Tag Archives: swing

“HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME”: PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ANDY BROWN, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.

We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.

And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.

Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.

Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story.  Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.

She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:

Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:

And finally, a real pleasure.  Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither.  It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:

It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters.  But Petra and a first-class band create joy.

And here is her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.

May your happiness increase!

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“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!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part Two): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-clubYes, The Bombay Clubthat luxurious New Orleans hangout in the Prince Conti Hotel, home to good music, food, drink, and friendships.  I visited it for the first time on the date above, to hear Kris Tokarski, James Evans, and Hal Smith — my premiere offering from that session can be found here.

And here is Part Two: listen to the way this trio blends the three voices into a larger, delightful organism, with each member keeping his individuality.

An absolutely gorgeous SOPHISTICATED LADY:

GET HAPPY, thanks to Harold Arlen at the rehearsal piano:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Yes, there are several more joyous instant-classics from this session, and they will appear.

May your happiness increase!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-club

It was my first time at The Bombay Club in New Orleans, and I know it won’t be my last.  The music was splendid — as you will see and hear — created by Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, reeds and vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

LOUISIANA:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

DON’T BLAME ME:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

I would point out that Kris, James, and Hal aren’t involved in some densely researched multi-layered repertory project.  They are stylistic rovers, happily wandering around in the glorious present of swing, creating beautiful sounds and deeply listening to each other.  Individualists who have given their hearts to the collective endeavor.

There’s more from this glorious session.  I guarantee it.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE GEMS BY THREE MASTERS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 16, 2016)

We must acknowledge the passage of time.  Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors.  Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood.  Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.

FRANK.

FRANK.

But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.

They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell.  It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.

HAL.

HAL.

This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion.  I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me.  You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones.  They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations.  All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare.  And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.

ROSSANO.

ROSSANO.

SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):

SWEET LORRAINE:

SOFT WINDS:

CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):

I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs.  Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will.  They deserve it, and so do we.

May your happiness increase!

BLISS AT 326 SPRING STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, ADAM MOEZINIA, ROB ADKINS (August 14, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nine minutes of the real thing, no side effects aside from possible stiffness from sitting on a barstool for longer than is doctor-prescribed.  Yours for the asking, created on Sunday, August 14, 2016, by the gracious and eminent EarRegulars du jour: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Adam Moezinia (note his variations on AC-DC CURRENT), and Rob Adkins, string bass.  All this joy took place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, where such bliss is regularly offered on Sunday nights from eight to eleven o’clock, approximately.  But there’s nothing approximate about the on-the-spot riffing and solos that these brilliant players gave us.  The song?  AVALON, which dates back to 1920 and still sounds gorgeously fresh in 2016.

I’m posting this on the morning of Sunday, September 4, 2016.  If you read it early and are in the NYC area, this band — with Pat O’Leary in for Rob — will be playing at The Ear tonight.  Just leave me a barstool or two in front of the band so that I can capture some more joy for JAZZ LIVES, especially for the Brazilian contingent.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOEL PRESS QUARTET at SMALLS: MICHAEL KANAN, LEE HUDSON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA (July 3, 2016): PART TWO

It’s been a true privilege to hear, converse with, and video-record the inventive and durable saxophonist Joel Press for the last five years (and since I met Michael Kanan through Joel, it has been a double blessing).  Of course, the person behind all of this was the irreplaceable Robert D. Rusch of CADENCE, a true benefactor.

Joel was most recently playing a gig in New York City on July 3, 2016, at Smalls — with a quartet of Michael, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tanaka, drums.

JOEL by Herb Snitzer

Here are five evocative performances from that evening: GONE WITH THE WIND, SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE, FOOLIN’ MYSELF, NOSTALGIA, and YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME.

And — by popular demand — four more delights: BLUES, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?. BODY AND SOUL, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE.  Please note that every note has substance and emotional meaning, and the quartet makes even the most familiar line or standard seem lively and poignant.

BLUES:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

BODY AND SOUL:

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

Thank you, Joel, Michael, Lee, Fukushi, and Smalls.  We are in your debt.

May your happiness increase!