Tag Archives: Stride piano

A HOT AFTERNOON AT NEWPORT: EUBIE BLAKE, DONALD LAMBERT, WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH, DANNY BARKER, BERNARD ADDISON, AL HALL, RUDI BLESH (July 1, 1960)

Here is some delightfully rare music from a legendary concert — in videos, no less, although the visual quality is seriously limited.  I had heard about this music and these films decades ago and, years later, a copy, how many generations removed, I can’t say, made its way to me.  The videos are hard to watch, especially for eyes used to today’s brilliantly sharp images, but they are precious.  [They will be less eye-stressful for those who can sit far back from the screen.] All of the music performed that afternoon is now blessedly available for a pittance (see details at the end) but the videos add a remarkable dimension of “being there.”

July 1, 1960 was hot at the Newport Jazz Festival, perhaps especially in the afternoon for Rudi Blesh’s “Stride Piano Stars” program, a select group of “old-timers,” none of whom were particularly elderly in years or energy that day.

Here is Eubie’s BLACK KEYS ON PARADE and LOVEY JOE:

Now, the Danny Barker Trio (Danny, banjo and vocal; Al Hall, string bass; Bernard Addison, mandolin) with a feature for Danny on THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

More virtuosic showmanship on TIGER RAG:

Here’s Donald Lambert’s ANITRA’S DANCE:

Now, the Lamb plays LIZA as the restless camera-eye finds wiggling limbs:

Eubie and the Lamb play CHARLESTON, Eubie taking the star role:

Hat firmly in place, Willie “the Lion” Smith offers Walter E. Miles’ SPARKLETS:

Fats would have been 56: the Lion sings and plays AIN’T MSBEHAVIN’:

Two melancholy postscripts to all this joy.  On Saturday, July 2, a riot broke out, and the festival did not return until 1962.  Donald Lambert died less than two years later.

But the music remains.  Here, at Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, one can download the audio for the entire afternoon concert (slightly more than ninety minutes) for five dollars.  The performances are listed below.

Introductions by Willis Conover and Rudi Blesh / Stride Piano Demonstration (“Sweet Lorraine”)- Donald Lambert / Development of Ragtime and Stride Piano-Blesh / Early Hits from 1920’s-Eubie Blake / Black Keys On Parade / Lovey Joe // Take Me Out To The Ballgame- Danny Barker Trio / Muskrat Ramble / The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise // Anitra’s Dance-Lambert / Tea For Two / Liza // Polonaise- the Lion / “Shout” Defined / Carolina Shout / Ain’t Misbehavin’ // Fats Waller Medley-Lambert / James P. Johnson Medley // Old Fashioned Love-Eubie / Charleston / Charleston (Part 2) // My Gal Sal-Danny Barker / Tiger Rag // Sparklets-the Lion // I Know That You know-Lambert // Memories Of You-Eubie // Stars and Stripes Forever-Eubie, Lambert, the Lion //

This film or video is a wonder, even greenish and blurred.  With the audio, we can revel in vivid art.

May your happiness increase!

“BANG A FEW NOTES”: HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT (5.5.20)

A long post follows, with many new stories.

My awareness of the amazing musician Donald Lambert began in 1970, when I heard this music coming out of my FM radio speaker when Ed Beach (WRVR-FM of sainted memory) offered a program of Lambert’s then few recordings:

I loved then and still love the beautiful carpet of the verse.  But I was uplifted by the rollicking tempo and swing of the chorus.  And not only by the pianist, but by the drummer, cavorting along — not overbearing, but personal and free, saying “Yeah!” to Lambert at every turn, but not too often.

The magic possible in cyberspace has made it possible for me to talk with Howard Kadison, the nimble drummer on that recording and — no cliche, a witness to history, because he knew and played with people we revere.  First, he and Audrey VanDyke, another gracious scholar, made available to me the text of an entire periodical devoted to the Lamb, which I have posted here eight months ago.  It’s an afternoon’s dive, I assure you: I’ve also presented the two fuzzy videos of Lambert, solo, at Newport, July 1, 1960, that are known on YouTube.

But Howard and I finally had a chance to talk at length, and I can offer you the very pleasing and sometimes surprising results.  Howard doesn’t have a high profile in the jazz world, and I suspect he is content with that.  But he played drums with Danny Barker, Connie Jones, George Finola, and many others whose names he recalls with pleasure.  However, he was most famous to me as the drumming sidekick — the delightful accompanist — to stride piano legend Donald Lambert.  The session they created for Rudi Blesh (pictured above) always lifts my spirits.  As did my conversation with the man himself.

