Tag Archives: Steve PIkal

“EIGHT LITTLE LETTERS”: The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET (DANNY COOTS, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE) at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (March 2, 2019)

Fifty-Second Street, California edition.

Too good to ignore: Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, clarinet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet. THREE LITTLE WORDS, key-changing from C to Ab:

That swinging love song from 1930 is much loved by jazz musicians — perhaps beginning with the Ellington version. It’s also the setup for a famous Turk Murphy joke, and Pee Wee Russell used to call it THREE LITTLE BIRDS. Here it’s a playground for this swinging band to enjoy themselves and bring joy to us.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR COMPASS POINTS SOUTH: HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO) at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, July 28, 2019.

Not that I need a reason! But I am posting this today for two: the HCJF version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN made many people happy, if the statistics are valid proof — here — and today is Brian Holland’s birthday. So we celebrate him and the band!

It intrigues me that so many of the songs that are classics of hot jazz sing the praises of the American South, although many of the African-American musicians went at least partway North as soon as they could, and for good reason. Louis Armstrong really loved his home town, so there was no irony in his singing and playing WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for forty years; other musicians, however, felt the disconnect keenly — that Fats Waller could record MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH but while he was touring that region the hotels and restaurants frequented by the dominant race were closed to him. Alas.

All this is prelude to the Bennie Moten – Thamon Hayes instrumental hit, simply called SOUTH — recorded in 1924 and 1928, and kept in the Victor catalogue into the Fifties. I found out that lyrics — quite pedestrian ones — were added by “Ray Charles,” but if my source is correct and they were written in 1936, that RC is not the famous one. And the lyrics aren’t worth the space here.

My window faces north-west, but I can always make it face the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. And no, I don’t need more catsup. But thank you. The only thing that troubles me is that I cannot remember the name of this eatery: was it THE FIRE PIT? Oh, well, the music lasts longer than beer does.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S BACK, BRINGING SWING WITH HER: HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at MONTEREY (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, March 7, 2020)

I think of a performance like this as brightly colored but full of shadings, a compendium of Fifty-Second Street camaraderie brought into our century. Or, more simply, five minutes of expert joy. Notice I write expert: it’s only in the movies where Jack Webb picks up a cornet and is — voila! — proficient. For these jovial fellows and their colleagues, swing is a life’s work.

They are, from left, Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal (whose birthday is today), string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. (Dear Jacob: my apologies for not swinging the camera around sufficiently to always capture you.)

And the song here is the Al Dubin – Harry Warren delight, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.

This performance has its own extra added emotional kick. Not only is it musically wonderful, but it is a souvenir of the last time I saw this band in action, the last festival I attended. We live in hope for a swinging future, you know.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

HOPEFULLY YOURS: JACOB ZIMMERMAN and STEVE PIKAL (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

It’s time for some music both tranquil and energized: an improvised duet on the Andy Razaf – Paul Denniker ‘S’POSIN’, by Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet, and Steve Pikal, string bass, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020.  Jacob and Steve were part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, musing their way through this 1929 song, associated with Fats Waller.

This interlude feels like a lovely series of inquiries gently tossed back and forth, a conversation floating in mid-air, touching the melody, stating it, then veering into swinging patterns, to return to the melody:

I find it impossible to listen to that performance only once at a sitting.

A few happy digressions about the song.  Although you don’t hear the lyrics, they are charming variations on “I adore you. May I kneel at your shins,” and so on.  I imagine the slightly abashed wooer quietly inhabiting the conditional tense: “Would it be acceptable to you if I told you how entrancing you are, or would you turn my words away?” or the hypothetical, “Suppose I said you are Alpha and Omega, honey lamb? Would you respond positively or negatively?”  We might characterize this lover-to-be as overly timid, but I think such sweet tentativeness is a tender way of avoiding the usual aggressiveness.

