Tag Archives: swing

BORN ON THE 28th of FEBRUARY

We know many people born on February 28th.  However, we know a much smaller number born on that date in 1930.  And there is only ONE Martin Oliver Grosz, who will thus turn ninety in a few days.

Marty won’t read this post, so I will spare him and all of us a lengthy explication of his particular virtues.  But let me inform you about a few events related to his birthday . . . and then there will be a reward for those with high reading comprehension skills.  “Three ways,” not chili . . . but a book and two parties.  And patient readers will find another reward, of a particularly freakish nature, at the end of this post.

Marty has talked about writing his autobiography for years now (I was almost a collaborator, although not in the wartime sense) — he has stories!  And the book has finally happened, thanks to the Golden Alley Press, with the really splendid editorship of Joe Plowman, whom we know more as a superb musician.  Great photos, and it’s a pleasure to look at as well as read.

 

The book is entertaining, readable, funny, and revealing — with stories about people you wouldn’t expect (Chet Baker!).  It sounds like Marty, because the first half is a tidied-up version of his own story, written in longhand — with elegant calligraphy — on yellow legal paper.  I’m guessing that a few of the more libelous bits have been edited out, but we know there are severe laws about such things and paper is flammable.

The second part of the book, even more vividly, is a stylishly done series of interviews with Marty — a real and sometimes startlingly candid pleasure.  I’ve followed Marty musically for more than twenty-five years and have had conversations with him for two decades . . . this, as he would say, is the real breadstick, and I learned a great deal I hadn’t already known.  More information here and here.  The official publication date is March 4, but you can pre-order the book from several of the usual sites — as noted above.

And two musical events — Marty encompasses multitudes, so he gets two parties.

One will take place at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, tomorrow at 6 PM, where Marty will be joined by Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, and Gary Cattley, for an evening of swing and badinage, sometimes with the two combined.  Details here.  And on March 4, another extravaganza — at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, with what used to be called “an all-star cast”: Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Randy Reinhart, Joe Plowman, Jim Lawlor, Jack Saint Clair, and I would guess some surprise guests.  Details here.  Even though I am getting on a plane the next morning to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, I am going to this one.  You should too!

Now, the unearthed treasure . . . for all the Freaks in the house, as Louis would say, a congregation in which I happily include myself.  I’ve written elsewhere of taking sub rosa videos at the 2007 and 2008 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend ecstasies, and I recently dug out this spiritual explosion.  The camerawork is shaky and vague (I was shooting into bright light), but the music is life-enhancing.  Even the YouTube Disliker is quietly applauding:

Let us celebrate Marty Grosz.  He continues to be completely Himself, which is a fine thing.  With Dispatch and Vigor, Fats, Al Casey, and Red McKenzie looking on approvingly.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM, YOU CATS: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, 11.21.19)

Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus.  How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”?  I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.

But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes.  To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.

But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present.  (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.)  Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more.  But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW.  And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!

Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.

And now . . . .

LINGER AWHILE:

BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):

MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:

and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen?  I hope so.

May your happiness increase!

 

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

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!

MORE FROM RICKY ALEXANDER AND HIS “STRIKE UP THE BAND” BAND at CAFE BOHEMIA: CHRIS GELB, DANIEL DUKE, ADAM MOEZINIA (November 22, 2019)

Swing court 2019 is now in session.  All rise!

Exhibit A:

Ricky Alexander and Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman

Exhibit B:

Exhibits C: – F

Ricky Alexander made a wonderful debut CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND, which I’ve reviewed here.  And then he brought a swinging quartet to Cafe Bohemia (Chris Gelb, drums; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Daniel Duke, string bass) on November 22, 2019 — exhibits here, and here.

But it would be imprudent — even selfish — to keep all the music the quartet made to myself, so here are five more performances to brighten the skies, wherever you find yourself.

PERDIDO:

Ricky’s own I KNEW I LOVED YOU:

CHICAGO:

The rueful and little-known Cole Porter gem AFTER YOU, WHO?:

Frank Loesser’s THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

Of course there will be more from Ricky and this delightful quartet, and there will be more from sessions at Cafe Bohemia.  And you might want to investigate the new CD (or “vinyl”)here.  Yes, the holidays are over, but one can always give gifts.

May your happiness increase!

