Tag Archives: Spike WIlner

“JOE BUSHKIN QUARTET LIVE AT THE EMBERS 1952: BUCK CLAYTON, MILT HINTON, PAPA JO JONES”

Jazz fans get very wistful when dreaming of scenes that were only captured in words: the twenty chorus solos young Lester would take; Louis on the riverboats; Lips Page singing and playing the blues at the Riviera.  But the recording machine has been the time-traveler’s best friend.  Because of a variety of electrical devices, we have been able to go uptown to hear Frank Newton and Art Tatum; we’ve heard Charlie Christian, Oscar Pettiford, and Jerry Jerome in Minneapolis; we can visit YouTube and hear Lester sing A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA.

This new issue, explained boldly by its cover picture, is one of those time-travel marvels.  I was alive in 1952, but no one was taking me to the Embers to hear Joe Bushkin’s quartet with Buck Clayton, trumpet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.  But now — somewhat older, thanks to this beautifully-produced disc on the Dot Time Records label — I can visit that club and hear exalted music any time I want.

This was a celebrated quartet, and for good reason.  Buck and Jo were a fulfilling pair from around 1936 for perhaps forty years; Milt and Jo were also one of the most gratifying teams in the music.  The three of them were at their peak in this period (although one could make a case that they were among the most consistently inventive musicians in Mainstream jazz).

I’ve left the leader for last, because he’s rarely got the attention he deserved — although he certainly appeared with the greatest musicians: Bing, Billie, Louis, Lester, Bunny, Tommy Dorsey, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon . . . a Bushkin discography is astonishing.  Musicians knew, admired, and valued him. But his glistening style has led some casual listeners to hear him shallowly, the vivid, mobile approach to the piano as a display of technique.  But when one hears Bushkin closely, there is a real lyricism underneath the facility, and an equally deep love for the blues: in the ancient argot, he is a real barrelhouse player, even in a pricey Upper East Side supper club.

And although Joe was not allowed to chat or to sing on this gig (a matter of arcane tax laws in cabarets) his bubbling sense of humor, his ebullience, comes through in every note.  With a different pianist, Buck, Jo, and Milt would have still made great jazz, but the result wouldn’t have been as much fun.  And “fun” wasn’t a matter of goofy quotes or scene-stealing: Joe was a perfectly sensitive accompanist.  (I saw three-quarters of this group: Jo, Milt, Joe, and Ruby Braff — create a ten-minute MOTEN SWING in 1975 — and Fifty-Fourth Street has never been the same.)

Unlike other reissues, this disc sparkles for another reason — explained beautifully in the liner notes by Bushkin’s devoted son-in-law, trumpeter Robert Merrill, here.  That reason is the most gorgeous recorded sound you’ve ever heard at a live gig: there are people in the room, but their presence is not intrusive, and each instrument is heard as beautifully as if this session was in a studio.  To learn more about the label’s Legends series, visit here.  (Dot Time has also issued recordings by Mulligan and Ella — and a magnificent Louis series is coming out.)

As I wrote above, Joe ran with the best.  I’ve posted this once before, but everyone sentient in the known world needs to hear and re-hear it:

And here’s Joe being interviewed by the genial Stuart Klein in 1985:

2017 is Joe’s centennial, so there are a variety of celebrations going on, appropriately.  Recordings of the Joe Bushkin Songbook are on the way, and there’s something to leave the house and the computer for, a Highlights in Jazz (a series in its 45th year) concert: the Joe Bushkin Centennial Concert
featuring Wycliffe Gordon, Harry Allen, Eric Comstock, Ted Rosenthal, Spike Wilner, Nicki Parrott, Steve Johns and John Colliani, under the musical direction of Bob Merrill — and a surprise Guest as well.  It will take place at 8 PM, on Thursday, May 4, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007.

One can purchase tickets by calling the box office [212-220-1460] or visiting www.tribecapac.org.  Those who find the Post Office more consoling can mail a check made payable to highlights in Jazz for $50 per ticket (still a bargain, for those who have been to a club recently) to Highlights In Jazz, 7 Peter Cooper Road, Apt. 11E New York NY 10010.  (Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope).

A concert celebrating Joe Bushkin will be fun.  And the CD is a thorough pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet.  My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion.  (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)

He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.

I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.

“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:

and this, Joe’s great melody:

A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .

Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:

He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny.  He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:

But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility.  He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.

A short, perhaps dark interlude.  Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?”  It’s a splendid question.  In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.

Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today.  The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make.  He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama.  But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz.  He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public.  So he never became mythic or a martyr.  Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now.  He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78.  Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.

But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that?  He can cover the keyboard.  And he swings.  His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”

One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY /  MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976.  “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:

Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:

For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY —  has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial.  Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017.  Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.

Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake.  Perculate on THIS:

louis-birthday-cake

Thank you, Joseephus.  We haven’t forgotten you.

May your happiness increase!

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Part One): TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY at SMALLS (Dec. 24, 2015)

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

This is the first of two parts of a wonderful musical event that took place on Christmas Eve 2015 — the inspiration of string bassist / composer / arranger Tal Ronen, who explains it all:

Holy Moly had its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on.  I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and bandleading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play.  It became sort of a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one.

However, last Christmas I had a different idea.  My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music, etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford, and my personal mentor, Frank Wess.  I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, reeds; Steve Little, drums; Tamar Korn, vocals.

I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old-timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

Irving Berlin

I will point out that much of the evening’s repertoire came from Irving Berlin, which is always a treat.  On a personal note, I haven’t spent Christmas in New York in years, and when I was at the other side of the continent, I always thought wistfully of the good sounds Tal and Company were creating at Smalls.  I’m thrilled I was able to be there in 2015.  And if you wonder why it took me so long to download this, it was a combination of technical factors and legal ones.  All settled now.  Enjoy.

WHITE CHRISTMAS:

HAPPY FEET:

SUNSHINE:

ALWAYS:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Now I know where I’ll be spending Christmas Eve 2016.  But you might want to know that there was a substantial line outside Smalls for this event in 2015, so make plans to get there extra early.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE NAME OF BEAUTY: MORE FROM HILARY GARDNER / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 18, 2015)

It was great good fortune and the generous impulse of Spike Wilner, the owner-patron saint of Mezzrow (163 West 10th Street, New York City) that brought singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie together for an offering of beauty on May 18, 2015.  Here are some remarkable performances from that evening of song:

For Fred and Ginger and lovers everywhere, Mister Berlin’s divine CHEEK TO CHEEK:

EVERYTHING I’VE GOT speaks to a more dangerous romantic entanglement, with physical force, courtesy of Rodgers and Hart, and rollicking piano by Ehud:

Think globally, sing locally — as in A BROOKLYN LOVE SONG.  Hey!:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, a fitting farewell, loose-jointed and completely playful (including explosively joyous piano from Ehud):

and, if you missed the earlier postings, here are two sublime performances of songs not heard enough in this century:

AZALEA:

I USED TO BE COLOR-BLIND:

which wins the JAZZ LIVES award for Gorgeousness.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC BLAZING IN THE DARKNESS: TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY (JAY RATTMAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO) at LITTLE BRANCH (April 13, 2015: PART ONE)

The string bassist / composer / arranger / good fellow TAL RONEN is not only all these heroic things, but he creates imaginative ensembles.  I’d heard of his HOLY MOLY when I was on the other coast — Christmas Eve and Christmas at Smalls — and had wanted to be there but couldn’t.  However, just a few nights ago I was able to visit the HOLY MOLY trio — Tal, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, clarinet — at Little Branch (22 Seventh Avenue South in New York City) for a late session of music.

Before we turn to the videos, which require a serious preface, here’s what Tal had to say when I asked him about this delicious ensemble:

Holy Moly has its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at Smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and band leading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play. It became a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one. 

However, around last Christmas, I had a different idea. My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford and my personal mentor, Frank Wess. I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, Rossano, Jay, Steve Little and Tamar Korn. I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

HOLY MOLY! indeed.

I recorded eight videos at Little Branch, and present the first four below.  But there’s a catch.  Little Branch is a basement room, imitating the closeness of a speakeasy, and it is thus quite dark.  I seated myself three feet from the piano, clarinet, and string bass, set up my camera, opened the lens to its widest setting, and began to shoot — the camera recording complete darkness.  Good sound, but no visual whatsoever.  (My pal and video colleague Laura Wyman asked me if I had left the lens cap on.  No, for better or worse.)

There are a few small glimmers of candles in glasses, and in one of the videos someone took some photographs, so the flash weirdly illuminates the players, but otherwise these videos are the finest jazz radio you can imagine.  I found this terribly funny: better to have nothing to see and decent sound than the reverse — bright vistas and terrible noise.  (From long habit, I initially moved my camera and microphone to capture the musician soloing, but gave that up quickly as a whimsy, no more.)

