Tag Archives: Steve Little

PASSIONATE COOL: The JON DE LUCIA OCTET at CITY COLLEGE: JON DE LUCIA, BILL TODD, DAN BLOCK, DAN PEARSON, ANDREW HADRO, KEVIN THOMAS, STEVE LITTLE, JINJOO YOO, February 6, 2020.

Even though I would be characterized as someone faithful to “hot jazz,” I love this supple, lyrical, compact orchestra.  Jon has taste, as do the musicians who fill the chairs, and there is a sweet floating sweep to the sounds, individually and collectively, that emerge.

When Jon said that his Octet was giving a (too-brief) recital at City College, where he teaches, I packed my gear and — even without Anita and Roy — let myself off Uptown.  Here are a few delightful interludes from that session.  The saxophones are Jon and Bill Todd, alto; Dan Block and Dan Ransom, tenor; Andrew Hadro, baritone; the rhythm is JinJoo Yoo, piano; Kevin Thomas, string bass; Steve Little, drums (but with the caveat that the drums are someone else’s), and the arrangements and transcriptions are Jon’s.

PICK YOURSELF UP:

Cole Porter’s tender yet jaunty LOOKING AT YOU:

Jon’s own VALSE VIVIENNE, scored for four clarinets::

I’ll follow this band whenever and wherever I can.

May your happiness increase!

UPTOWN DELIGHTS: MICHAEL BANK QUINTET at THE SHRINE (CHARLIE CARANICAS, JOHN LUDLOW, BEN RUBENS, STEVE LITTLE: October 29, 2019)

Shrine World Music Venue, on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue), just below 134th Street in Harlem, is a welcoming place, “a multimedia arts and culture venue, founded in 2007 by musicians and music lovers in the music capital of Harlem, USA. . . . dedicated to art and culture in all mediums: film, theater, dance, and live music. Shrine World Music Venue’s mission is to establish a positive creative atmosphere for both artists and audiences from all backgrounds.”

I haven’t been there often, but admire their commitment to independent artists.  Late last October, I read that the pianist / composer Michael Bank, someone I’ve followed for fifteen years now, would be leading a small group there, and I eagerly went “uptown” for a brief but memorable gig. Michael had with him the venerable drummer Steve Little (Steve would have me tell you that he, once again, was playing on a drum set not his own), bassist Ben Rubens, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, and alto saxophonist John Ludlow.  Here are some of the highlights of their late afternoon swing exploration.

But first: Shrine is deceptive: its somewhat muted exterior conceals an interior mixing science-fiction and disco.  My phone pictures do not do it justice.  To their credit, the musicians ignored the lighting and just played — splendidly.

Michael and Charlie:

HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES?

WATCH WHAT HAPPENS:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

DEWEY SQUARE:

I wait for my next summons to the Shrine, where good music is allowed to grow, and does.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE LETTERS IN SOUND: JON DE LUCIA OCTET at THE SLOPE LOUNGE (November 5, 2018)

Here is delightful evidence of a heartfelt creative evening of music by the Jon De Lucia Octet, with arrangements and compositions by Jon, Jimmy Giuffre, Lee Konitz, and Dick Hyman,  Recorded on November 8, 2018, at the Slope Lounge (formerly the Tea Lounge) in Broooklyn, New York.  The saxophones in addition to Jon are John Ludlow, Dan Block, Adam Schneit, Andrew Hadro; Roberta Piket, keyboard; Kevin Thomas, string bass; Steve Little, drums (not his own, as always).

If you’d asked me two decades ago whether I liked “cool jazz” or “West Coast jazz,” from a position of relative ignorance I would have said no immediately, dismissing it as pale and cerebral where the music I loved was passionate.  But time after time, Jon De Lucia has (gently and sweetly) shown me the error of my ways.  The music he brings forth and composes is rooted deeply, and that word is central, in the sweet ardor of Lester Young: melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically rich and multi-layered even when it might initially seem spare.  Jon and his varied ensembles are now wonderfully rewarding . . . . music to my ears. I hope they are to yours also.