On May 5, Howard graciously talked to me about “Lamb” and his experiences being Lambert’s drummer of choice — both at Frank Wallace’s High Tavern in West Orange, New Jersey, and in the recording studio.  Sit back and enjoy his beautiful narrative.  He was there, and he loved Lambert.

HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT

 I always fooled around with the drums.  I was really drum-crazy — I used to have a telephone book with brushes, and I’d play with the radio when I was fourteen, fifteen, twelve years old.  I always liked music and if I heard a song I could always remember it.  I had come from a divorced home and was dividing my time between Chicago and Miami when my parents split up.  And when I was in Miami I heard a radio station, WMBM, “The Rockin’ MB,” Miami Beach, and I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but it was jazz.  I had no idea about jazz.  And I listened to it and just fooled around with it.  Then I went on to college, and in my junior year, I really decided that I wanted to play drums.  Whenever there was music in Miami, I would go to whatever event it was.  I always had a peripheral interest.

In 1959, I went to New York, and was very serious about it, and started taking lessons.  When I was in college, I was an econ major, so it was quite a change.  I studied with Jim Chapin initially, and for a long while with George Gaber.  I had an endless series of day jobs, and one of them had me working in the mailroom of ABC.  George Gaber was a staff percussionist, and he was a brilliant teacher who eventually ran the percussion program at Indiana University.  But before he left New York I studied with him for a couple of years.  The way I met him was he was practicing one day — he came in and was warming up — and I watched him.  I was delivering mail, and he just started talking to me.  He asked me if I was a drummer, because I was watching him so intently.  I told him I was trying to be, and he took me under his wing.

While I was there, I ran into a banjoist and guitar player who became one of my mentors, Danny Barker.  Danny was playing at a place called the Cinderella, which was on West Third Street in the Village.  He kept in touch with me, and he started giving me little gigs that would come up.  And there were a bunch of guys playing around at that time.  There was a wonderful piano player named Don Coates, and Ed Polcer, and Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood.  They were all older than I, but I got to know them a little bit.  I started working, just gradually.  And then Don Coates, who was from Jersey, brought me out to hear Don Lambert play.  I just thought it was the most wonderful music.  I forget exactly how it happened, but this was shortly after Lambert had gone to Newport in July 1960.

Danny Barker told me that Don came up on the bandstand at Newport, at what they called the Old-Timers concert in the early afternoon, and there were a lot of good stride players there, and he got up and, to use Danny’s words, “this old man killed everybody. He got up there and played and scared the crap out of everybody in the place.”  And Danny never used language like that. “He left those people there shaking like a leaf.”

So I met Lambert through Don Coates, and Lambert said, “If you ever want to come in and bring a snare drum, there’s not much room back here, but you can bang a few notes with me.”  That’s a direct quote.  So I took the Hudson Tubes to Newark, and then got on a bus, and finally found myself in West Orange, New Jersey, I think it was, and would walk from the bus to Wallace’s High Tavern, which was where Lambert was playing.  I brought a snare drum, and played some brushes.

I should explain.  He played behind a long oval bar on a platform which was just enough room for a baby grand piano.  Guys would come sit in with him occasionally, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room to play with.  Anyway, I played a couple of tunes, and as I was leaving, Frank Wallace came up to me — he was the owner of the  place — and he said, “Would you like to come in once and a while and play?  Lambert enjoyed your playing.”  You know, Lambert didn’t talk to me; he did.  And I said yes: I didn’t know he was offering me a gig, I thought he was just talking to me to come in and play once in a while.  I did it a couple more times, and then he said, “What would be involved to get a set of drums back here?”  I said, “Well, there’s not much room.”  There was just room for a snare drum to fit in one little place.  I used sit near a display of alcohol on one side and Lambert on the other, and in the middle there was a cash register where he would ring up the sales.  He had me sitting next to the cash register, and when he’d ring up a sale, if I wasn’t careful and didn’t duck, the drawer would hit me in the head, which I’m sure explains a lot of my behavior these days.

Anyway, he figured out a way of getting a bass drum in there, and he moved some things under the bar.  I think there was a connection to a sink or something, he kind of juggled some stuff and I was able to get a small bass drum in there, a hi-hat, and one cymbal.  It was pretty cramped in there, but I was able to do it.  And I started playing on a regular basis, about three nights a week, and it was eight bucks a night plus a sandwich, one of those heated sandwiches where they use an electric bulb and they put them in those cases.  I was working days, and Frank would drive me to the train station after the gig, and I’d take the train home, back to New York City.  But I would go there by bus, from Port Authority bus station, through the Hudson Tubes, and then a pretty long walk.  I’d have to leave the drums there.  That went on for a while.