I wanted to wait until this section of the blogpost to mention that my favorite full-scale version of this song was the Seger Ellis when-worlds-collide recording on June 24, 1929, for OKeh: Ellis captures eagerness and worried reticence, and he’s accompanied by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Stan King, Justin Ring, Harry Hoffman, and Mister Strong, formerly known as “Little Louis.”  It’s on YouTube.

Finally, when I Googled “‘S’POSIN’,” this came up:

He’s a Las Vegas attorney, although now his firm is now the Posin Law Group: “Providing personalized and superior representation to the Las Vegas community since 1997 for Family Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury and Bankruptcy. . . . if you were involved with domestic violence, a car accident, divorce problems, a DUI or any other drug related charges our team of experts will be there to provide support, advice and representation in court. . . . please call our offices at 702-396-8888 and schedule a consultation.”

Now, sing along with me, “‘S’posin’ I should fall upon my face / Would you think that you would take my case?” or your own variation, apologies to Andy Razaf.  Then go back and admire Messrs. Zimmerman and Pikal anew.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING (WITH AN ALTITUDE): The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 28, 2019)

No elk in the parking lot and no double rainbows at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival, but the music was full of natural wonders: especially the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, featuring Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; and, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, John Otto.  Here are three sprightly performances to prove that the altitude helped get people higher rather than tiring them out.

A positively jaunty WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

A key-changing romp through THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Waller’s composed-in-the-taxi 0pus of 1929, MINOR DRAG:

It will be lovely to hear this band once again in person — someday soon?  And perhaps to make my way to Evergreen, Colorado, for a rewarding summer weekend of inventive hot music.

May your happiness increase!

ALL THE CLOUDS WILL ROLL AWAY: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 8, 2020)

Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler were not in attendance at the Jazz Bash by the Bay on March 8, 2020, but we didn’t miss them, because the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet (Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet) chased the clouds away at a fraction of the cost of a Ziegfeld musical:

That’s a band, Brothers and Sisters.

May your happiness increase!

“I HADN’T A CLUE”: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, and RILEY BAKER (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 8, 2020)

At the end of my teaching career, I came to feel that knowing was overrated, that the willingness to say, “Gee, I can’t really tell you,” was so liberating.  I could place the burden of Knowledge tenderly on the sidewalk and scoot away, not even looking back to see if someone had picked it up.

The enlightened state of not-knowingness is even more exalted when it has a soundtrack.

Here, it’s a swinging one, provided by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet with guest star Riley Baker, trombone — Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Marc Caparone, cornet.  All of this spiritual shape-shifting happened at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 8, 2020.

It doesn’t hurt that the spirit smiling on all this lovely business is Benny Carter: if you don’t know his 1933 recording of I NEVER KNEW, set aside some time to be dropped into bliss.

Bless these fellows who so open-heartedly share not only what they play but who they are with us.

This performance was created only five months ago by the calendar but it seems like decades have passed.  But perhaps counting the days and mourning our powerlessness is just another attempt at knowing — a reliance on evidence that constricts us, like a sweater that has become too tight that we can put in the thrift-store bag and give away without a second thought?  I wonder.  (Wondering is an activity approved of by JAZZ LIVES, in case you have any concerns.)

May your happiness increase!

THE WEATHER FORECAST: 100% CHANCE OF SWING –BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, RILEY BAKER (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

To me, music like this doesn’t require much explication, and to begin to label and analyze it (in the style of Gunther Schuller) would be an insult.  Here are six of my friend-heroes — guest Riley Baker, trombone; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; the very amused Steve Pikal, string bass — improvising on an Irving Berlin classic, BLUE SKIES.  (The place?  Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California.  The time?  Before the world changed.)

But notice how much respect these jazz improvisers — who, in this century, are supposed to be enthralled by harmonic density and innovation — give to Berlin’s melody, even as they are turning phrases this way and that.  Hear how six instrumentalists, by eschewing the ensemble-solos-ensemble format, create an ever-shifting small orchestra, full of variations of texture . . . so that the performance is fulfilling rather than formulaic.

Listen, watch, and delight:

They really know how to do it.  And “we’ll be together again.”  I guarantee it, to quote the late Justin Wilson, king of the properly-made roux.