Jon’s own PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

DREAMILEE, Jon’s arrangement of a Lee Konitz solo on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

VALSE VIVIENNE, scored for four clarinets by Jon, in honor of his goddaughter:

Jimmy Giuffre’s arrangement of Jerome Kern’s THE SONG IS  YOU:

Jon’s transcription of Giuffre’s arrangement of LOVE LETTERS — an extraordinarily beautiful piece of music and performance:

Dick Hyman’s arrangement of the Gershwin TREAT ME ROUGH from a Trigger Alpert recording:

Cole Porter’s LOOKING AT YOU:

Jon’s own I RESEMBLE YOU:

Jon and friends make wonderful music, multi-layered and translucent.  For his new CD, visit here.  And to keep track of where he is playing next, here.  Take it from me: he’s someone worth following around for glorious surprising music.

May your happiness increase!

THE RIGHT TIME: The GREG RUGGIERO TRIO (MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE) at MEZZROW, October 1, 2018

The three serious-looking fellows below (from left, Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar) make wonderful music.  Greg’s new trio CD, IT’S ABOUT TIME, gentle explorations of great standards, is proof enough (read more here).

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

To celebrate the new CD, Greg, Steve, and Murray had a lovely session at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City) on October 1 of this year.  As befits a trio’s numerology, here are three selections showing the compact unhurried lyricism this group creates.  They know how to swing, how to leave space, how to play pretty, to create phrases to ring in the air: masters of their sonorous craft.

GONE WITH THE WIND:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE:

We could easily grow accustomed to this trio.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S ABOUT TIME”: GREG RUGGIERO, MURRAY WALL, STEVE LITTLE

From left. Murray Wall, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Greg Ruggiero, guitar. Photograph by Gabriele Donati.

Maybe you wouldn’t connect those mostly-somber faces with a new CD of gorgeous music, but trust me. Perhaps this will help:

The roots of this delightful effusion of thoughtful, swinging adult music go back a few years.  When I heard IT’S ABOUT TIME (Fresh Sounds / Swing Alley) for the first time, recently, I wrote this to Greg (who has a substantial sense of humor) as the possible opening lines of my planned blogpost: I’ve never met them, but I am seriously grateful to Camille and Lenny Ruggiero. For one thing, they are the parents of the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero, so you may draw your own inferences. But there’s another reason: Greg says that “for the past twenty years they have asked me to record a Standards album.”

That CD is here, and it’s called IT’S ABOUT TIME, and it’s a honey.

I checked with Greg to be sure his parents wouldn’t mind seeing that in print and he wrote back, The CD release party is October 1st at Mezzrow. The folks are coming, maybe you can meet them then!

The Mezzrow schedule (they’re on West Tenth Street in New York City) has tickets for sale here for the two October 1 shows; I know this because I bought some.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, or of ourselves here.  As a title, IT’S ABOUT TIME might refer to Greg’s parents’ two-decade long wait, but the title speaks to something fundamental about this CD, and about the music that Greg, Murray, and Steve make as a trio and on their own.  “Time,” to them, is more than what someone’s Apple watch might say: it is their visceral connection with rhythm, with the deep heartbeat that we feel from the Earth and also from the Basie rhythm section.  Fluid but unerring; sinuous but reliably trustworthy.  They live to swing, and we can rely on how well they do it, and how well it makes us feel.  Greg, Murray, and Steve are also reassuring in their love of melodies, and of melodic inprovisations.  This isn’t — to go back some decades — “Easy Listening,” but it certainly is easy to listen to.