There was one very critical thing that happened that was helpful.  The set-up didn’t allow me to see Lambert while he was playing.  We would play almost with our backs to one another, or at right angles.  So I had to listen very intently to everything he was going to do, because he didn’t do a lot of talking when he played.  He’d go from one tune to another, and I’ve often thought in retrospect that this experience of really listening was very important, because it required a very specific kind of focus to know what he was going to do.  He’d play an introduction, then he’d play the time, and that was it.

That went on a couple of years, and then there was a project that came up.  It was a guy named Rudi Blesh was going to record Lambert.  That didn’t involve me at all.  I think it was going to be a solo album with Lambert.  I don’t know how the conversation began, but they said that they wanted to add a drummer.  Blesh wanted to use some other players, and Lambert wanted to use me.  Danny Barker, who was at Newport when Lambert played, heard about the project — I’m not quite sure of tthe mechanics involved — but Danny, I learned later, recommended me and said that if I’d been playing with the guy, I’d probably be the one you’d want to get.  When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I was terrified, because I’d never done anything like that before.  Ultimately, I was the one who made the recording, and that was primarily because of Danny.  Frank Wallace, the owner of the bar, had kept in touch with Danny after Lambert played, and evidently Danny told Frank that Lambert should use me.  A lot of tap-dancing, a bunch of up-and-back stuff.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I was just a kid playing drums, and that’s it.

(At this point the Editor interrupted and reminded Howard that there was a story extant of Lambert telling Blesh, “That’s my drummer,” referring to Howard.)

Yes.  That was one of the most thrilling things that had happened to me.  If I’d quit playing drums after that, I could have been happy.  I could have died happy.  I was astounded by all of it.  I didn’t know what the hell to do.  I just sat down, and Lambert said, “Hey, man!  Just do what you do with me at the bar.  That’s it!”

Sometimes I’d go out at night after the gig and shoot pool with Lambert, if I didn’t have to work the next day at my day job, hang with him in Newark, and sometimes he would talk about music.

I learned a lot on the job.  He’d make comments.  If he wanted me to do a specific thing, he’d turn around and say, “Now, don’t do something until you hear me sound like I’m ready to have you play.”  Then he’d wait and turn around and say, “And then, put me in the alley!”  That was one of his favorite phrases, “Put me in the alley!”  He didn’t talk a whole lot, but he spoke volumes, the way he played things.  If you just listened carefully, you didn’t have to watch him.  If I were going to speak about people who guided me, it would be Danny Barker and Don Lambert.

One of the rules that I learned, that I thought was extremely important, is that you have to focus, to remember whom you’re accompanying.  And that’s important.  You’ve got to find a way to connect with the soloist.  I never thought of drumming as soloing, I always thought of it as being an accompanist.  And that was something I took away from two extraordinarily different experiences, completely dissimilar in every respect, as far as music.  But the philosophical approach to every gig is the same: you’ve got to listen, be part of the solo, and help the soloist.  And that’s, I believe, of critical importance.  That’s all you can do!

There was a thing that Danny Barker used to say.  He would tell me, “Hey, man, if you’re a drummer, most of the time you’re going to be playing for other people, you’re not going to playing drum solos.  So it’s nice to do all kinds of monkeyshines” (and I quote) “but your real job is to be an accompanist.  So you gotta learn how to back people up,” and he always talked about that.  He was a wonderful guitarist, and playing time with him was marvelous.  You’d get such a groove, and, hey, if you could get that going, why would you want to do anything else?   So the trick is to be good at accompanying people.  I was lucky, because I got to play with him, and I did an album with him.  And that was a great pleasure.

You could learn on every gig.  You might learn how to develop your chops with a teacher, but in the final analysis, you’re doing it so that you can play with people.  So, to me, the trick is to just stay in the background and play for somebody else.  That’s it.

I’ll tell you a story, and I don’t know the details.  It’s something that Don Coates told me.  At one point, Lambert was working as a janitor or a clean-up guy at the Adams Theatre in Newark.  Jack Teagarden was there with a big band.  There was evidently a piano backstage.  Lambert was fooling around with it, and Teagarden happened to hear what he was doing.  There was a song that Lambert played, a song he had written himself, and Lambert gave Teagarden the music, and, according to what Coates told me, Teagarden used it as a kind of opening theme for his big band.  The story is fuzzy and not very precise, and there’s no way to verify it, because Coates has passed away, but there was some connection between Lambert and Teagarden.  (At this point, the Editor interrupted to tell the story of Lambert being at Jack’s 1940 HRS session, documented in a photograph.)