And since people tell me they have trouble keeping up with JAZZ LIVES, these four long performances will give you an opportunity to turn up the volume, stack the dishwasher, groom the cat, pay a bill — whatever needs to be done.  If this weirdness is bothersome, I apologize.  I suspect I have created more than forty-five hundred videos so far on YouTube, so there might be something you haven’t yet seen.  I ask the pardon of those readers who find the blackness terrifying, also.  The music blazes gorgeously.

In case you haven’t been reading closely, there’s nothing to see here.  Keep moving . . .

Four classics:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

LIZA:

POOR BUTTERFLY:

The overall ambiance is of a Goodman small group, but it also reminded me of a Jerry Newman session with Tatum and Pettiford, Minton’s 1941 moved downtown and forward in time. I’d follow this group — or other Tal-creations — wherever they were.

May your happiness increase!

AND FAIR CANARSIE’S LAKE WE’LL VIEW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

The combination of Hilary Gardner’s creamy voice — floating, multi-textured, full of feeling — and Ehud Asherie’s rollicking piano — sure-footed, playful, surprising — is intoxicating.  They go to my head: I feel elated and happy.

They did it again just a few days ago — on St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan — when they presented a gorgeous concert of Rodgers and Hart at Mezzrow, that belowstairs oasis of fine music at 163 West Tenth Street.

A word about the video: viewers may at first think Ehud is getting visually slighted, which would be unjust.  But if you look in the mirror, you will see him fine profile — reversed? — moving in rhythm.  And his sound rings, which is the point.

There will be a few more videos from this evening.  And even better news — Hilary and Ehud are not finished exploring Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hart.

Key change.

There have been so many recordings and performances of MANHATTAN that I have no intention of tracing its history.  But this one is both odd and special:

This clip — Allan Gould and Ruth Tester in the 1929 short devoted to Rodgers and Hart, MAKERS OF MELODY, is a fascinating window into what some might call early performance practice, and it reminds me that MANHATTAN was meant as a comic song for a UK couple marveling at this new landscape, where balmy breezes blow / to and fro.

The modern analogue, for me, is walking through Central Park and seeing visitors from other countries absolutely delighted and agog by the squirrels, snapping picture after picture of our furry friends to show to the folks back home, who will marvel.

Feel free to sing along, all through the day, no matter what borough you are in:

Summer journeys
To Niag’ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We’ll save our fares.
I’ve a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It’s lovely going through
The zoo.
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro.
And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street
In July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by.
The great big city’s a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Greenwich,
Where modern men itch
To be free;
And Bowling Green you’ll see
With me.
We’ll bathe at Brighton
The fish you’ll frighten
When you’re in.
Your bathing suit so thin
Will make the shellfish grin
Fin to fin.
I’d like to take a
Sail on Jamaica
Bay with you.
And fair Canarsie’s lake
We’ll view.
The city’s bustle cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Yonkers
Where true love conquers
In the wilds.
And starve together, dear,
In Childs’.
We’ll go to Coney
And eat baloney
On a roll.
In Central Park we’ll stroll,
Where our first kiss we stole,
Soul to soul.
Our future babies
We’ll take to “Abie’s
Irish Rose.”
I hope they’ll live to see
It close.
The city’s clamor can never spoil
The dreams of a boy and goil.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
We’ll try to cross
Fifth Avenue.
As black as onyx
We’ll find the Bronnix
Park Express.
Our Flatbush flat, I guess,
Will be a great success,
More or less.
A short vacation
On Inspiration Point
We’ll spend,
And in the station house we’ll end,
But Civic Virtue cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy!

(I love beyond all that’s reasonable one turn of the lyrics — that “fin to fin” anticipates “soul to soul,” rather than the more predictable reverse.)

If Manhattan was indeed an isle of joy on the 17th, I think credit belongs to Dick, Larry, Hilary, and Ehud — let the green-garbed roisterers take a back seat.

May your happiness increase!

“GOOD NIGHT, ANGELINE”: JON-ERIK KELLSO / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (Dec. 16, 2014)

One more by two — not only two but Two: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ehud Asherie, piano, recorded in intimate duo at Mezzrow on December 16, 2014.

GOOD NIGHT ANGELINEMy research tells me that the song is from 1921, but my ears and heart tell me that this rendition is not only timeless but “modern” — taking in the changes in the jazz landscape over the next ninety-five years without doing the least harm to the incredibly beautiful song.