The repertoire is classic; the approach melodic and emergized.  GONE WITH THE WIND is light and quick, a zephyr rather than a lament.  APRIL IN PARIS doesn’t lean on the Basie version, but is a series of sweet chimes: I never got the sense of “Oh, this is APRIL IN PARIS again, for the zillionth time.”  Sincerity rules, without drama.  Steve starts off I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS with a small explosion, heralding a romp rather than a nap, and the trades between him and the other two members later in the performance have the snap of Jo Jones.  Greg’s POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS is respectfully tender but it never bogs down under the weight of the hoped-for pug-nosed dream, and Murray’s solo seems so easy but is the work of a quiet master.  WHERE OR WHEN asks the musical question lightly and politely, without undue seriousness but with playful trades with Steve.  IF DREAMS COME TRUE is easy in its optimism, and it avoids the cliches attached to this venerable swing tune.

It’s lovely to have a CD (or a gig) include a blues — some musicians shy away from them for reasons not clear to me — and this one has a strolling THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE, fun in itself but also a nod to the most famous association on Steve’s vita, his time with Ellington.  (Yes, he taught Bert and Ernie how to swing, but that’s another matter.)  Gershwin’s LIZA, which is often played at a burning tempo, is a saunter here; DON’T BLAME ME is more cheerful than usual — perhaps this trio hasn’t been blamed for anything wicked recently?  I’d believe that — and the disc closes with a just-right TANGERINE.  Juicy, fruitful.

Greg’s playing is a delight, mixing single-string explorations with chordal accents for variety.  He doesn’t overpower the listener with Olympian slaloms on the fretboard, but plays the song as if he were speaking affectionately to us.  Murray Wall is one of the great warm exponents of logical improvisation, and Steve Little’s brushwork is a swing school in itself.  (You won’t miss a piano.)  The result is kind to the ears, with breathing room and ease — at times I thought these tracks a series of witty dances (there is plenty of good humor in this trio, although no joke-quotes).  Delightful dance music even for people like me, who spend more time in a chair than they should.  In the best way, this is an old-fashioned session, with musicians who know that there is life in the Great American Songbook, and that it is spacious enough to allow them to express their personalities.  But there’s a refreshing homage to the melodies, first and last, that’s often not the case with jazz recordings.

You can hear substantial excerpts from the CD here, and download the music as well.  You can purchase the CD here, and visit Greg’s website and Facebook page as well, all of which should provide entertainment and edification for these shortened days and longer nights.

Of course, the best thing for people in the tri-state area to do would be to show up at a Greg Ruggiero gig, such as the CD release one at Mezzrow, and buy discs there.  But I don’t want to tell you what to do . . . or do I?

May your happiness increase!

JON DE LUCIA OCTET and TED BROWN: “LIVE AT THE DRAWING ROOM” (October 22, 2016)

Although this CD is rather unobtrusive, no fuss or ornamentation, it captures a truly uplifting musical event, and I do not write those words lightly: music from tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, a mere 88 at the time of this gig, and a splendidly unified, inventive ensemble.

I’ve only known Jon De Lucia for a few years, but I trust his taste completely, and his performances always reward me.  Now, if I know that one of Jon’s groups is going to perform, I head to the gig with determination (and my camera). He asked me to write a few lines about this disc, and I was delighted to:

Some jazz listeners disdain “West Coast jazz,” “cool jazz,” or any music in the neighborhood of Lennie Tristano (not just East 32nd Street) as so cerebral that it’s barely defrosted. Jon De Lucia’s Octet shows how wrong that perception is: this music is warm, witty, embracing, not Rubik’s Cube scored for saxophones. Rather, the playful, tender spirit of Lester Young dances through everyone’s heart. This impassioned group swings, even when the players are intently looking at the score. For this gig, the Octet had a great spiritual asset in the gently fervent playing of Ted Brown, a Sage of melodic invention. Also, this session was recorded at one of New York City’s now-lost shrines, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s “The Drawing Room,” a sacred home for all kinds of music. I am grateful that Jon De Lucia has created this group: so delightful in whatever they play. You’ll hear it too.

