One of the added pleasures of the past year has been the opportunity to hear Cait Jones sing in a number of contexts. She can sing sad songs with deep awareness but she is a born joy-spreader, Red Riding Hood with a basket of happiness.
I was fortunate enough to hear her and two instrumental stars at the second-floor piano room of Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street (‘way downtown in Manhattan) on April 26, and I present four selections from that night for your pleasure. Cait was brilliantly accompanied by Tal Ronen, string bass, and Peter Yarin, piano. Tal is one of the most eloquent musicians I know, every phrase, every long line. I’d only known Peter as a brilliant member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks but was delighted by his limber, swinging accompaniment and solos.
But. Before you dive in, a parental advisory, a caveat, a trigger warning. No naughty words or lewd subjects. But the audience didn’t stop talking — that volatile mix of alcohol and self-absorption bubbling over the sides of the cauldron. And my microphone, although narrowly focused, captures all the sounds present at the time. I see it as the clash between Beauty and Ignorance, and for me — someone who can focus on Beauty — the lovely music wins. But if you are outraged by the audio quality or by the presence of goofy drunken yap, scroll down past these four performances to the bottom of this posting, where the sound is pristine.
And I reiterate: Cait is a marvelous singer. Her handling of the lyrics is wise yet light-hearted. She glides. Her first choruses saunter through the melody and words, fairly respectfully but stretching the line here, pausing or playing rhythmic games. Her second choruses (now that everyone knows the way through the woods) are fun and free: at points during this evening’s performance, I thought, “That’s the way Sweets Edison or Shorty Baker would play the melody, gently making us hear it for the first time.” See if you don’t agree.
The second song of the night, the pretty THAT’S ALL, usually a closing choice:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was once a sly sweet request but big bands took it more quickly. Harking back to Ella and Louis, Cait woos us in the best way:
Without trying to be Billie, thank goodness, Cait sails through ME, MYSELF, AND I:
nd for something more rueful, mournful, SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:
But wait! There’s more! From a few months ago, Cait and Michael Kanan in duet on I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU:
Cait is not only singer and bandleader but also lyricist, a talent most vividly out in the open with her lyrics to music by Mathieu Najean. Here’s their collaboration on A MOMENT IN TWO:
Cait and Mathieu have recorded a whole CD of these collaborations, OUTTA THE BLUE WITH YOU, and here’s a thoughtfully charming one, DOWN AND ROUND CAROUSEL:
A sweet and hot experience from a world in transition, in parole, as it were. Music beyond compare amidst strollers, chatters, and puppies on leash. Marvelous that it happened, and thrilling that it happened in a time and place that I and the OAO could visit. And we brought back souvenirs for you.
Here’s a rocking Louis performance that continues to inspire: ONCE IN A WHILE, with memories of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, performed on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out — 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — by the EarRegulars, who were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar (Josh takes the first solo, and in the Louis spirit, note Jay’s WEST END BLUES at the end of his solo (2:31)).
ONCE IN A WHILE, indeed, magic filled the air. Thanks to technology (a completely obsolete Panasonic HD video camera and very solicitous RODE microphone on a reliable tripod) it can be revisited at leisure.
When NOLA funk comes to NYC Soho, it’s a wonderful connection of forces.
If you think I’m being melodramatic in my title, wait for the group vocal on THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT, from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and post-Guinness glass mute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. It’s a sad tale of a plumbing problem that could lead to life-threatening dehydration:
I believe that on or before October 31, the EarRegulars, seen above as Out, will go In — reverting to their more familiar Sunday-night performances inside The Ear Inn. Know that these uplifting jazz picnics will become nocturnal soirees as the temperature drops and the days shorten.
And take good care of your bucket. Check it regularly for leaks.
Do you dread the start of the workweek? Or does Monday remind you of homework undone, bills unpaid, responsibilities that weigh? Take heart: JAZZ LIVES is here to help.
(Cue rousing music): the EarRegulars to the rescue! And they’re locally sourced and cage-free. Investigating all the corners of Earl Hines’ 1928 classic, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet (in a Bechet mood for a few seconds, sparking joy); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. All of this took place at the Ear Out — 326 Spring Street — on June 6, 2021:
And just think, with Monday done and done, the rest of the week will soar (or totter) by. Wishing you safe passage — with the help of these joyous sounds.
I have it on good authority that the Sunday-afternoon revival-meetings will continue through October, with guests Don Mopsick, Evan Christopher, Dennis Lichtman, Bill and John Allred . . . don’t miss out!