May your happiness increase!

FINE RIFFIN’ THAT EVENING: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, STEVE PIKAL, RILEY BAKER (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

Jacob Zimmerman, Riley Baker, March 7, 2020, Monterey, California

Good music for a Saturday night, or anytime.  In performance at the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, this composition wasn’t announced by name, but it’s really Jacob Zimmerman’s RADIATOR — dedicated to Ray Skjelbred — an improvisation on the venerable theme SHINE. (And before you get all het up about SHINE, please read this to get the real story about that song, written by African-Americans as a proud affirmation. But I digress.) The result is some fine riffin’ by Jacob, alto saxophone and head arrangement; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; guest star and friend Riley Baker, trombone.

Righteous stuff, wouldn’t you say?  I look forward to our next reunion, when all the cacophony (emotional, medical, political — you name it) has subsided.  I hear that medical staffs worldwide are working on a vaccine for hateful ignorance, too.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOT DANCES and AN IMPROVISED MEDITATION: the HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO, MARC CAPARONE (July 28-29, 2019)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Here is some wonderful music from one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, appearing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (that’s Evergreen, Colorado) in July 2019.  For this weekend, the quintet was Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.

I might be paraphrasing Yogi Berra, but this piece of music is so famous that no one every plays it anymore.  I’m referring to the 1923 CHARLESTON, words and music by Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, as noted below:

In my childhood, when several television shows purported to reproduce the ambiance and music of “The Roaring Twenties,” one by that title starring Dorothy Provine, CHARLESTON was played and sung often.  But now, I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz band play or sing it.  (Note: I know there are wonderful recordings, and as I write this, the Original Boulevardiers of Bucharest are driving audiences wild with their rendition, but you don’t need to write in.)  Here’s the HCJQ’s frisky version:

and a cool tender IMPROVISATION on a theme recorded but not composed by Fats Waller — the performers are John Otto and Steve Pikal:

Another HOT DANCE (as it would say on the record label), KRAZY KAPERS, perhaps harking back to the comic strip? — variations on the theme of DIGA DIGA DOO:

This band knocks me out, song after song.  I saw them most recently at the Jazz Bash by the Bay . . . and you will get to see and hear them also, more . . . .

May your happiness increase!

“THE RICH PAGEANT OF HUMANITY,” or A FEW TUNES FROM THE JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Steve Pikal, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, March 6, 2020)

Let me be plain: before the skies darkened to the shade they are now, I flew from New York to Monterey in March to immerse myself in the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I am deeply glad that I did.  Here are the first three performances I saw and captured — by one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, which is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet.

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS — now, for most of us, a dream out of reach:

Rodgers and  Hart, 1927:

and the vengeance song that sounds like a love ballad to those unaware of the lyrics:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my mask and gloves on to go get my mail.  It’s the thought that someday soon I might see and hear my friends play jazz again that keeps me from eating the decorative molding.  Be well, dear readers.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE END OF THE ROAD, A WARM EMBRACE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

This post is full of emotion for me, and I hope for some of you: not just the music but the reality under the music, the world in which we now read and hear and attempt to proceed.

I offer you two lovely performances of songs by Irving Berlin and by George and Ira Gershwin, by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass — created for us at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, on May 11, 2019.

The beginning of this story is the last live jazz I saw — at Cafe Bohemia in New York City, celebrated elsewhere on this blog — on March 12, 2020.  And even then people were [wisely, politely, perhaps tactfully] recoiling from one another, because who knew that your dear friend didn’t carry a double helping of death?

A few nights earlier, people were giving each other elbow bumps in lieu of closer contact, and when I, without thinking, shook the hand of a new acquaintance, we both looked at each other in embarrassment and shock, and we both muttered apologies, as if we’d taken an unseemly liberty.  I know all this is prudent and exceedingly necessary — more so than choosing to wash the apple one buys at the farmers’ market before devouring it.  But it adds to the despair.