I’d call him “Lamb,” because that’s what he always did.  And I’d call him “Don” sometimes.  The other thing you might be interested in, one of the sterling times I had with Lambert, is that Frank Wallace called me one day and said, “We’re going to go visit Eubie Blake at his house in Brooklyn.  Would you like to come along?”  I was tongue-tied, but I said, “Sure.”  And I just sat there and listened to them talk, and didn’t say a word the whole time.  It was great, listening to them talk, up and back.  And they both played.

He had interesting things he would say.  His mother was his piano teacher, and she used to tell him he should learn every tune in every key, and he did.  Every tune he played, he could play in all twelve keys.  He was technically a very fine player.  I’ve heard stories about when he was in New York in the Thirties and early Forties, and then he left and kind of buried himself in Jersey.  He was always very humble.  He told me once that he thought he was one of the better piano players in the state of New Jersey.  That’s a direct quote.  Lambert was a lot of fun.  He had a good sense of humor.  He was generous, and he was helpful.  He’d come over sometime and say, “Remember what you just did, because that was OK.”  And that was nice.  I mean, I just played with the guy and had fun.  I was a kid and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  I was very lucky, and he was very kind.

Lambert didn’t live a lot longer after the record date.  He had a stroke at one point, and he was still playing, and playing well.  But he wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t always take care of himself as well as he should.  He was in a place in Newark called Martland Medical Center, I think the name of it is, and I visited him there once, and after that he passed away.  I went to his funeral, as a matter of fact.  A very bad time, a difficult time.  I loved him very much.  He was a good guy.

I want to close — in a mist of gratitude to Howard and Audrey and the Lamb — with three ways to celebrate Donald Lambert, and none of them is a photograph of a headstone, because well-loved people are never relegated to such forms.

Second, a marvel.  At the site called Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, the Voice of America tape of the “Old-Timers'” afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, arranged by Rudi Blesh, including Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, the Danny Barker Trio with Bernard Addison and Al Hall — some 93 minutes — can be downloaded here in high-quality sound for $5.

And finally, another marvel.  Videos exist of that afternoon: two solos by Lambert, several each by Barker, Eubie, and the Lion — but this one, I don’t think, has been widely circulated or ever circulated.  I caution finicky viewers that the image is blurry — perhaps this was a film copy from a television broadcast, or it is the nineteenth copy of a videotape (I do not have the original).  But here are Eubie Blake and Donald Lambert essaying CHARLESTON.  Eubie takes over early and Lambert is in the most subsidiary role . . . but we see what he looked like at the piano, and that is a treasure.

Bless Donald Lambert.  Bless Howard Kadison, too.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Three): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and  here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills.  But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.

Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:

CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):

Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:

and finally, PANAMA:

If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious.  But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this.  He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.

But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.

He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations.  Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.

He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is.  You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy.  I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future.  Thank you, Captain!

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part One): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM and SOLO at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: DAN LEVINSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (November 29 / 31, 2019)

An authenticated signature.

Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for  years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.

At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.  Photo by Alex Matthews.

For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

WABASH BLUES:

WOLVERINE BLUES:

That was Friday.  We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital.  This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.

But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself.  Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play.  And play he did.

His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals.  John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.

The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:

ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:

There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto.  An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.

May your happiness increase!

“THE LAMB OF GOD!”: ELEGIES FOR DONALD LAMBERT IN STORIES, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND MUSIC

Meet the Lamb!  Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames.  Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.

An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?

Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:

Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:

Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:

Fashions:

More rare narrative:

Lambert in his native haunts:

Playing two melodies at once:

THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:

SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:

ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

LIZA, from the same concert:

Yes, Art Tatum:

Physiognomy:

The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:

I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:

DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:

and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:

 

A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:

LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):

An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:

Another local legend:

May your happiness increase!

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!

JOPLIN, JOHNSON, JELLY, and MAX: MAX KEENLYSIDE PLAYS (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Max Keenlyside at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival. Photograph by Stoptime Photo.

The young Canadian piano wizard Max Keenlyside is a fine player and composer, and we had a delightful brief meeting in person at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, where he played an untitled and incomplete Joplin piece that I’ve titled FRAGMENTS OF JOPLIN.  Music here:

I didn’t catch it all on video, but Max told me later that Joplin’s widow, Lottie, gave Brun Campbell a photo of Joplin at the piano, where there is visible part of an otherwise unknown Joplin composition, which Max transcribed, played, and amplified on.  (Max also told me that “the full story was written about at length, I think, by Chris Ware in an issue of The Ragtime Ephemeralist, which surely must now be as rare as hens’ teeth.”)