A WELCOMING ART: The MICHAEL KANAN TRIO (GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER)

Perhaps because I began my immersion in music in the last century with musicians who sent warmth through the speaker and in person, some “contemporary jazz” or “innovative music” seems forbidding, austere.  It looks at me suspiciously and asks, “Are you musically erudite enough to be allowed to listen to what is being created?” suggesting that I am metaphysically too short to ride the esoteric roller coaster.  But not the music Michael Kanan creates.

Pianist and composer Michael Kanan does not aim for the esoteric, although his art is consistently subtle.  He delights in song, in melodic improvisation, in swing.  His music says, “Let’s have a nice time.  Please come in!” and the most severe postmodernists gently thaw out after a chorus or two.  His playfulness is balanced by deep feeling, each note and chord carefully chosen but floating on emotion.  Jimmie Rowles stands in back of him, and Lester Young in back of both.  If you’ve been following this blog, Michael’s appeared often since 2010, when I first met him through his friend, the masterful reedman Joel Press.

Michael appears worldwide in many settings, but in New York City he is often happily onstage with Greg Ruggiero, guitar, and Neal Miner, string bass, his “brothers in rhythm.”  That splendid trio will be appearing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on December 27 and 28, sets at 7:30 and 9:00 PM.

But this post isn’t simply a gig advertisement.  In summer 2019, Michael, Greg, and Neal performed for an attentive audience at the now-vanished 75 Club, and those performances can now be savored here at Michael’s YouTube channel.  And here!

Ellington’s PIE EYE’S BLUES:

Michael’s own FOR JIMMY SCOTT:

His lovely THE PEARL DREAMS OF THE OCEAN:

The frisky POPCORN:

and a sweet MY IDEAL, where the trio sends Richard Whiting their love:

If you’re not close enough to Mezzrow to make this gig, you can have the trio at home with not much effort: they recorded their debut CD, IN THIS MOMENT, not long ago — also recorded live at that club.  The CD’s lovely art is by Anne Watkins, and you can read my review of the music here.

However you encounter Michael, Greg, and Neal, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

THE STUFF IS HERE: THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the HOT JAZZ JUBILEE: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE (August 30 and September 2, 2019)

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at Monterey, March 2019.

I need say no more . . . except Brian Holland, piano or keyboard; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone or clarinet; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  Recorded at the Hot Jazz Jubilee in Sacramento, California, on August 30, 2019, by RaeAnn Hopkins Berry.  Thanks to everyone!

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (with some Basie and Fats touches):

BERNIE’S TUNE, which takes its leisurely time, happily, making its way uptown:

Have something you want to get off your chest?  CONFESSIN’ is good for the soul:

As are vigorous heartfelt avowals of love:

and something sweet — theme music for rebuilding that cottage:

From a set on September 2, a romping BLUE LOU:

And the gorgeous song that Louis took as his band’s first theme song, HOME:

To me, this versatile quintet is operating at the very peak.  Have you seen them live?  It’s even better . . . .

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!

A YOUNGBLOOD SERENADE: GUILLERMO PERATA and FERNANDO MONTARDIT (June 14, 2019)

These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies.  They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.

You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:

This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.

I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August.  I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo.  They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.

May your happiness increase!

IN SWING WE TRUST: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND: “UNSTUCK IN TIME”

Yes, another wonderful new CD.  But remember: I told you to save your spare change, to make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks, that there would be great pleasures in store.  But enough of that.  The four-minute video that follows might make prose superfluous: watch and listen to the end:

Josh Collazo is a magnificent jazz drummer: I had a great deal of gleeful first-hand evidence at the Redwood Coast Music Festival a short time ago to reinforce what I already knew.  He listens, he makes thrilling sounds, he leans forward into the beat so that any band he’s part of levitates.  But better than that, he has a huge imagination based in swing and melody, in danceable new music.  This is an elaborate prelude to say that his new CD, UNSTUCK IN TIME, by the organization he calls the CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, is an unerring delight.

This was no surprise: here is my delighted reaction to the CJJB’s first disc.

But let us return to whimsical-completely serious video:

Facts?  Eleven original swing compositions by Josh, Dan Weinstein, Albert Alva, and Seth Ford-Young alone or in combination; a lovely small band of Josh, drums, vocal; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Dan Weinstein, trombone, vocal; Corey Gemme, cornet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Nate Ketner, alto saxophone, clarinet; arrangements (and they’re important, since UNSTUCK IN TIME is not a jam session) by Albert, Dan, and Josh.