Another piece of archival source material:

SHUFFLE ALONGand now the real thing, glowing sweetly in the darkness:

It feels wonderful to sit so close to such intensely lovely creativity and to be able to share it with you.  Blessings on Messrs. Blake, Sissle, Asherie, Kellso, and Wilner.  And if you’ve missed the two earlier entries in this series of marvels, they are here and here.

May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part One): SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Wonderful music is being made at the new jazz club at 163 West Tenth Street in New York City, Mezzrow,  and I was there to witness some of the beauty on September 16, 2014.  The creators were pianist Michael Kanan and bassist / composer Neal Miner, and the result was glorious sounds in an inviting place. Here is the first half of their sweetly inspiring recital. The videos are dark but the music gleams.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I will share the second half with JAZZ LIVES soon, but I’d like this one to sink in. Michael and Neal know that there is deep emotional life in “these old songs,” which have not grown old and will not as long as they are handled with intelligent tenderness.  As they are here.

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

A NEW CD: PETER BERNSTEIN, SOLO GUITAR, LIVE AT SMALLS

If you know jazz guitar in its truest sense, the news of a new Peter Bernstein solo CD is cause for delight, especially because it is his first solo recording. If he is new to you, I offer some evidence of his way with beauty:

(Recorded 2012 with pianist Michael Kanan at the Drawing Room, Brooklyn, New York.)

I don’t know at what point the guitar became the most popular instrument in the world — surely it has been so for the last half-century and more.  It looks easy: all the notes are visible, laid out in logical ways; there is nothing to blow into, no reeds to fuss over, but the neophyte finds out in the first half-hour that the guitar is a trap for the unwary.  Yes, one can walk up and down one string at a time; one can move simple chord patterns up and down the fretboard, but making music from the guitar — beautiful music — is a far more treacherous affair.

Peter Bernstein has long since become a Master of that instrument, and a Master of sweetly elongated melodies.  He doesn’t affect a hard-edged tone; he doesn’t need many notes to show us how vigorously he has practiced his scales; his solos don’t leave us exhausted.  Rather, he has a sweet, temperate sound on the instrument, but it’s not aural wallpaper: his notes ring and chime; his chords shimmer.  On this disc, he explores medium-tempo classics and ballads in a leisurely manner, but his approach is full of surprises: he plays orchestrally, so that a single-line statement will be punctuated by pulsing, mobile chords, with harmonies that offer new ways of hearing the familiar. At the end of a Bernstein performance of the most familiar song, one feels it has been revisited lovingly, its virtues shining, its faults (if it has any) tenderly concealed.

A Bernstein solo at first seems like a collection of delicate traceries, an iridescent spiderweb in the sunlight.  Then you realize that although his playing is easy to listen to, it is never Easy Listening, a lullaby for the half-conscious listener.  Heard attentively, one realizes that Bernstein’s delicacy is based on assurance and strength — a strength that isn’t expressed in volume or power, velocity or granitic chord-clusters, but a certainty: he is exploring but never indecisive, never tentative.  One listens to a small symphony unfolding, chorus after chorus, building structurally from note to note, phrase to phrase, until the whole improvisation has its own shining three-dimensional shape.

BERNSTEIN cover

The CD was not a thing of splices and patches, not created in the laboratory of the recording studio, but performed “live” in front of a quiet audience at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) in downtown Manhattan on October 16 and 17, 2012. The songs are a deliciously melodic mix: DJANGO / I LOVE YOU / CREPUSCLE WITH NELLIE / PANNONICA / STAR EYES / YESTERDAYS / DON’T BLAME ME / GIANT STEPS / WISE ONE / THE TENDER TRAP / TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / GONE WITH THE WIND / PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY — a welcome emphasis on medium-tempo saunters and deep romantic ballads.  Even if you feel you’ve heard these songs a thousand times, you will make room in your memory for these new interpretations.

The disc is well-recorded, with empathic notes by pianist Spike Wilner . . . and I believe that profits from its sale benefit not only Peter but the club itself, a small quirky landmark of the world jazz scene.  It is an honor to hear Peter Bernstein go his own way as he does on this CD.

All albums (I believe the label has issued forty so far) are currently available through iTunes, Amazon (CD only), HDtracks (high-resolution) and at www.smallsjazzclub.com.

May your happiness increase!