It’s now almost June, and we greet each other as if we were grenades — and with reason.  I know I am not alone in feeling the deadly deprivation of human contact (I have been hugging people — those I know and who would not back away — for perhaps a decade now, because it seems a natural loving expression) and the emotional aridity that distance imposes.  Grinning and waving is an incomplete substitute.  Hugging oneself just ain’t the same thing.  You know this.

Because there is no live music for me to drink in and to video-record, I have been delving into my YouTube archives, which go back to 2006, in search of satisfying performances that the artists will allow to be shared.  It is easier, of course, for me to pretend I am at the Ear Inn by watching a video than to pretend that I am hugging and being hugged, but it, too, is only a small palliative.

My searching, thankfully, has borne fruit, and I have found a goodly number from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which — on my 2019 visit — seemed the perfection of the art form.  It did not happen in 2020, but those of us who feel such things deeply pray that it will in May 2021.

In the set called featuring Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet, Dawn and the wonderful people I’ve mentioned above performed two songs that are poignant in themselves, but in connection almost unbearably so for what they hold out to us as possibilities unreachable at the moment.

The first is Berlin’s WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which tells that that there will be “Peace and contentment at the end of the road”; given this tender reading, it’s hard to interpret this song as anything but hopeful, even though the road is longer and darker than perhaps even Berlin imagined:

Three songs later in the set, Marc chose as his feature EMBRACEABLE YOU — thinking, as one would, of Bobby Hackett:

The combination of the two songs is somber and lovely all at once.

I dare not waste energy on discussing what “the new normal” will look like: rather, my wish is that all of us live to see and experience it.  But I do dream that  the end of the road we are now on will have a plenitude of embraces given and received.  We will never again, I hope, take such things for granted.

Thanks to the musicians here and to the people who make the Redwood Coast Music Festival possible and glorious, and of course heartfelt thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen.  Let this post stand as an IOU for future grateful embraces.

May your happiness increase!

LET’S GET GROOVY: JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS (a/k/a THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET) at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY, March 7, 2020

DINAH is one of the standbys of the swing-jazz-vocal repertoire, and has been so since Ethel Waters introduced it in 1925.

But it has been played faster and faster since then.  Here it’s completely groovy, performed by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, featuring Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Brian Holland, piano, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020.

Harry Lim texted me to say how much he approves of this, by the way. He wants to sign the HCQ to a Keynote Records contract but is having trouble sending the paperwork.

They can really play.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER TUNE FOR THE TIMES (March 8, 2020)

This commercialized mirth might strike you as extreme, but bear with me.

Perhaps this will resonate more effectively.  The OKeh sleeve makes me smile.

And this.

This song has been turned into a terrible cliche through ninety years of routine performance, but this effort from March 8 — which seems like ages ago! — takes me right back to Billie and Louis. The cheerful creators here are Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Brian Holland, piano; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet; special guest, Riley Baker, trombone. All this goodness took place at the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California.

As an aside, I’d always thought of SMILING as a post-Wall Street crash song, but not only was Louis’ recording before the market imploded, but the first recording, by Bill Carlsen’s Orchestra, dates from May 1928 in Chicago.  (Thanks to Charles Richdale for this prompt answer to my research query.)  So the suggestion that smiling built community where tears did not was in its own way timeless.  I hope readers can find reason to grin.

In the process of assembling this blog — which often feels like a small-town newspaper — I encountered this sweet 1928 recording, new to me, which I include because it begins with the verse.  And I admire Seger Ellis.  SMILING has gotten criticized by the “true jazz connoisseurs” as saccharine, over-simple: a song that needed improvisers to raise it above the mundane.  I’d disagree: sometimes a sweet uncomplicated tonic is just the thing to settle one’s nerves.

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH SENDS THE MELLOW SERMON (with DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, BRIAN HOLLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE: Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 8, 2020)

A friend said to me a few days ago, only half-joking, “Could you hold down the optimism a bit?  It’s getting on my nerves.”  I apologized, but these days, “Latch on to the affirmative!” is my motto.

