Tag Archives: Spats Langham

IN ARCADIA WITH MARTIN WHEATLEY and FRIENDS: TOM “SPATS” LANGHAM, MIKE PIGGOTT, LOUIS THOMAS

The birth of a band?  I sincerely hope so.  They are Wheatley’s Arcadians: Martin Wheatley on all variety of guitars and other stringed instruments; Tom “Spats” Langham, guitar, vocal; Mike Piggott, violin; Louis Thomas, string bass.  The excellent cinematography is by guitarist Dave Kelbie (of the Dime Notes and more).  Here’s what I consider their “demo reel” — a montage, hinting at some of the things the Arcadians do so well:

and, just posted today, a complete performance of RUSSIAN LULLABY:

One I nearly missed — which is great fun — DON’T BE ASHAMED OF YOUR AGE:

Messrs. Wheatley, Langham, Piggott, and Thomas might not be (from my vantage point) the most aggressive promoters, preferring the joy of making music to the thrill of sending emails, but I hope fervently that festival promoters, concert bookers, clubowners, the BBC, PBS, NPR . . . . you name it — that people rush to engage this most engaging band.  Arcadia, as you will remember, was seen as a utopia, a place of pleasure and peace, harmony and serenity.  This quartet might not be the only soundtrack one could imagine, but it does summon up a world before the tyrannies of the smartphone.

And a side-note: slightly more than a year ago, Messrs. Wheatley and Langham went into the studio to record what might be their first duet CD, THE LAND OF MIGHT-HAVE-BEEN.  It is one of the more touching recitals in my collection, and I have one copy shelved under W, another under L.  Beautiful playing and singing, with repertoire that — although sometimes obscure — instantly becomes precious: MUSIC, MAESTRO, PLEASE; EVERY DAY AWAY FROM YOU; TOO LATE; MY IDEAL; THE FIRST WEEKEND IN JUNE; THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS; SAY WHEN; THE THRILL IS GONE; P.S., I LOVE YOU; YOU’RE DANCING ON MY HEART; THE LAND OF MIGHT-HAVE-BEEN; GOLDEN EARRINGS; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN.  In the ideal world of the previous century, I might have been able to write, “You’ll find it wherever better records are sold,” but I fear that this is no longer the case.  I am sure that Martin could be prevailed upon to offer a copy for sale if asked nicely here.  Perhaps he and Mr. Langham could bring several copies — if there are any left? — to their gigs?

I greet these sweetly expert swing stars and hope for more Arcadian manifestations.  We need beauty like this.  Seriously.

May your happiness increase!

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JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

THESE COZY VIRTUOSI: EMMA FISK, JACOB ULLBERGER, SPATS LANGHAM, HENRY LEMAIRE at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

Violinist Emma Fisk — with a lovely dark tone, a romantic conception to match her fine technique — never disappoints and is always swinging.  Here she is with three of the best — Spats Langham on the right and Jacob Ullberger on the left, guitars, and Henry Lemaire, string bass — in a session celebrating Django, Stephane, and their work together both as the Quintette of the Hot Club of France and later.

This delight took place at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held in Whitley Bay, England: this set comes from November 4, 2016.We begin with an incomplete performance — my fault — but I thought the remainder was too good to ignore.

COQUETTE:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

BELLEVILLE:

IF YOU ONLY KNEW (HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU):

DARK EYES:

As you can hear, Emma is a superb violinist, one not restricted to this particular genre.  She and guitarist James Birkett have formed a duo devoted to the music of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, and the delightful evidence — audio and video — can be found here.  I’ve heard rustlings that a new CD by the duo is on the way as well.  Emma and friends — what friends! — will be back for the 2017 Party, held in late October: visit here for details, videos, and more.  I won’t be there, but that will leave more room for you and yours.

May your happiness increase!

TWO GUITARS IN THE DARK (MARTIN WHEATLEY / SPATS LANGHAM at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 6, 2016)

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Guitarists Thomas “Spats” Langham and Martin Wheatley are two of the warmest people and finest creative musicians I’ve ever met.  In the accompanying photograph, they are appearing at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — the guitars they are playing are not the ones they brought later on; the video performances that follow come from the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

Two guitars, trading solo and accompaniment, and Spats’ remarkable singing — especially on two ballads I’d never known.  Spats introduces each performance, so I will leave the commentary to him.  And unlike other guitar extravaganzas, this delightful interlude is about music rather than sparkling displays of virtuosity — although any guitarist will tell you that the simplest-appearing passage here is the result of experience, taste, and long years of practice and performance.  About Spats’ singing, I will only say that he is one of my favorites among the living and the departed: especially on ballads.

