Tag Archives: Soprano Summit

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

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GENEROSITIES from MISTER McGOWN: “DAVEY TOUGH” on YOUTUBE

I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music.  When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post.  And I cherish most those who are open-handed.  I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.

One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown.  An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.

On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here.  It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.

Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music.  The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.

About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough”  — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that.  Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another.  How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries.  And surprises!  Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.

I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):

Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.

Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:

And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:

Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:

and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:

These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures.  I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights.  I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.

And thank you, Mister McGown.

May your happiness increase!

“STUFFY,” NOT STUFFY: HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BARRETT, HARRY ALLEN, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Sept. 11, 2015)

Guitarist Howard Alden and trombonist / cornetist Dan Barrett were Southern California buddies and musical colleagues when neither one of them had a driver’s license (they show up on record — with the esteemed Bryan Shaw) first in 1981.  But a few years later, when they were both New Yorkers, they created a quintet with an unusual instrumentation — guitar, string bass, drums, alto doubling clarinet, trombone doubling cornet — that initially had a book of arrangements including many written especially for them by Buck Clayton. In 1986, this recording was the result:

ABQ

Like many other splendid small groups of that time (Soprano Summit and the Braff-Barnes Quartet) they didn’t stay together steadily, but assembled for reunions.  One of their champions, the late Joe Boughton, always made sure that they played at his jazz parties, and I first heard them in person at Jazz at Chautauqua in 2004.  Happily, they’ve continued to appear — with a sub or two — at the Allegheny Jazz Party and they will be a highlight of the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Here are Howard and Dan with Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate (an original member), string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, having a good time with the 1945 Coleman Hawkins line, STUFFY:

I know I’ll see them at this year’s Cleveland Classic: I hope you will, too.

May your happiness increase!

A REMARKABLE MUSICAL FAMILY

Before you read a word of mine, I urge you to set aside fourteen minutes (multi-tasking discouraged) and enjoy this performance of SWEET SUE and GEORGIA CABIN by Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his grandfather Lloyd Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his brother Arnt Arntzen, guitar / vocal; James Meger, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums. Recorded at the Vancouver 2013 Jazz Band Ball by Bill Schneider.

There have been some families in jazz but it’s a fairly uncommon phenomenon; in this century I can think of the Marsalis clan, then an A B C — Au, Baker, and Caparone — and I am sure my readers will tell me of others I am unintentionally slighting.  But the Arntzen dynasty is truly impressive. (I’ve heard Evan at close range a number of times, and his talent is no fluke.)

The occasion for this celebration is my listening to two fairly recent CDs, both cheerfully swinging without tricks — and they both suggest that the Arntzens have are a musically functional family. (I’m old-fashioned enough to be in favor of families that not only don’t hate each other, but that create something supportive and lasting.)

The first CD, BLACKSTICK, offers a sweet story as well as authentic hot jazz.

BLACKSTICK

This CD is an expression of gratitude to Grandpa Lloyd Arntzen, who taught Evan and Arnt, as children, not only musical fundamentals but gave them a deep love of melodic improvisation and hot jazz.  And the best part of the CD is that it is not an elegy or eulogy — but that Lloyd plays and sings (even a Tom Waits paean to New Orleans) throughout the disc.  Aside from Evan, Lloyd, and Arnt, the  other musicians are Jennifer Hodge, string bass, Dan Ogilvie, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums.  The sound of the music is comfortable, too: what could be better than recording it — with only two microphones — in Lloyd’s “basement rec. room,” where it all began?  The music is a happy and free evocation of the Apex Club Orchestra, Sidney Bechet with and without Mezz Mezzrow, and even Soprano Summit: moving from gentle serenades to ferocious swing.  Here you can hear the CD and — if you are so moved — purchase an actual copy or downloads.

INTRO BROS ARNTZEN

The second CD, cleverly titled INTRODUCING THE BROTHERS ARNTZEN, is just that, a compact but winning introduction to their musical world — which features not only a good deal of expert instrumental interplay but almost as much delightful harmony singing.

BROS ARNTZEN photo

The CD isn’t slick or slickly produced: it sounds most gratifyingly like the music dear friends might make in their living room for the enjoyment of a small group of like-minded people.  (It is properly advertised on the cover as MUSIC FOR DANCING.)

I am not a fan of manufactured country-and-western music, but this disc has a lovely “roots” flavor to it . . . and when I was only on the second track, a stomping VIPER MAD, which was followed by a truly touching HOME, I was convinced.  Jennifer Hodge is back on string bass, and Andrew Millar plays drums most effectively. Evan sticks to the clarinet, Arnt to the banjo, but this foursome creates a rich sound.  As before, you may hear / purchase here.