Dawn Lambeth is one of my favorite singers, and she keeps getting better: I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing her again at the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay earlier this month, and she delivered some telling words that have only gotten more relevant.  With her are Steve Pikal, string bass; Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Marc Caparone, cornet — a group of amiable ruffians known as the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet.  And here they are!

This is understandably an arid time for live jazz in performance, but I will keep sending the sermon through this blog, with many delightful moments from the Jazz Bash by the Bay, less than two weeks ago.

May your happiness increase!

May

“THE STRANGE INTERSECTION OF LOVE AND FIDUCIARY MATTERS”: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 29, 2019)

Above, the musicians.  Below, the text for the mellow sermon.

Now, this 1930 song seems a charming period piece.  How many people, ninety years later, know the archaic vocabulary painfully current shortly after the stock market crash? It owes its immortality to Louis, as so much music does:

Marc Caparone acknowledges our debt to Mister Strong in his own way, with Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass:

Some concepts never die: I just heard someone speak of “being emotionally invested” in another person.  May our psychic portfolios always gain in value.

And, speaking of value, the Holland-Coots Quintet will be appearing at the 40th Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, this March — and the Musician of the Year will be Mister Caparone.  Good sounds await.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART TWO: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

Hal Smith swings:

and his bands do also:

 

 

Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL is a splendid little band, greeted enthusiastically in person and in cyberspace, which will become evident in sixty-four bars.  (The lovely weird artwork below is the cover of their debut CD, by the way.)

Here’s Part One, where you can savor LITTLE GIRL; LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER; HELLO, FISHIES; BATS ON A BRIDGE; BIG AL; PIPELINER’S BLUES; WINDY CITY SWING; HELLO, LOLA.

And the second portion, beginning with LONG-DISTANCE MAN, which has a beautiful story behind it even before the deeply lyrical music begins — for me a highlight of the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival:

Dan Walton’s exuberant ROLL ‘EM, PETE:

Jamey Cummins’ THE SHEIK OF airbnb:

The poignant BLUE LESTER:

And a rollicking THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

Truly a band to know and to follow.  On a related note — in a major key — the 30th Anniversary Redwood Coast Music Festival will take place in Eureka, California, from May 7-10, 2020.  I’ll be there, and Hal and many of my hero-friends also.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2019)

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.

I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should.  Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it.  I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.

He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly.  And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on.  He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull.  But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer.  Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy.  Time to make new memories!” and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.

I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens?  It’s not easy.  Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar.  And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.

All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week.  The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf.  We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.

And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:

I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.

Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever.  Make new memories.

May your happiness increase!

PARADOXES OF FEELING: BRIAN HOLLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27, 2019)

Ann Ronell’s 1932 song is a terribly sad one, a story of romance that failed.  Here is the verse that few sing — perhaps because it is so openly melancholy:

Oh Lord, why did you send the darkness to me?
Are the shadows forever to be?
Where’s the light I’m longing to see?
Oh Lord, once we met by the old willow tree
Now you’ve gone and left nothing to me
Nothing but a sweet memory.

But the instrumental version I present here — although its hues are dark — does not leave this listener feeling despondent.  Rather, I admire the technical, lyrical, and emotional mastery of these players: Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, in this performance recorded at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

One reason I call this post PARADOXES OF FEELING is that the five people playing such gloriously sad music are not in themselves depressives — to them it’s another artistic opportunity to enter an emotional world, fully inhabit it, and then move on to something of a different hue, perhaps CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, and “be” that song as well.

Another reason, more personal, is that tomorrow morning, when it is still quite dark, I will be driving to the airport to travel to the San Diego Jazz Fest, where this band and others will work marvels right in front of us.  The other bands?  Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band,” Grand Dominion, the Yerba Buena Stompers, John Royen’s New Orleans group, the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and too many others to mention . . . to say nothing of attending everyone’s set.  I’ll see my friends and heroes Jeff Hamilton, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Katie Cavera, and others — even if only in passing in the halls.