And a few words about this disc’s glorious antecedents.  For me, one of the unheralded peaks of jazz happened while the official “Swing Era” was no longer at its apex: the period between 1942-7, more or less, that coincided with the more dramatic recording ban.  Because of that ban, small record companies had their pick of jazz artists — think Keynote, Blue Note, Comet, Savoy, Regis, Jamboree, HRS, Jazz Record, Musicraft, Black and White, Apollo, Sittin’ In, and a dozen others.  The music as passed down to us on recordings, loosely defined, moves from Art Hodes to early bebop, but the middle ground is what attracts me: small groups with a few horns, ample space for solos, but intelligent arrangements.  Why do I write of this?

Simply, because UNSTUCK IN TIME by the Candy Jacket Jazz Band seems to my ears a glorious extension of the best Keynote sessions.  I will even write that were someone able to narrow the sound and add some surface noise, many of the tracks on this CD could pass as previously-unheard and intensely refreshing Forties gems that had been overlooked.  It’s just that warmly idiomatic, sweetly rhythmic, and full of improvisational delight.

And the title is more than a verbal two-bar tag.  Josh and the band value time highly in the sense of knowing where “one” is, in keeping the rhythm going in the nicest ways (did I point out how splendid this CD is as dance music?) but they are not tied down by clock and calendar: this disc is not a poker-faced science experiment in the Jazz Lab, bringing 1944 forward by cloning it, but rather a blend of present and past swinging into the future, free to groove without concerns of “repertory” or “authenticity.”  I think of Golden-Era science fiction, full of alternate universes: “What kind of tune would Johnny Hodges like?”  And that spirit — to honor a Hodges-universe — lifts the music in performance after performance, honoring the innovators by refusing to imitate them except in exuberant playful ways.

I’ll stop here, so that you can get to pleasure as quickly and directly as possible.  You can hear the music here.  You can buy a digital download or CD here.  You can hear the CJJB’s first CD here.

I’m so grateful this light-hearted free-wheeling yet level-headed band exists.  Their inventive music is the very heart of what I hold dear.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

“BENNY AMÓN’S NEW ORLEANS PEARLS” WINS THE COVETED JAZZ LIVES “GFP”* AWARD: BENNY AMÓN, WENDELL BRUNIOUS, STEVE PISTORIUS, FREDDIE LONZO, ALEX BELHAJ, TOM FISCHER, TYLER THOMSON, JOE GOLDBERG, TIM LAUGHLIN

Let us start with the glorious evidence.

That’s the opening track of Benny’s new CD, and when the band shifts into tempo after Benny’s interlude I find myself in tears of joy.

Benny Amón is one of my heroes  And hero Benny can also write.

Often I’ve felt complete awe and incredulity for my experiences playing music in the city of New Orleans. I have been incredibly fortunate to gain mentors, many of whom are featured on this recording session, who have taught me to play New Orleans traditional music with the right feeling and spirit while also encouraging me to find my own voice as a musician.

This recording session is snapshot of that journey after spending most of my 20’s living in this beautiful city. The session is comprised of some of the most treasured musicians to come from this city and some of the greatest to have moved here. This exchange of generations, of cultures, of perspectives of music and life is what has helped make this recording session so successful.

My most important mentor and collaborator over the past several years, Steve Pistorius is featured prominently on this record whether it be ragtime duets, trios with horn players, or in the 7 piece ensemble. As Wendell Brunious likes to say, Steve is the #1 interpreter of the Jelly Roll Morton style of piano. Steve contributed much by writing out good melodies and chords as well.

Speaking of Wendell Brunious, we have worked together often at Preservation Hall over the past few years. Wendell is one of the best trumpet players and entertainers in the whole world and comes from one of the most important musical families of New Orleans. He is a gem that we cannot take for granted.

Freddie Lonzo is another of the New Orleans born and raised musicians who I have been working with over the past years at Preservation Hall and also at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. He is one of the few trombone players left who understands how to play New Orleans style tailgate trombone. His positive energy and humor is infectious, as is his singing.

Tom Fischer has been in New Orleans for longer than I have been alive and his dedication to excellence on both clarinet and alto saxophone is evident on this record.

New Orleans’ own clarinetist Tim Laughlin recorded two songs on this cd that turned out beautifully. He is one of the my first and most important mentors in New Orleans.