Max’s musical range is broad, as you will see and hear, and I think it’s splendid that he might allow audience members to pick the program from his list.  One he chose was James P. Johnson’s romp, RIFFS:

His next piece, Harold Arlen’s lovely IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, so captivated me that I posted it right after the Festival — but since I can’t be sure that everyone’s already enjoyed it, I post it here again.  Fats peeks in now and again, but it’s all Max:

Then, some Morton episodes, always welcome.  First, THE PEARLS, which encapsulates the Master at the piano:

and from the Library of Congress recordings, SPANISH SWAT

A properly vigorous TIGER RAG, complete with elbow:

To conclude the set, a new composition by Max, which he explains, THE RED MOON:

And not incidentally, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will take place next year from May 29 to June 1, 2019.  I’ll tell you more about it as I know . . . because I plan to be in Sedalia, Missouri, for that weekend of joy.

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT A DAY!”: JANICE DAY and MARTIN LITTON’S NEW YORK JAZZ BAND, LIVE IN LONDON (September 19, 2018)

I’ve admired the wonderful singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton for some years now, in person, CD, and video.  They are remarkable originals who evoke the jazz past while keeping their originalities intact.  Martin is a splendidly inventive improviser, able to summon up the Ancestors — Earl, Fats, Jelly, Teddy — without (as they say) breaking stride.  But he’s not merely copying four-bar modules; he’s so internalized the great swinging orchestral styles that he moves around freely in them.  Janice is deeply immersed in the tender sounds of the Twenties and Thirties — from Annette Hanshaw forwards — and she is such a crafty impersonator that it’s easy to forget that she, brightly shining, is in the midst of it all.

 

 

Janice and Martin had a splendid opportunity, on September 19, 2018, to appear — as Janice Day with Martin Litton’s New York Jazz Band — at The Spice of Life, Cambridge Circus, London. The band is Martin Litton, piano and arrangements, Martin Wheatley on guitar, Kit Massey on violin, David Horniblow on bass sax, Michael McQuaid on reeds and trumpet. And here are two quite entertaining performances from the Annette Hanshaw book.

Here’s MY SIN:

and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

Just the right mix of wistful and swinging.  Twenties authentic but not campy, and did I say swinging?  I wish Janice and Martin and their splendid band many more gigs (and more videos for us).

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR, POET-NAVIGATOR (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

I’ve heard the splendid pianist Dalton Ridenhour several times in New York City, although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises.  But this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing — both deeply rewarding.

I said to him that he reminded me, at the keyboard, of a man who had built his own idiosyncratic, beautiful house, and was gently exploring it in the dark.  And, of course, inviting us along for the journeys.  He said the metaphor was about right.

Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses.  He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine.  He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo.  Here he guides us, gently but with swinging intent, through four compositions either by or associated with Fats Waller.

I find it so reassuring to know that he and his music exist, and hope you share my delight.

Here’s MARTINIQUE, from Fats’ last show, EARLY TO BED.  I envision it as a hip-swinging chorus line dance: admire how Dalton’s variations within the form expand and extend it without ever undermining it:

SWEET SAVANNAH SUE begins close to the 1929 Waller version, but becomes even more spirited and playful as it goes along:

Another kind of sweetness, the Harry Warren SWEET AND SLOW, as a change of pace.  I love this song dearly, and hear Al Dubin’s always-clever lyrics in my head:

Finally, the Waller classic so often obliterated into a series of chords — but not here — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which Dalton turns into a stroll through familiar fields yet with surprising vistas.  And his shift into Uptown tempo halfway through still makes me feel uplifted:

How that young fellow can play!  And his imagination is broad and unfettered.

May your happiness increase!

SMITH and JONES, 1972-73

In my teens, I read MUSIC ON MY MIND, the autobiography of Willie “the Lion” Smith, and a sentence stuck in my mind, where the Lion mentioned a fifteen-minute duet he and Jo Jones had performed.  Jazz history is full of such remembered-but-not-recorded marvels, but this one haunted me, quite pleasantly, because I could imagine the two sounds blending magically.

Although I saw and was spoken to by Jo Jones several times between 1971 and 1983, the Lion had died before I could encounter him in person, and the closest I ever got to him was by spiritual transference through the eminent Mike Lipskin and a few television appearances.