The Brothers aren’t entirely down-home antiquarians: they have their own fraternal Facebook page.  They have already brought a good deal of restorative music and good emotions into my world: welcome them into yours.

May your happiness increase!

WORTH THE WAIT, WITH JOYOUS SURPRISES: THE EarRegulars’ FIRST CD!

The exclamation point in my title — something I use rarely — should tell you how I feel about a major Current Event.  The EarRegulars have finally released a CD, and it’s a beauty.

EarRegulars logo

For this disc, the ER are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, tárogató, cornet; Matt Munisteri, guitar (vocal on BABY); Greg Cohen, string bass. The session was recorded (beautifully) by Marco Birkner in Berlin, Germany, on March 23, 2014.  The disc — produced by Jon-Erik for his own gen-ERIK Records — is a delightfully minimalist production: artwork by Stephen Gardner on the cover, and a photograph of the EarRegulars in concert at the Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in  Kecskemét, Hungary, taken by József Hervai.

No rhapsodic / analytical liner notes (which I would love to have written), no credits for hair stylist and divine inspiration.  Just the music, about an hour’s worth: DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK / THANKS A MILLION / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Fifty-five minutes and seventeen seconds of superb collective improvisation and lovely melodic playing by one of the most satisfying bands we’ll ever hear. Head arrangements rather than transcriptions, joy rather than routines.

One of the great pleasures of living in New York, for me, has been the ability to get regular infusions of the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday nights.  I’ve been there as often as possible since the group came together in the summer of 2007 — which makes it a very durable group by this century’s standards — enjoying myself tremendously.

Although I couldn’t swear to the ideological bent of the group, it is a truly democratic enterprise, not two horns out front with supportive rhythm players. No, the lead is always passed around from horns to guitar to string bass, and a lovely momentum is always sustained by riffs, backgrounds, trading choruses, swapping melody and improvised counterpoint.  An EarRegular performance — live or on disc — is like a small hip concerto, lyrical and hot, with many surprises, and the results are always both surprising and satisfying.  If you require famous antecedents, think of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, Soprano Summit, the grouping of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page . . . but the EarRegulars have been around to be their own standard of excellence, their video presence spread around the world.

On this disc, they are singularly inspired.  Often, a group that plays spectacularly in an informal setting finds the air of the recording studio a little chilly, and one can hear it in the performances: what was intense and natural in person becomes slightly less comfortable in a room full of microphones, someplace unnaturally still.  It didn’t happen for this recording.  I think that the wonderful exploratory spirit (“Let’s take some chances; let’s have fun; let’s not plan too much!”) that sustains Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, and Greg was in the air.

The four players are involved in uniquely satisfying playground antics — improvisations that always land in surprising places without a hint of the formulaic.  And the songs are a lovely bunch, varied in tempo and approach. (Matt, one of the best singers I know, lends his own touch to a wistful BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME.)

I’ve been hesitant to write about this disc for fear of descending into apparent hyperbole, so I will say only this.  I’ve played it more than a dozen times, and each time I find myself smiling and even a little startled — “Wow, what are they doing now!”  I don’t think I will ever grow tired of it, and it far surpasses my expectations.  And I’ve been waiting for this disc almost since the group’s inception — most pleasures that have seven years of anticipation behind them are bound to be slightly disappointing, but not this session.

Let’s assume for a moment (unthinkable to me, but I must imagine it) that you’ve never heard the EarRegulars.  Here’s a sample:

How can you get one or more of these discs?

Don’t push; don’t crowd, please.

Ideally, one could come to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night and greet Mr. Kellso before or after the music starts with a handful of the appropriate currency. He and Mr. Munisteri might even autograph one for you. The price for a copy in person would be $15 USD. But if that’s inconvenient, there’s an online rescue: a reliable eBay seller (I can vouch for him myself) has them here — with postage, the total is $15.97 per disc.  A small price to pay for such pleasure.

Of course, you might like to visit The EarRegulars’ Facebook page. But   nothing will equal the pleasures of this particular disc, I assure you. Speaking of pleasure, though, and The EarRegulars have a new YouTube Channel to go with the new video and new album: find it here.

May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part Two)

This music gives me such pleasure that I am reposting both halves of the performance, and my original prelude:
A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
And here are three more performances from the second half.  The sky had grown darker outside and thus the interior lighting needed help.  The visual image is less sharp but the music remains exquisite.
S’WONDERFUL:
A very mellow KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
FROM MONDAY ON, a sweet conversation all the way through, with Mister Grosz bursting in to song:
May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!