Tyler Thomson also known as “Twerk” by many, is absolutely on fire on this record. Bringing incredible power and solidity to the bands he plays with. He would make Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, and Alcide Louis “Slow Drag” Pavageau proud.

Alex Belhaj is a dear friend of mine who moved to New Orleans a few years ago and he is a frequent collaborator with the Riverside Jazz Collective. His fine banjo and guitar playing is featured in the 7 piece band.

Joe Goldberg is another transplant to New Orleans who has earned the respect of all the top players in both the traditional and modern jazz scenes. His clarinet and soprano saxophone playing as well as his singing is featured on a couple of songs.

As a final note I would like to add a reflection on the actual site of the recording session. George Blackmon, an old friend and excellent studio engineer moved his entire set up to the Scandinavian Jazz Church (Formerly known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church) to record the bands. The sound he got in that beautiful old church is reminiscent of old New Orleans dance halls where the New Orleans Jazz Revival bands led by such luminaries as Bunk Johnson and George Lewis used to play and record. The Jazz Church unfortunately was sold and since has been closed down after over a 100 years of service to the New Orleans community. The Church hosted jazz concerts and jazz prayer services for decades. The Church generously allowed us to record and use their facilities free of charge. This recording, and the accompanying videos produced, will stand as a last testament to this beautiful and historically important New Orleans institution.

Most importantly, the music on this record is an authentic and timeless account of the New Orleans Jazz scene as I experienced it at this time of my life; full of life, and joy. I am proud to release this music and hope that you enjoy it!

You  might think that Benny has said everything that needs to be said, but I want to add some perceptions he might be too modest to write himself.  Although he turns 30 this year, he is a mature artist with large heartfelt visions and sensitivity.  He is a spectacularly fine drummer.  He makes beautiful sounds, he plays for “the comfort of the band,” he knows dynamics and timbres, and he swings no matter what the tempo.  But he’s more than a wonderful percussionist.

Much of what is marketed as jazz these days — although it says it is inclusive — is a matter of boundaries and barriers, enacted in terms of repertoire and colleagues.  “Ourselves alone,” as the Irish used to say. Benny understands the music as spacious, its boundaries easy and flexible.  That doesn’t mean the new CD takes an iconoclastic approach for novelty’s sake, but it does mean that his vision of New Orleans jazz is easy and loose.  There are echoes on this disc of Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Blythe, and Zutty Singleton — but also Eddie Condon, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson.  Sidney Bechet is in town, but it is the later rhapsodic French Bechet; the Bunk echoes are of the “Last Testament” session.  I am tempted to write a track-by-track guided tour, but why spoil your surprises?

Benny’s gracious understanding also extends to the musicians he chose for this disc.  He has opened his musical house to friends who can really play and sing, people who are individualists.  And the welcome includes Elders and Youngbloods, which makes the session particularly earthy, fresh, and sweetly -surprising — it has some of the feel of a cross-generational down-home jam session where everyone is grinning their faces off at what they are hearing and what they are part of creatively.  It isn’t trad-by-the-numbers; it isn’t busker-stomp; it isn’t formulaic in any way.  And the repertoire is splendidly unhackneyed without being consciously esoteric.

Many CDs offer a huge plateful of The Same Thing, the musical equivalent of an eight-pound plateful of shrimp with lobster sauce.  But I have played this disc half a dozen times from first to last, enraptured.  There are full-ensemble pieces, one-horn, piano-drums trios, a gorgeous drum solo (BENNY FACE, as melodic as any orchestral piece), piano and drums, a few vocals (Goldberg on MY BABY; Brunious on BACKYARD; Lonzo on CALIFORNIA) — and speaking of BACKYARD . . .

How fresh and heartfelt that is!

Now I must explain the “GFP Award.”  I’d asked Benny to send me a copy of the disc when it was ready (handsome art direction there, too) and when I got it in the mail, drawn by whatever magnetism, I played it that night and wrote him immediately that it was, and I quote, a GIANT FUCKING PLEASURE (I use the vernacular when possible) and he asked me to please use that language in my blog.  I am too restrained to make it the heading . . . but the disc makes me happy.  You can buy the physical disc or a digital download here.  Don’t miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

Bless Benny and his friends.  They bring such joy.

May your happiness increase!

AN ALL-YOU-CAN-HEAR BUFFET: THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 9-12, 2019)

When I used to teach college, I would sometimes harangue my students about the money they spent, and ask them to consider before their next purchase, how many hours of work this item cost them, but more importantly, how much lasting happiness it would bring.  I made a conscious decision to invest in jazz.  Good music, improvised on the spot, pays immense emotional dividends that (let us say) new kitchen counters or other indulgences would not.