MIKE, SPIKE, and MURRAY GO EXPLORING (Smalls, September 10, 2013)

No, it’s not a buddy movie or a children’s book.  It’s Michael Hashim (saxophones); Spike Wilner (piano); Murray Wall (string bass) in recital at Smalls on West Tenth Street in New York City on September 10, 2013.  And the explorations are in the mail gentle, melodic searches — although Michael has such a broad expressive range (from Fifties rhythm and blues to sweet Hodges laments) that any group he is part of is bound to have many identities.  Spike is such a splendid shape-shifter himself at the keys: entirely unafraid but totally in love with melodic improvisation; with Murray at the bass, we can all breathe easy — in lovely flexible four-four time, heartbeat-based.

Here are a dozen beauties from that evening.

Perhaps thinking of Ben and Tatum? GONE WITH THE WIND:

Definitely thinking of Ben: it’s his minor blues, POUTIN’:

In honor of Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis — not always in that order, I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Definitely in honor of Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

An unusual and unusually rich Ellington trilogy, beginning with I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU:

Going back to 1927 for BLACK AND TAN FANTASY:

And the rarely played COP-OUT:

Back to Bing and Hawkins for the lovely 1934 WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE:

Jobim’s USELESS LANDSCAPE:

Fats’ (and Maurice Waller’s) JITTERBUG WALTZ:

“Bond.  James Bond.”  The soundtrack to a late-Sixties childhood, GOLDFINGER:

Running diagonally in Manhattan and always swinging, BROADWAY:

What spaciousness!  Three melodists on the loose, roaming the galaxy and bringing back treasures of their own making.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S MINNOW’S GIG

Sometimes the real power isn’t the person you’d expect.  Although royalty always wears a fur coat.  In this case, the ruling genius of Smalls (that wonderful jazz oasis on West Tenth Street in New York City) is Minnow, the resident Maine Coon cat — who surveys everything with a mixture of reserve and disdain.

I’m told that Minnow — after hours — has a Cecil Taylor conception at the piano — but I’ve yet to video one of her sessions.  She did make a cameo appearance with supporting players Ehud Asherie and Jon-Erik Kellso in this 2011 performance:

On September 10, 2013, I went to Smalls to hear and record three eminent humans — saxophonist Michael Hashim, pianist Spike Wilner, and string bassist Murray Wall.  But before the “jazz musicians” took the stage, Minnow decided to let everyone know — silently but powerfully — whose club, whose stage, whose gig it really is.  Local 802, take note.  The paparazzi certainly did:

All the cat joins in, or something like that.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL PRESS HAS NEW STORIES — AND NEW YORK STORIES — FOR US

The event didn’t make the mainstream media.  The few print journals devoted to improvised music didn’t report it.  And the “jazz critics” online and off were quite taciturn about it.  But it seems important to note that the surprising saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Joel Press, formerly commuting back and forth between Newton, Massachusetts, and New York City . . . has come to NYC to stay.  Or, as they used to say, “for the nonce.”

If you haven’t heard Joel Press, you could ask pianist Michael Kanan about him. Or perhaps saxophonist Lena Bloch, pianist Spike Wilner, or a dozen other NYC jazz luminaries.  Or you could take the cyber-shortcut and observe this:

Joel’s a creative player with his own sweetly energized internal swing machine, making his own way through the most endearing features of the tradition without being anyone’s repeater pencil or (to use an archaic objective correlative) sheet of carbon paper.  He enjoys standards, ballads, jump blues, and more.  Although he’s been on the scene for more than thirty-two bars, he is no relic, but a vigorous searcher.  He hears rhapsodies and offers them to us.

The good news is more resonant than the fact that Joel now has a new address.  He’s brought his horns, his energy, and his delight in melody with him.  And you can hear it all this coming Saturday (April 6, 2013) at Smalls — 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) beginning at 7:30 PM.  Joel will be encouraged and supported by three of the finest: Tardo Hammer, piano; Sean Smith, bass; Steve Little, drums.

“Good deal!” to quote Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase.

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”: MUSIC FOR ADULTS (TOM DEMPSEY, TIM FERGUSON, JOEL FRAHM, ELIOT ZIGMUND)

I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.

I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more.  But now I want to make up for my omission.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players.  What a mistake that would have been!  I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves.  Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”

Not this one!

Layout 1

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm.  It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.

These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old.  Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up.  One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.”  Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals.  IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music.  TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz.  Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.

It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.