Here’s what Jon had to say:

Saxophonist Jon De Lucia met the great tenorist Ted Brown in 2014, and got to play with him soon after. He was and is struck by the pure lyricism and honesty in his improvising. One of the original students of forward thinking pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940s, Brown, along with Lee Konitz, is among the last of this great school of players. Later, when De Lucia discovered some of Jimmy Giuffre’s original scores from the Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre session of 1959, which Brown and Konitz both participated in, he knew he wanted to put a band together to play this music with Ted.

Thus the Jon De Lucia Octet was formed. A five saxophone and rhythm lineup with unique arrangements by the great clarinetist/saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre. The original charts featured Lee Konitz on every track, and the first step in 2016 was to put a session together reuniting Brown and Konitz on these tunes. An open rehearsal was held at the City College of New York, Lee took the lead and played beautifully while Ted took over the late Warne Marsh’s part. This then led to the concert you have here before you.

De Lucia steps into Lee’s shoes, while the features have been reworked to focus on Brown, including new arrangements of his tunes by De Lucia and daughter Anita Brown. The rest of the band includes a formidable set of young saxophonists, including John Ludlow, who incidentally was a protege of the late Hal McCusick, who also played on the original recording session of Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre, and plays the alto saxophone, now inherited, used in the session. Jay Rattman and Marc Schwartz round out the tenors, and Andrew Hadro, who can be heard to great effect on “Venus De Milo,” plays the baritone. In the rhythm section, Ray Gallon, one of NYC’s most swinging veterans on the piano, Aidan O’Donnell on the bass and the other legend in the room, the great Steve Little on the drums. Little was in Duke Ellington’s band in 1968, recording on the now classic Strayhorn tribute …and His Mother Called Him Bill, before going on to record all of the original Sesame Street music and much more as a studio musician.

The show was sold out at Brooklyn’s now defunct Drawing Room, operated by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig. Along with the music previously mentioned, De Lucia had recently acquired some of the original parts from Gerry Mulligan’s Songbook session, which featured Konitz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Allen Eager in another great sax section recording, this time arranged by Bill Holman. Here the band plays “Sextet,” and “Venus De Milo” from that session. Brown, here making the band a Nonet, plays beautifully and takes part in every tune, reading parts even when not soloing. Not included in this CD is an extended take of Konitz’s “Cork n’ Bib” and Giuffre’s piece for three clarinets, “Sheepherders.” Possible bonus releases down the line!

Since this concert, the Octet has taken on a life of its own, covering the repertoire of the original Dave Brubeck Octet, more of the Mulligan material, Alec Wilder, and increasingly De Lucia’s own material. De Lucia continues searching for rare and underperformed material, rehearsing regularly in NYC and performing less regularly. 

Earlier in this post, I wrote about my nearly-obsessive desire to bring my camera to gigs, and this session was no exception.  However, I must preface the video below with a caveat: imperfect sight lines and even more imperfect sound.  The CD was recorded by the superb pianist Tony Melone — someone I didn’t know as a wonderful live-recording engineer, and the sound he obtained makes me embarrassed to post this . . . but I hope it acts as an inducement for people to hear more, in delightfully clear sound:

If you gravitate towards expert warm ensemble playing, soloing in the spirit of Lester, a mixture of romping swing and tender introspection, you will applaud this CD as I do.

You can buy it here, with digital downloads available in the usual places.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SOUNDS IN MOTION: JON DE LUCIA OCTET in RECITAL: JON DE LUCIA, ANDREW HADRO, DAN BLOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, STEFAN VASNIER, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE (City College, May 3, 2018)

I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.

Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions.  I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded.  Here is a sample from March 2017.

Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up.  Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos.  You’ll hear and see for yourself.

If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.

At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.

Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:

Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:

The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:

PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:

The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:

DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new  Bach Shapes book:

Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon.  Dance music for very hip couples:

and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:

Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records — this summer.  Expect to hear more about it here.

May your happiness increase!