sweet HEY THERE in honor of Rosemary Clooney, and then moved from the wistful to the straight-ahead with THE MORE I SEE YOU.  Becky returned for a sweet OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY in honor of the Dunhams’ anniversary (her singing provoking the Beloved to turn to me and say, “She has an understated elegance,” which is entirely true) and — in amusing contrast — an energetic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  The three singers assembled for a proper finger-snapping rendition of FEVER, for which they received great applause. 

When we went out into the night, we had been cheered, amused, elated, and warmed.  Great music, good value, and fine times at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

And for the future — the first Monday in November will be Harry’s Brazilian evening, and the December show will be John Sheridan’s Christmas extravaganza, with reindeer and drummer boys in residence elsewhere . . . not to be missed!  Visit http://feinsteinsattheregency.com/. for all the useful details.

A JAZZ BOUQUET: DAN BARRETT and ANDY SCHUMM at THE EAR INN (Oct. 24, 2010)

Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, I began to fidget — perhaps two hours before The EarRegulars were scheduled to start playing at The Ear Inn.  The Beloved said to me, kindly, “What are you so anxious about?  We’ll be there in plenty of time,” which was of course true.  (She knows such things.) 

I replied, “You’re right, but I’ve been waiting two months for this evening,” which was no less true.

Why?  Let’s call the roll:

Andy Schumm, cornet (sitting in for a traveling Jon-Erik Kellso); Dan Barrett, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax.

And I didn’t even know that there were going to be august guests, that Vince Giordano would sit in on tenor guitar, that Dan Block and John Otto would bring their clarinets, that I would get to hear saxophonist Ned Goold, and that I would meet the thoroughly captivating singer Jerron Paxton. 

Had I known all this in advance, I might have camped out at the bar of The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) a day in advance. 

But we got there in time, I situated myself in proper video range (near pals Jim and Grace Balantic, Rob Rothberg, Bill and Sonya Dunham, and Lucy Weinman), and here’s what happened.  I’m thrilled by what I witnessed and recorded: a dozen beauties, a jazz bouquet.  (And I wasn’t the only one feeling blissful: look at the expressions on the faces of the musicians!)

The EarRegulars began with a bouncy CHINA BOY — recalling not just Bix and Whiteman, but also Bechet-Spanier and the Condon gang:

A rousing opener usually is followed by something in a medium-tempo, but not for these fellows: someone suggested the lovely, sad/hopeful Irving Berlin song WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which evokes Bing and Fats as well as Bix (or Secrest, you choose):

Dan Barrett called for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (or, as Cutty Cutshall used to say, MAHONEY’S); he and Andy knew the verse and leaped in, and then Dan vocalized — splendidly and wittily:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL could have been the title of this posting and an apt summation of the whole night:

A sweetly pensive SLEEPY TIME GAL (in a Red Nichols IDA mood) was next, with Scott singing out on his bass saxophone:

Clarinetist John Otto joined in, and Vince Giordano added his own special pulse to the rhythm section. Dan Barrett suggested one of his favorite jam tunes, the early-Thirties number, its title a wistful plaint, its tempo more optimistic, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

WEARY BLUES is always too joyous to live up to its name, and this version was a honey — with Scott picking up his flea-market trumpet, then (to my delight and astonishment) Dan putting his own mouthpiece on it and swinging out!

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME demands a chase chorus in honor of Bix and Tram– Dan Block had joined the EarRegulars and the three horns conversed diligently and sagely on this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic:

Then something even more remarkable (and cinematic) happened.  A substantial young man, handsome and casually imposing — he would have been all these things even if he hadn’t been wearing down-home overalls — was asked by Matt Munisteri to sing.  (Thank you, Matt!) 

I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” is thought of as a wounded dirge, although the Condonites tried to turn it into a romp on their BIXIELAND album.  People who know the original recording well start cringing well in advance of Wesley Vaughan’s sweetly effete “vocal.” 

When the young man started to sing, I nearly fell off my barstool.  Although his strong musical personality was evident from the first phrase, he put himself at the service of the song, with an unaffected but deeply moving style that comes from his shoes on up.  His name is Jerron Paxton; he later told me he was “half blind,” and his business card reads MUSICIANER.  Hear for yourself; he’s astounding!  (The serious bespectacled man sitting behind Jerron is photographer John Rogers, a jazz devotee of the finest kind):

Then saxophonist Ned Goold joined the band, to great effect — soloing in a deliciously individualistic way and placing himself perfectly in the band riffs.  Jerron sat out MARGIE, which swung delightfully: Bix and Tram and Lester and Jo would have been happy with this version.  Scott quoted HANDFUL OF KEYS; Dan Barrett became Tricky Dan Nanton; Andy and Matt duetted (!), and Scott picked up his trumpet once again:

I was hoping that Jerron would be asked to sing again (not being able to believe my ears) and Matt must have read my mind, for he invited Jerron for BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU — which melded swing and melancholy.  Dan Barrett’s muted sound is a joy, and Scott just sang on his bass saxophone:

Even in Soho, everyone has to go home sometime, and things ended with JAZZ ME BLUES: 

Driving home, I felt thoroughly jazzed, completely elated.  Although many times the recordings one makes at the gig (audio or video) seem diminished, pallid in the unforgiving light of day, these continue to amaze.

And the young man from Wisconsin?  He doesn’t need me to trumpet his glories: music speaks louder than words, most beautifully, in Andy’s case.

Jim Balantic, seated next to me, leaned over and whispered, “This is the greatest night of my life.”  I don’t know if that statement would stand up under hypnosis or truth serum, but I certainly know how he felt. 

In case you’re new here, singular versions of this musical magic take place every Sunday night from 8-11 at The Ear Inn.  This evening was extraordinary but not in the least atypical!

AWFUL SAD . . .

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I didn’t have to go to graduate school to learn that things come to an end, including the summer, the bag of potato chips, and the cup of Earl Grey tea.  Of course we know that change may be the only constant.  But I was saddened to find that Jon-Erik Kellso’s Sunday gig at Sweet Rhythm is no more.

The reasons surely weren’t musical, and the audience had grown exponentially from the first Sunday to the fourth, which was November 16.  No, the gig ended for economic reasons, understandable but sorrowful nonetheless.  I envision this blog as a place to celebrate, so I will not embark on dark ruminations.

What I prefer to do here is thank the musicians who played so beautifully: Jon-Erik, Chuck Wilson, Will Anderson, Peter Reardon-Anderson, John Allred, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Kelly Friesen, Andrew Swann, and a host of gifted sitters-in including Lisa Hearns and Adrian Cunningham.  And the Friends of Jazz who filled the room: the Beloved, of course; Jackie, Lala, and Nina Favara; Bill and Sonya Dunham; Dick Dreiwitz; Jim and Grace Balantic; Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And thanks to the people I didn’t get to meet who grinned and clapped and were moved along with us.

The music lives on in our memories and on YouTube.  You can visit my “swingyoucats” account and Jim’s “recquilt” for clips on this band in action.  But even the best live video isn’t the same thing.

AWFUL SAD, to quote Ellington.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.