Some pleasurable experiences evaporate almost as soon as they’ve ended. But July 22, 2012, was our third consecutive visit to Mal Sharpe’s Sunday afternoon gig (3-6 PM) at The No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) and the pleasure was as powerful as ever.
Mal remains a solid gutty player and his comedic improvisations (involving Thanksgiving, zippers, the NBC Red Network) are as fresh and unbalanced as ever. But he shines greatly as a trombonist and lively singer. Those who think of him only as a radio and television personality would be surprised at his deep immersion in hot jazz.
To Mal’s right was the jazz critic and reedman Richard Hadlock, floating behind the beat or keening on his straight soprano. In the middle was the cornetist who could lead the troops into battle with never a qualm — someone capable of great subtleties and shadings, too — Leon Oakley. In the back were swinging regulars Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Carmen Cansino, drums — with the eloquent bassist and eager swing singer Sam Rocha. A band to conjure with!
After a holiday-themed introduction, the band swung into a version of LONESOME ROAD. (It was a highly inappropriate soundtrack — the path to the No Name Bar was sunny, filled with people, and one could feast on Thai or Mexican cuisine, fish and chips, ice cream, or my choice — spicy nasturtium blossoms. I saw no one trudging under a heavy load, but it was still a good opener.)
A nearly perverse defiance seemed behind the second song choice, too. July, warm, sunny? No, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:
Some people in the audience were visiting from Indiana, and I had hopes that Mal would call ALABAMMY BOUND or THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but all turned politely respectful as the band swung into BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:
Laying bare his soul (but keeping his green hat on), Mal called for I’M CONFESSIN’:
If Mal could Confess, it was only right that Sam could sing about ROSETTA:
The No Name Bar serves drinks that are some distance from a pot of Earl Grey, but Mal’s version of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA was suitably hot and sweet:
YELLOW DOG BLUES connected neatly with Leon’s deep interest in steam trains:
One of the young women in the audience who had come from the Canary Islands, directly, it seemed, to 757 Bridgeway, was named Maria: a good reason to call Berlin’s MARIE, even if Bunny was not in the house:
Everyone got serious for an impassioned BLACK AND BLUE, so strongly identified with Louis, Fats, and Andy Razaf:
The somber mood was quickly dispelled by Mal’s romping though an accusatory YOU RASCAL YOU, called late enough in the session so that none of the patrons would stalk out into the sunlight, offended, too early:
And Mal and the Big Money in Jazz Band told us it was time to go home with another Berlin classic, THE SONG IS ENDED:
But only for a week, as Fred Robbins used to say at the end of the 1944-45 Eddie Condon Town Hall broadcasts. And Mal brings the Big Money in Jazz Band to the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco every Saturday afternoon, and there’s a once-a-month Thursday gig at Armando’s in Martinez . . . as well as other spectaculars unknown to JAZZ LIVES but worth investigating.
May your happiness increase.