You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s    here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players.  But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out.  I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists.  What could be nicer?  As for me, I’m keeping this one!

P.S.  Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title?  There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By.  To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book.  BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.

May your happiness increase.

BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING

It’s the title of a very pretty and optimistic 1920 show tune . . .

but it’s also a well-kept New York City secret — a serene below-stairs room in a 150-year old Tribeca brownstone.  The room is cozy — it holds fewer than 100 people — but it’s not cramped; there’s room for a first-rate piano and top-flight jazz improvisation. There is a menu of small plates and a very adventurous selection of cocktails.

The SILVER LINING is located at 75 Murray Street (between Greenwich and West Broadway): their phone is 212-513-1234; the website is thttp://silverliningbar.com/

I heard about Silver Lining first through the most reputable sources — the musicians themselves — who talked of a lovely room conducive to great playing.

And the musicians?  If you check the website, you’ll see fine and familiar names: Dan Block, Dan Aran, Ehud Asherie, Larry Ham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ray Gallon, Ned Goold, Chris Flory, Sacha Perry, Eliot Zigmund, Jon Burr, Steve Ash, Spike Wilner.

The musicians are booked by Vito Dieterle — a splendid jazz player himself (a floating tenor saxophonist whose work I admired when he was playing alongside Claire Daly in Joel Forrester’s small group) — so I know things are going to go well.

Look for the Silver Lining!

JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER and DWAYNE CLEMONS at SMALLS (Nov. 17, 2011)

It’s always a delight when reedman Joel Press comes to town, and he proved that once again in his duets with pianist Spike Wilner at Smalls (West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on November 17, 2011.

I’ve admired Joel’s playing for some time — first on record, then live — his soulful way of exploring a melody without being tied to familiar harmonic patterns . . . but he never loses the thread.  And although he denies this (“How could a Jewish boy from Brooklyn sound like a Southwest tenor player?”) he has deep roots not only in Lester but in Herschel and that moaning saxophone sound.

Spike was a mature player when I first heard him perhaps six years ago — lithe, swinging, witty, surprising — but now he sounds like a pianistic version of 1957 Coleman Hawkins: he knows the risks and rewards of throwing away the polite rulebook of jazz-school-piano and he often sounds like someone who has decided to let his deepest impulses guide him — without a life vest — and those impulses take him and us to wonderful surprising places.

Both players, also, have a fine sense of the past: Joel lives in 2011 but sneaks glances back at 1944 and 1956, and Spike is always playing / playing with walking tenths and stride bass patterns (as well as hilarious glances at the Swing repertoire, such as I FOUND A NEW BABY seen out of the corner of his eye).

Here are two performances — complex, surging but delicate — by this duo, a pair of masterful conversationalists who point the way for each other and for us at every turn.

A strong-willed reading of IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

An improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Spike and Joel invited trumpeter Dwayne Clemons up to join them for a leisurely look at Sonny Rollins’ BLUE SEVEN — both forward-looking and affectionately Basie-flavored.  At times I thought I was listening to Nat Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and Harry Edison time=traveled to Greenwich Village, Autumn 2011.  And that’s a compliment, even though none of the players had any desire to imitate anything:

This is one version of what improvisation is supposed to sound like!

THE (POSSIBLY REVERSIBLE) DECLINE OF THE WEST (Nov. 18, 2011)

Last night, on my way to Smalls to hear Joel Press and Spike Wilner, I walked past a Greenwich Village bar / restaurant that was advertising JAZZ on its sandwich board outside.  This was exciting news, and I was hopeful and curious.  I ventured in and listened for ten minutes.  It seemed to be a good-natured jam session — trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums, with one of the horns occasionally sitting at the piano and chording when not taking a solo.  It was pleasing to see that the players were a diversified little group.  They finished their improvisation on some mildly familiar changes and launched into the very pretty ballad POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS.

The guitarist was more than competent, but his volume was high, and it seemed as if he couldn’t wait to begin playing double-time.  The drummer had a pair of wire brushes (a great thing) but was out of synch with the rest of the group — so busily accenting phrases that the time was often lost; the saxophonist had a pleasant tone but was offering a mix of famous Bird licks; the trumpeter didn’t seem to realize that he was playing a love song.

I sighed, and thought (not for the first time) that I want a second business card — in addition to the JAZZ LIVES ones now fluttering through the universe.  It wouldn’t advertise anything, but would make two moral statements:

BRING BACK MEDIUM TEMPO

REMEMBER BEN WEBSTER

Does this sound like a good idea?  I could leave them on music stands . . . .