There’s also the Carpe Diem factor.  I hear so many fellow enthusiasts saying, “Wow.  I’ll certainly have to go there next year,” and then the “there” evaporates like a drop of water in a hot iron skillet because the jazz party costs too much to run year after year.  So a listener’s willingness to invest in jazz, to tear themselves away from the computer means that the festival goes on or the club stays open.

Carpe Diem is also personal — if you’re twenty-seven, please skip this passage.  This music has been one of the centers of my life for more than fifty years now, and since I know I don’t have another fifty, I am determined to experience as much of it as possible, while it’s here, while I have some income, and while my body cooperates.

Thus it delights me to invite you along to what is obviously a Humdinger and a Lollapalooza of a music festival:

and a listing of bands that, for me, induces a sweet vertigo:

JAZZ LIVES readers will see that a whole host of my West Coast secular deities are here, and this listing doesn’t include all the sidemen and women.  I encourage you all to do several things.  The first, and it’s not idle, is to create a mental space that includes a visit to this festival on May 9-12.  You have to envision something before it becomes a possibility, then a reality.  How you deal with the tangible obligations is your choice and it would be impudent for me to suggest borrowing from Hendrik and Melisandre’s college funds, but you can think of something.

Enough urging.  Please visit the RCMF website — with videos and biographies of musicians.  And here is the RCMF Facebook page.

It’s too soon for a complete schedule of performances to be posted, but I know that it will be.  I have heard — among other delights — words about a Charlie Christian tribute, a Walter Donaldson performance, an evocation of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars . . . . Those aren’t the usual festival fare, and I cherish them.  Dance competitions, also.  Let that sink in.

And for those who realize there is life away from the stage, the RCMF takes place in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world — the Humboldt County redwood forest: details here.

But you’d like to hear some music, correct?  For once, I won’t easily gratify that desire for free through the computer.  Heaven knows there’s enough to be had.  For a change, consider leaving your chair, shutting your phone off in favor of a jaunt into the redwoods.  And an amazing cornucopia of musical experiences.

May your happiness increase!

“IT MEANS THAT THEY’RE GRAND”: The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 28, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, MARC CAPARONE, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, EVAN ARNTZEN

The original:

And then sweetly Americanized, with label credit to young Bobby Hackett, 1937:

An action shot of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet in 2018 (Marc Caparone, cornet / trumpet; Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass):

And not simply a still photograph, but ten minutes of the band in action at the 2018 Evergreen Jazz Festival, showing why they are booked for major festivals and will star on the STOMPTIME jazz cruise — April 27 to May 4, 2019).

May your happiness increase!

FOUR-FOUR RHYTHM: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Jazz at Lincoln Center (and JazzTimes) just sent an announcement about the 2019 Jazz Congress, January 7-8, 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York.  One panel is:

 Jazz, Swing, Race and Culture
Considering swing as a rhythm or swing as a feeling or a verb, what are the social, cultural, and racial factors that affect individuals’ perception, acceptance or rejection of the concept? Player[s] and thinkers ponder what swing means in 2019.

I doubt that it will happen, but in my ideal world, the player[s] and thinkers at JALC will watch these videos before pondering.  The music was created in 2017, not 2019, and there are other ways to swing, but what Kris and his Gang did was genuine and might eliminate some theorizing.

These four performances come from a magical band that made a splash at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest: Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I could spend paragraphs pointing out resemblances and echoes of the Ancestors (you’re free to chase such things at your leisure) but I’d rather you admire these living heroes at play, and such expert play.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

REPEATER PENCIL (and, yes, such a thing did exist: see here):

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Festival organizers, club bookers, concert promoters with taste: now’s the time!

Incidentally, this is the charming 1929 record from which I take my title:

May your happiness increase!

JUST LIKE YOUR PARENTS’ BACKYARD, IF YOUR PARENTS HAD BEEN HIP ENOUGH TO HIRE A HOT BAND: The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET HAS A BALL at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 28, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, EVAN ARNTZEN, MARC CAPARONE

Here they are, sedately indoors, a year ago, in Nashville, Tennessee:

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

and here they are, swinging beautifully, at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 28, 2018.  They are an amazing band, and the performances below explain why better than several thousand words of mine ever could.