Before you launch into this assortment of pleasures, know that the videos are less than superb: I was stationed in an unusual spot, holding my camera in mid-air, and one of the patrons had run over my foot with his electric scooter, twice, once forward and once in reverse (annoying but not crippling).  So those factors must be accounted for. But I think that these two artists are worth the inconvenience, and much more.

I think they’re wonderful:

and an absolutely gorgeous love song, new to me:

and a tribute to Irving Berlin, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough:

and yet another lovely surprise, this wistful Ivor Novello composition:

and a Victor Young movie theme, with romping variations:

I have it on reasonably good authority that Martin and Spats are planning a duo CD.  I can’t wait.

May your happiness increase!

LANGHAM’S LIZARDS, MASTERS OF THE ART: SPATS LANGHAM, RICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, JOEP LUMEIJ, NICK WARD (Nov. 19, 2016, Sassenheim)

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Thanks to the Classic Jazz Concert Club of Sassenheim, we can immerse ourselves in wonderful music created by Thomas “Spats” Langham and Friends. I do not think of Mister Langham as a Lizard, although if he chose the alliterative title, I will bow low respectfully. Rather, I think of Mister Langham (vocal, banjo, guitar, repartee) as a Master of the Art — that wonderful art of surprising and reassuring us simultaneously, making us remember that joy is possible and Things aren’t So Bad.  Here he is joined by string bassist Joep Lumeij (whom I know — through video and recordings), trumpeter  and vocalist Enrico Tomasso, clarinetist / saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, and percussionist Nick Ward — all of them legendary regal figures, and I do not exaggerate.  That we live in a time where such things are possible is uplifting.

TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE (with thoughts of Ethel Waters, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and Billie Holiday):

SMOOTH SAILING (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen):

THE GYPSY (Spats and his Masters in full Thirties ballad mode — think Bill Kenny and Al Bowlly — with all deference to Louis and Bird.  Pay special attention to the gorgeous Langham / Tomasso duet later in the performance):

SWANEE RIVER (which begins with a trumpet fanfare that I last heard in BACH GOES TO TOWN):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (Mister Berlin, with echoes of Bing and the Whiteman Orchestra):

and finally, a bit of theatre — Spats’ divine reading of NIGHT OWL (beloved of Cliff Edwards) in the dark, with an explication of bass-drum heads:

I do not know if these performances happened in this order, so I hope I will be forgiven by archivists of all kinds.  However, I thank the CJCC for putting on this concert and offering us videos, with rather pleasing multi-camera work and fine sound as well.

May your happiness increase!

HAIL, ENRICO!

No disrespect to the other musicians, but my focus is on the name at top left: ENRICO TOMASSO: majestic, determined, hilarious, tender, indefatigable, joyous.

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And here’s The Man Himself, in two performances from the November 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, one hot, the other sweet and hot.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

From November 4, 2016, a tribute to Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the venerable EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, performed by Rico with Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone. And here is Rico’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN from the same set.

And a day later, Enrico honoring Louis, singing and playing IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT:

Here, Rico is accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.  And for those hoboes who missed the train, here is Rico’s SHINE from the same set.

Mr. Tomasso is our hero.

This post would not have been possible without Eric Devine’s generous technical expertise.  (Eric is “Cine Devine” on Facebook and a world-class videographer.)

May your happiness increase!

“HOW SHE COOLS THEM DOWN”: ONE FOR MIKE by KEITH NICHOLS, SPATS LANGHAM, ENRICO TOMASSO, ALISTAIR ALLAN, THOMAS WINTELER, RICHARD PITE, PHIL RUTHERFORD: MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

Sometimes the old songs still have surprising life in them, no matter how many decades of playing and singing they have gathered on themselves.  This performance is in honor of Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party: it’s the venerable SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, performed by Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano Saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet.

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

Jazz and fun are intertwined here — from the conversational scat duet by Keith and Spats to the hot ensemble playing and the tidy soaring solos.  Nothing but lively creative music, which has always been a hallmark of the Classic Jazz Party:

The 2017 Party will take place in the last weekend of October at the Village Hotel Newcastle.  You really should check it out here.  It’s never too early to plan for such things.

May your happiness increase!