This is the Lion, solo, and so pretty: for Mrs. Keenlyside, if she reads the blog.  The other voice, of course, is Albert Edwin Condon, and this is from one of the latter’s concerts, 1944-45:

Having Willie and Jo in duet only in my imagination, it was a lovely surprise to be record-hunting on Eighth Street in 1973 and find a new recording on the Jazz Odyssey label — THE LION AND THE TIGER, duets between my two heroes.  The two Elders were in generous sympathy, Willie, for the most part, eschewing the ferocious uptempos he liked in favor of sweetness, and Jo playing with great sensitivity.

When I saw Jo in person in his last years he sometimes played as if he were furious, wishing to annihilate musicians and audience, relying on his ride cymbal.  Here, even though the cover shows Jo at a full drum kit (possibly a photograph from Jazz Odyssey’s double-lp set, THE DRUMS) he stays, for the most part, on snare drum, a hi-hat, and his bass drum.  And much if not all of his work is wire brushes on the snare, his cymbal used for accents, and his bass drum a lesson in itself.  One exception — the closing JAM of under two minutes, a riotous TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, proves that Jo brought his sticks and ride cymbal, but it’s a glorious mutual impromptu explosion.

I treasured that record, and found more than one copy in my travels.  There was a second volume, LE LION, LE TIGER, et LE MADELON, issued in 1975, that I also had and has now vanished.  And so had the Lion: it was his final recording.  Those two discs contained two dozen performances, perhaps eighty-five minutes of wonderful music.

But now!

Please note the enticing “2CD” top left.  Were this simply an authorized transfer of the two vinyl recordings to compact disc, it would be a delightful product.  But this new issue adds a good deal of previously unheard material, adding up to  more than forty tracks, including conversation between the two august participants, for a total of more than two hours of music.  And the notes tell us that four more performances will be issued on a future CD.

The record company, Frémeaux & Associés, is not devoted solely to jazz, but they have done chronological CD series devoted to Louis and Django, so they understand where north is.

Here is information about the new issue, comprehensible even to the monolingual.            .

The Lion and Jo worked together splendidly.  Both could, given less strong-minded players, lean into exhibitionism.  (Jo’s recordings in the same period when he was partnered with the organist Milt Buckner are high-intensity and high-volume proof.)  I sat through ten-minute drum solos from Jo: astounding but also exhausting, and the Lion was not modest, given the proper audience.  But on these sessions, Jo kept Willie on track in tempos, and Willie was not about to let Jo play his CARAVAN solo.  (When Jo begins one of his expansive displays, as on CAROLINA SHOUT, the silent awareness that Willie was sitting at the piano reins Jo in.)  They sent love to one another in every sixteenth note but there was brotherly restraint in the air.

Unlike some stride piano extravaganzas, these discs do not rely on displays of technique: in fact, the Lion’s affectionate rhapsodic side is more often on display: CHARMAINE, SWEETIE DEAR, and a 6/8 version of TROIS HEURES DU MATIN (for the last dance).  And the Lion’s dynamics are a lesson to all pianists: he loved to quietly meander in imagined meadows.  His dramatic sense is peerless: begin with a WOLVERINE BLUES that is a half-time sauntering rhapsody before becoming a stride romp with Jo playing sticks on his hi-hat and snare in stop-time passages. (And the notes tell us that four performances will be issued on a future CD.)

But these discs are not soporific.  There are riotous stomps — the second SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, the aforementioned JAM, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, CAROLINA SHOUT, and others.  Although the Lion’s voice occasionally sounds tired, his piano is exuberant and exact: the astonishing end of a fifty-year recording career.  And Jo’s playing is precise and masterful.  The second disc ends with a nearly ten-minute HERE COMES THE BAND which is, to me, as close to the fifteen-minute unrecorded duet as I and you will ever come.

It was a long way from 1936, but each man was, in himself, the very definition of swing.  Put them together and magic larger than magic was the result.  Again, details here.  So far, it is not available through the usual download purees, nor are there sound samples.  You’ll have to be a bit courageous to hear this music.  But it rewards the brave searcher many times over.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASING TO THE EAR: KIM CUSACK and PAUL ASARO IN DUET (August 31, 2015)

It’s no doubt very archaic of me, but I like music to sound good: to paraphrase Eddie Condon, to come in the ear like honey rather than broken glass.  And this duet recital by Kim Cusack, clarinet, and Paul Asaro, piano and vocal, is just the thing.  I hadn’t known of it when it was new, so I hope it will be a pleasant surprise to others: recorded at the PianoForte studios in Chicago, introduced by Neil Tesser of the Chicago Jazz Institute.