P.S.  Then I went to hear Spike and Joel — fellows who know these things deep in their souls, so all was well.

JUST SAY YES: JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER at SMALLS (July 7, 2011)

Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Spike Wilner (piano) created life-affirming music at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City) on July 7, 2011.  Joel and Spike had played together once before, but this was their first official performance — and we hope it’s the first of many. 

Both Joel and Spike love to create energetically rollicking melodies — theirs is true playfulness.  And the ideas that come from one are heard and bounced back by the other.  Although Joel says he’s only a Boston boy, I hear a true Southwestern depth of feeling in his playing, with Herschel Evans sitting alongside Lester Young and Charlie Parker . . . although what comes out is unmistakably Joel, from those mobile knees on up.  I first heard Spike six yers ago and admired his playing — orchestral but incisive, making space for Cliff Jackson and Bud Powell.  Now, in 2011, he has grown so much more into himself, with a joyous inventiveness that inspires both Joel and hearers from the first note. 

See and hear for yourself!

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

For Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Lester Young, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA taken at a hilariously brisk tempo — are we in Beijing already, Captain?

A GHOST OF A CHANCE, explicitly for Lester:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, complete with geo-historical commentary by Joel:

I REMEMBER YOU, with a lovely rubato beginning:

BLUES IN B FLAT:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Navarro’s line on OUT OF NOWHERE changes, NOSTALGIA:

Finally, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Thanks to Joel and Spike for such joyous surprises, and to Doug Panero and Louise Farrell for just the right kind of moral support!

JOEL PRESS COMES TO NEW YORK! (July 2011)

Short notice: the splendid saxophonist Joel Press is paying a brief visit to New York City.  As always, he will be creating bouncing riffs and casually eloquent, speaking melodic lines.  I think of his metaphysical street address as the corner of Swing and Lyricism.

Joel has three performances planned — with fine musical friends, as always.  Joel will be playing duets with the wonderful pianist Spike Wilner at SMALLS, 183 W 10th Street @ 7th Avenue South on Thursday, July 7th.  Their set begins at 7:30.  They will be followed by the Jeff Williams Quintet.

Sunday, July 3rd, 1:30 AM (if you’re awake) Joel, the cherished pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Steve Little, will be playing at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5th, at 7PM,  the same quartet will be at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Carpe Press, JAZZ LIVES readers!

“UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE” and MORE: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS (Jan. 20, 2011)

GENEROSITY FEELS GOOD, SO CLICK HERE.  THE MUSICIANS WILL THANK YOU!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

The Beloved and I went to see two of our favorite musicians (and people!) in duet at Smalls (that’s 138 West 10th Street, New York City) on January 20, 2011.  Here are some of the songs they played — classics and rarities (many of the latter by Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, disciple and master). 

My title refers to the opening song — recorded late in Fats’s career — but also to a delightful happening that took place early in the evening.  But now, settle in to UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, which has a deliciously unexpected bridge:

Then, moving more towards the familiar, Ehud and Jon-Erik settled on another Waller song, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — which Ruby Braff always remembered as being titled WALKIN’ ON AIR, from the opening phrase of the verse.  Jon-Erik and Ehud remind me mightily of Ruby and Dick Hyman — listening, playful, balancing their individual styles to create something even more gratifying:

Another lovely obscurity (Ehud brings new tunes to gigs like this one, knowing Jon-Erik’s ears and bravery) was APRIL IN MY HEART — from 1939, recorded by Billie Holiday with an amazing band including Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Harry James, Benny Morton, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones . . . a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. 

That in itself would have been bliss — but someone from the club couldn’t stand being left out and, like Lester, leaped in, around ninety seconds into the performance.  You can’t miss her:

Let me introduce you to Minnow, the Maine Coon cat who lords it over Smalls.  She’s a “ham,” says Spike Wilner, “there are a million pictures of Minnow floating around the web,” but she wanted her place in the sun. 

Either Minnow wanted to be closer to the musical action (look how contented she is!) or she knows that my YouTube channel is called SWINGYOUCATS and felt it needed the real article.  One never knows, do one? 

If her timing had been better and she had entered the scene for UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, I would have been even more astonished.

As a favor to JAZZ LIVES that costs nothing — if you know a cat-lover, send this clip out his or her way.  I want fame for Minnow!  (And do applaud my restraint.  I could have called this blogpost KITTEN ON THE KEYS or ALL THE CAT JOINS IN, but decided to err on the side of restraint and decorum.) 