Thanks to Ed Danielson, director of the EJF, who has good instincts and acts on them: he heard the HCJQ at their inaugural appearance in Durango and hired them immediately for Evergreen.

A word about the unusual lighting . . . I asked Steve Pikal if he minded being turned into a green alien for this set, and he said, no, he rather liked it.  So I have left the hues alone.

THREE LITTLE WORDS (which switches from the key of C to that of Ab and back again, I have on good authority):

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, for and by Mister Waller:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, by James P. Johnson, who taught Fats, sung sweetly by Evan:

and a thoroughly gratifying exploration of Walter Donaldson’s ultimatum, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

What a band, indeed.  Did I mention that they will be on the  STOMPTIME cruise in April 2019?  I didn’t have to: you know that already.

May your happiness increase!

SOUNDS LIKE MUSIC! CLINT BAKER’S GOLDEN GATE SWING BAND (plus Dancers): MAY 26, 2018: CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, KATIE CAVERA, RILEY BAKER, PAUL COSENTINO, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER

I perceive this world as a place where authenticity must battle with fakery all the time — sushi is sometimes shoved aside for plastic food.  So when a dining companion asks me how I like my dinner, I might say, “Tastes like food!” which few understand as sincere appreciation of genuineness.  That expression works equally well for me in what I hear in improvised performance.

This morning, I checked YouTube and found videos — thanks to RaeAnn Hopkins Berry — of Clint Baker’s Golden Gate Swing Band at the Bootleggers’ Jamboree Weekend (I put the apostrophe there whether they like it or not) on May 26th.  The band is Clint, trombone; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Paul Cosentino, reeds; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar [whose name I misspelled in my first, pre-coffee, version]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Riley Baker, drums.

I started with JIVE AT FIVE, and was content.  Knowing that such music is possible — inspired by Basie but not copying the Decca 78 — is consoling:

and ROSETTA, at one of many good tempos:

Leaving Jabbo Smith out would be neither wise nor gracious, so here is Clint’s ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY:

and the song Pee Wee Russell would title THREE LITTLE BIRDS (with a Commodore ancestry):

RaeAnn shot twenty-four videos of this fine band (including vocals by Dawn Lambeth and Jessica King) — which I will leave to your investigation (also so that you can subscribe to her YouTube channel) — but those should make you feel delight in the presence of the Real.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTION OF THE ART: “CLASSIC BRUNSWICK AND COLUMBIA TEDDY WILSON SESSIONS 1934-1942” (Mosaic Records)

Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:

I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.

But I must start with a small odd anecdote.  Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it.  It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison.  I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.”  Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea.  Cue rueful laughter.

Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by  extension, the recordings in this box set.

Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries.  One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her.  The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string.  True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle.  But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable.  Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.

His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid.  But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero.  I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues.  And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.

Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography.  From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance.  There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.)  Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises.  I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.

He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps.  Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week.  In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered.  I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to.  I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art.  They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.

The music impresses and moves me on several levels.  One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic.  Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole.  There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical.  The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues.  The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part.  The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type.  Check the Mosaic discography.

In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another.  Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane.  The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.

The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions.  What more could one create within this form?  How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?

Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so.  But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.

I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear.  Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs.  When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations.  However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.

I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise.  Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards.  So I won’t belabor that point here.  If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do.  But I will leave that to others to argue.

I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over.  And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research.  And the photographs.  And the splendid transfers.  I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.

For more information, go here — either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available.  Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box?  Is it a good value?  I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds.  Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.

And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

“FORGED IN RHYTHM”: KEENAN McKENZIE with LAURA WINDLEY, GORDON AU, LUCIAN COBB, CHRIS DAWSON, JONATHAN STOUT, SETH FORD-YOUNG, JOSH COLLAZO (AUGUST 2017)

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”

This new CD is just wonderful.  Listen to a sample here while you read.  And  that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.

The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.

I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here.  The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender.  “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds.  He is indeed someone to watch, and admire.  He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.

The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind.  Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me).  These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.

The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*.  You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.

The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock.  Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played.  That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.

The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady.  Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds.  This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another.  Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable.  Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are.  “Are,” not “were.”

And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura.  And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.

The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc).  The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.

The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check here for updates on such matters.  And here you can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.

I end on a personal note.  I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me.  I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached.  But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player.  Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy.  It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.

May your happiness increase!