Kim and Paul gently explore a dozen songs, with roots in Waller, Morton, James P. Johnson, Isham Jones, and Walter Donaldson, Maceo Pinkard.  It’s a set list that would have been perfectly apropos in 1940, but there’s nothing antiquarian about this hour-long session . . . just two colleagues and friends in tune with one another making music.

For those keeping score, that’s A MONDAY DATE; SUGAR; I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING; I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal, Paul); OLD FASHIONED LOVE; RIFFS (Paul, solo); ON THE ALAMO; MISTER JELLY LORD (vocal, Paul); WOLVERINE BLUES; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY; BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU; BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  All standards of “the repertoire,” but played and sung with subtlety, charm, and life.

Postscript: PianoForte Studios was also home to another wonderful duet recital, guitarist Andy Brown and pianist Jeremy Kahn in 2017, which you can enjoy here.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

TRY THESE ON YOUR PIANO, or THE LION LIKES MILT and FATS PLAYS PRANKS

I find jazz paper ephemera so very tempting.  Even though my piano skills were never more than sub-amateur at their height, that candid awareness hasn’t stopped me from coveting sheet music or purchasing a folio now and then.

I saw this on eBay and couldn’t hold back my hand (the price was low and the folio was new to me).  So I am the new owner:

and here (found online but not purchased) is a different edition:

I believe the edition I bought dates from 1934.  Why one folio is ten cents more than the other is a mystery too deep for me.  And speaking of “too deep for me,” here is the first page of ALLIGATOR CRAWL.  Maybe in my retirement I could crawl through those notes?

The Ebay seller also had two remarkable pieces of sheet music — prices too high for an eager dilettante like myself — compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith inscribed to fellow pianist Milt Raskin in 1937.

FUSSIN’:

SNEAK AWAY:

And if you wonder how we know they belonged to Milt Raskin, the purple-ink rubber stamp on each sheet tells us so.

Music, Maestro, please!

Fats’ liberal improvisation (1935) on ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

FUSSIN’ — played by Ralph Sutton:

Our friend and hero Rossano Sportiello also played FUSSIN’ just two weeks ago at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, so perhaps I might be able to share that with you someday.

And here, introduced by The Lion and Eddie Condon, at a Town Hall concert, is SNEAK AWAY:

It’s possible that having sheet music connected to Fats and The Lion is as close as I will get to playing stride piano, so thank goodness for recordings.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES”: BRIAN HOLLAND AND DANNY COOTS (AND MORE)

Oh, no.  Another wonderful CD?  Will those musicians ever let us alone?  When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.

But first.  Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny.  Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:

and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:

Holland (left), Coots (right), for those who have never had the good fortune to see and hear them in person or in action or both.

Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:

The songs:  Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.

Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian.  Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.

The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store.  And in a few instances that impression is correct.  Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways.  You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes.  They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.

But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end.  I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.

In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting.  PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.

But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind.  Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack.  I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well.  I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.

The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects.  Just lovely music.

You can purchase the CD here.  Or you can find it on Facebook.

And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers.  I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here.  (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)

I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox.  And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.

May your happiness increase!

SOUL FOOD (Part Two): TERRY BLAINE and MARK SHANE (April 30, 2017)

A meteorological note.  Yesterday was the end of September, and it finally turned chilly.  (No more short-sleeved shirts, alas.)  Were I more traditional, I would be offering AUTUMN IN NEW YORK on the blog.  But I prefer music that warms from the inside out.

Singer Terry Blaine and pianist Mark Shane are heroes of mine, and if they are new to you, you have some catching-up to do, but it will all be delightful, as opposed to studying for the final.  I found them most recently at the United Methodist Church in Saugerties, New York, where I recorded their heartfelt performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s BREAD AND GRAVY.  Here are four more beauties from that same afternoon.

Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE  TO ME, complete with Marx Brothers relish on the side:

The Fields-McHugh I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, with the lovely verse:

And a “new” bit of Fats-enhanced love, JUST AS LONG AS THE WORLD GOES ROUND AND ROUND:

A sustaining optimism, a warm embrace of the music and of us: Cupid’s arrows that turn into hugs.  Terry and Mark will have another duo gig at the end of January 2018 at Bernard’s Restaurant | Sarah’s Wine Bar (that’s 20 West Lane, Ridgefield, Connecticut).  Keep a warm space on your calendar for them.  Details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL FORRESTER’S MOVING WORLDS

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old.  And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.

Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.

I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art.  Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.

On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens.  I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary.  Read more here.

and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:

And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”

Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, here is a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar.  As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.

May your happiness increase!

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music?  Do you go to . . . ”  And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.”  My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”

Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.

One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist.  (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)

Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb

In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands.  He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).

Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker.  Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often).  I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).

The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence.  We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo.  Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.

from Fats to James P. Johnson:

and back in time to Artie Matthews:

Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE.  Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.

May your happiness increase!

“MY HEART IS BEATING RAGTIME”: MAUD HIXSON and RICK CARLSON

For a minute, put aside any definitions of “jazz” and simply listen to this:

The singer is Maud Hixson; the pianist Rick Carlson.  And this new CD,  just released, is a singular pleasure.

Listening for your song

It is a sweet-natured yet swinging tribute to a series of children’s books, the Betsy-Tacy books (thirteen volumes, published 1940-55) set in Minnesota, and following two and three young women from childhood to marriage. All the books are set at the start of the twentieth century . . . the final one in the series has a young husband going off to serve in the Great War.

Over two hundred songs are mentioned in the series — some familiar, some that will be new to all but the deepest scholars of American vernacular music.

Here are Maud and Rick in the studio, with excerpts from three songs on the CD:

What Maud and Rick have created is an hour of delicately memorable music. But it’s not simply an immersion in the Dear Departed Days.  For one thing, the songs vary splendidly from track to track.  Yes, there are hymns in praise of the glorious summertime, of the beloved one the singer hopes to wed, sweet yearnings and romantic reveries in the best World War One manner.  But there are songs celebrating automobiles and airplanes, and a good dose of vaudeville — not only Irish comedy, but comic songs depicting what we now call “family dysfunction”: husbands who attempt to deceive their wives, or who avoid work as if it were the plague, others who imbibe.  Spooning and sparking in the dark are delightfully explicated, but there’s also a woman who loves the sounds of the cello much more than she loves the cellist.

And just to keep things in balance, the CD begins with a sweetly serious spoken introduction by Maud over THE MERRY WIDOW WALTZ as background, but just when the listener might think, “Oh, this is a documentary rather than a musical presentation,” Maud and singer Maria Jette offer a completely feline-on-the-fence reading of Rossini’s THE CAT DUET . . .

Maud and Rick have learned not only the familiar choruses, but the wonderfully theatrically essential verses and sometimes second and third choruses.  Each performance is an understated but fully realized dramatic presentation, completely satisfying.  The language is innocent — the lyrics call a phony tale “Same old load of peaches,” rather than “bullshit,” but I welcome the sweetness of the demotic — since we all know what’s meant.

Before I listened closely to this disc, I expected it to be formal presentation in the manner of Joan Morris and William Bolcom.  There is much of the same devotion to the song, respect for melody and lyrics in this duet — but Maud and Rick are fully themselves, and that is a wonderful thing.  Since the accompanist sometimes is pushed into the background, a few words about Rick Carlson first. The repertoire — presumably the popular song of ancient times — might lead a lesser artist into stiffness, the polite rigidities of someone convinced that swinging was heresy.  Rick does a lovely job of blending parlor piano with the sweet elasticity of ragtime and early stride.  It’s clear that he reveres the melody and the original harmonic turns . . . but Teddy Wilson isn’t his enemy, and James P. Johnson isn’t unknown to him.  His time is lovely, his touch inspiring.  No note or phrase is stiff, and his duetting with Maud is a wonderful supportive conversation.  Hear him on SAME OLD STORY and BY THE BEAUTIFUL SEA, where his frolicking stride figures would make Dick Hyman smile.

Maud Hixson is a delicious embodiment of the idea that the greatest art is in the subtle concealment of art.  It would be very easy and quite wrong to undervalue her singing.  She’s not Sarah Vaughan; she doesn’t have a four-octave range. (“What a relief!” I think.)  What she does have is a beautiful voice — whether speaking or singing — subtly modulated, wonderful diction . . . all the things that make for singing that falls like honey on our ears.  But her delivery is so easy that we might think less of it — “I could do that!” — as people felt when singing along with Bing on the radio.  Don’t believe it.  What Maud does is a special art, rooted in the deep desire to make singer and song interwoven and inseparable. She IS the song, and the song glows as a result.

At the end of this hour of music (and I’ve listened to this disc a dozen times) I feel as if I’ve been tenderly embraced by touching, hilarious, satisfying music. Try it for yourself.  LISTENING FOR YOUR SONG is a rare delight.

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!