Onwards!

PERDIDO (by valve-trombonist Juan Tizol) is in the odd position of being a jazz standard played and overplayed — now, as fashions change, it’s refreshing to hear it, especially by this duo:

James P. Johnson’s AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC? is — in its lyrics — a faux-spiritual, but having heard Henry “Red” Allen and Dick Wellstood’s recordings of it, I treasure it — and having your life uplifted through music is an idea JAZZ LIVES seeks to embody.  In the second chorus, hear how Jon-Erik becomes a whole brass section, sermonizing, and Ehud’s beautifully varied striding would have pleased Jimmy no end:

Keeping James P. in mind, Ehud proposed a surprise — THE LOVE BUG — one of the Master’s unknown tunes (I think I’d only heard it from a piano roll).  No problem for our man Kellso here:

Now for three classics — a majestic reading of BODY AND SOUL, imploring and powerful; Ehud’s sophisticated wanderings reminding us that he knows Bud Powell’s world deeply and well:

And the perennially versatile ONE HOUR, again by James P., one of those songs that sits so well at a variety of tempos, its hopeful message intact:

And (to close this posting, although the music at Smalls went on for a long time), SWEET GEORGIA BROWN — once a well-known pop song, then a set of changes for jazz improvisers to float over, now, perhaps, nearly returning to obscurity unless you’re over fifty?  I don’t know — but this performance, beginning with variations on the original melody, is as charming as hearing the melody of I GOT RHYTHM nowadays:

Thank you so much, gentlemen, and Minnow (of course), who offered paws for the cause — not lightly and politely, but in the only we she could.  And when you hear the music, you know why Louis is grinning down on the stage.

JAMES P. JOHNSON, EVERYWHERE

On eBay, there are always a good number of James P. Johnson recordings — ranging from original 78s to 10″ and 12″ vinyl pressings to the occasional compact disc.  Today, though, a small trove of sheet music has come to light — worth admiring.  This song is justly famous — one of James P.’s pretty lines (with echoes of CARELESS LOVE and perhaps even older, undocumented folk strains).  Of course I remember Kenny Davern’s comment on this title, “You know, that’s face to face.”

James P. 1

Here’s another — perhaps more famous because of Fats Waller and Marty Grosz.  The cover, typically, is wonderfully idealized; neither of those two comely people looks like a porter or a chambermaid, but perhaps they’re dressed up for Thursday night at the Savoy Ballroom:James P. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the last one is a real oddity.  Somehow I don’t think of it as a particularly ambitious composition — is it the presence of Mike Riley? — but I wonder if any of my readers has ever heard it.  James P. 3

Now to more serious matters.  Although no one would count James P. Johnson as undeserving, he is buried in an unmarked grave.  In New York City, a group of jazz pianists led by Spike Wilner have set up a downtown version of a Harlem rent party to benefit James P., posthumously — to purchase a marker for his grave.  I won’t be nearby on October 4, but this is an enterprise worth supporting:     James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party!

 Smalls Jazz Club     Oct. 4th, 2009      1:00-to 9:00 PM

 James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, the composer of “The Charleston” and “Carolina Shout,” and one of the founders of modern jazz piano lies, shockingly, in an unmarked grave in Maspeth, Queens, Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  Please join the James P. Johnson Foundation, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to music education and to raise the awareness of James P. Johnson, the Johnson family and Smalls Jazz Club for an all day “rent party” to raise money to buy a monument to commemorate this great musician!  Join us on Sunday, October 4th beginning at 1:00 PM at Smalls Jazz Club located at 183 West 10th Street at 7th Ave.  The afternoon will begin with a symposium by musicologist and Johnson scholar Scott Brown on the life and work of James P. Johnson.  This will include an exhibit from The James P. Johnson archive housed at The Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies.  Around 3:00 will then be a steady stream of pianists to play solo piano in tribute to James P. Johnson.  Artists to appear include: Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Ted Rosenthal, Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Conal Fowlkes, Spike Wilner, Aaron Diehl and others to be announced.  Suggested tax-free donations are $20 with all the proceeds to go to the James P. Johnson Foundation.  You may come and go as you please throughout the afternoon.  Refreshments will be served.  Please come by and pay your respects to The Dean of Stride Pianists!   For more information:  info@smallsjazzclub.comwww.jamespjohnson.org.