If I’m not laid low by a spoiled avocado or attacked by an enraged fan who wants to know why his favorite band doesn’t receive sufficient coverage on JAZZ LIVES, I will return with evidence of beauties, sad or joyous, to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART ONE: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

This is part of the world that Hal Smith’s Swing Central comes from — but the world of Swing Central is living and thriving now.

Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives

This little group is packed with pleasures.  It’s Hal Smith’s evocation of a world where Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young could hang out at Jimmy Ryan’s, where Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, Pops Foster, and Dave Tough could have breakfast after the gig, perhaps chicken and waffles uptown.  And the music they created as naturally as breathing was lyrical hot swing that didn’t have the time or patience for labels.

This version of Hal’s group has him on drums and moral leadership, Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and some original compositions, Dan Walton, piano and vocal, Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummns, guitar.  This is the first part of a long leisurely showcase at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California.

and a Bing Crosby hit that justifiably entered the jazz repertoire:

Jonathan Doyle’s wonderful HELLO, FISHIES:

something for people who have been to Austin, Texas, or for those who need to take a trip there, BATS ON A BRIDGE:

A dedication to one Mister Capone, who liked jazz when he wasn’t working:

Dan Walton sings and plays Moon Mullican’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, while everyone joins in on this jump blues:

for the Chicagoans and the rest of us as well, WINDY CITY SWING:

and we’ll close the first half of this uplifting set with HELLO, LOLA — a reminder of Red McKenzie and his friends:

Hal’s beautiful little group also made a CD where they strut their stuff quite happily: I wrote about it here.

And they will be appearing — with Kris Tokarski and Ryan Gould in for Walton and Pikal — at the Austin Lindy Exchange, November 21-24 — which, like love, is just around the corner.

Not incidentally, the Redwood Coast Music Festival is happening again, thank goodness and thanks to Mark Jansen and Valerie Jansen, from May 7-10, 2020.  More information  here as well.  Some numbers: it’s their 30th anniversary; it runs for 4 days; there are 30 bands; more than 100 sets of music.  Do the math, as we say, and come on.

May your happiness increase!

FREDERICK HODGES, HIMSELF, CHARMS US (Stomptime, April 27 – May 3, 2019)

Frederick Hodges, in a very serious moment

The singular pianist / singer / archivist / entertainer Frederick Hodges describes what he does as “Sophisticated and Jazzy Piano Stylings of the Great American Songbook,” and it is a reassuring example of truth in advertising.

I had not encountered him in person before last spring’s Stomptime cruise in the Eastern Caribbean, but he dazzled us all.  He is an elegant personage who likes to amuse as well as play music: there is nothing stuffy about him, and he has all the characteristics of a great entertainer, whether he is recounting a comic anecdote, whipping up and down the keyboard, singing in English (or occasionally in another tongue): he’s a complete show in himself.

His piano style is at once ornate and swinging — a window into 1936 pop music and jazz when they were comfortable bedfellows.  Those who don’t listen closely will hear only the ornamentation, impressive in itself: those who pay closer attention will hear a very precise artist who draws on varied inspirations for his own brightly shining result.  You can hear ragtime and stride and “cocktail piano” in his work — and the admiring shades of Fats Waller and Eubie Blake.  He also has listened closely to the duo-piano teams of the last century, and can make you believe there is another person on the piano bench.

Here, he makes KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW gleam:

With Steve Pikal, string bass, and Dick Maley, drums, he dances through LADY BE GOOD, a performance framed by characteristic puckishness:

another classic, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

Perhaps the most famous Gershwin tune, I GOT RHYTHM:

Some more Fats (in the daylight, hence the change of hue):

And a Eubie Blake extravaganza, properly titled:

Frederick also plays well with others: (Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Danny Coots, drums) on the TIN ROOF BLUES.  Slow-moving dancers (or are they ships docking?) impede our view of the band but the music comes through:

and the beloved ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by the same bunch:

He’s a singular musician, a remarkable personality.

May your happiness increase!