But we’re in 2021, in the land of blessed live performance, not simply staring rapt at the blue Decca label, and the expression on Albanie Falletta’s face says it all:
A daring little band — the EarRegulars — performing on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The core group for this Louis Armstrong classic (written by Terry Shand and Jimmy Eaton) is Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Eminent guests: Josh Dunn, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar. Please note the groovy tempo — not too fast — for this playful inducement to public and private displays of affection.
Another musical marvel, I think. Have you been? These Sunday-afternoon sessions will not happen when the frost is on the pumpkin. So get your musical blessings while you may.
I think the great artists have magical transformative abilities. These four can’t make the noisy sidewalk still or silent, but to me it feels as if they are in my — and their — living room. They are having a good time and they make sure we are also. From left, Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar and vocal; Tal Ronen, string bass; Josh Dunn, acoustic guitar; Matt Munisteri, electric guitar. Tal and Matt were part of the EarRegulars that day for the Sunday session in front of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City): Albanie and Josh were stellar visitors. he fellow in the blue shirt who’s part of the picture, early and late, is Jon-Erik Kellso, bringing the tip bucket around while he’s not playing his Puje trumpet.
Beautiful moments, captured al fresco:
And if you feel compelled to write in to growl about the people passing by, seemingly oblivious while talking, or perhaps the lack of microphones, please lie down until the impulse passes. Celebrate the magic rather than complaining about this imperfect world: magic happens all of a sudden, unpredictably, and vanishes . . . we must cherish it.
Another episode in the continuing story of rebirth, resurrection, and joy — through music, played by a community, played for one.
This is such a pretty song by Billy Hill (who wrote THE LAST ROUND-UP) and it’s been sung and played by Bing, Louis, Jim Goodwin, Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, and others who dream. Here, it’s brought to wistful swinging life by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass, outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, on June 6, 2021.
Go hear some live music. It will reassure you that we are alive, always a good thing.
And if you missed it the first time, here‘s a wild (and wildly gratifying) WILLIE THE WEEPER from this session.
JAZZ LIVES’ readers are an erudite lot, so they know the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER, a craftsperson with a substance abuse problem, to use 2021 terminology. In the song’s original lyrics, of which there are many variants, Willie was a low-down chimney sweeper with a “hop” (opium) habit, which afforded him the most extravagant dreams. An engaging song even without the lyrics, it made its way into Chicago jazz and thus the larger musical world through recordings by Louis Armstrong and others in the later Twenties. And should you investigate the lyrics, you would find that WILLIE is a surrogate parent to MINNIE THE MOOCHER, a creation that Cab Calloway enjoyed for decades.
The people you see in the photographs above are heroes of mine: they give their hearts to this music, which doesn’t always pay them back generously in currency. They “play their personalities,” as Roswell Rudd told me. They know how to sit up straight and color within the lines when necessary, but they also have huge wandering imaginations that delight and surprise. One of the most delightful of this delightful crew is the quiet subversive Jay Rattman, who brought his clarinet and alto saxophone to yesterday’s heartfelt fiesta. Jay looks prudent, serene: you would have no hesitation about co-signing a small loan for him, or letting him order dinner for the group. Not only would he “help the old lady across the street,” he would even first establish that she wanted to go.
So what happened on WILLIE THE WEEPER — the fourth song of this warm breezy Sunday afternoon — was a wondrous surprise. Jay was surrounded by a mutual admiration society: Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. I don’t know whether Jay was having a good time with the idea of weeping, or of opium dreams, or if he was simply basking in the joy of being outside among friends playing music . . . but his choruses are the most extravagant — and memorable — dreams. He didn’t implode the song, but he certainly tested its durable elasticity. See and hear for yourself:
To quote Jon-Erik, “Fun one, to be sure.” If you haven’t spent a Sunday afternoon in the company of these wonderful creators, I encourage you to do so. When the sun is shining, 1-3:30, in front of 326 Spring Street. And as hot as it was yesterday, the river provided cooling breezes. As did the music — thrilling, mournful, uplifting.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the fourteen-month period after mid-March 2020 felt for me like a) being locked in the basement with very dim lighting; b) a dinner-theatre production of RIP VAN WINKLE; c) induced coma with meals, phone calls, and my computer; d) a long undefined stretch during which I could watch uplifting videos here; d) all of the above.
But I feel as if spiritual Reveille has sounded, and the way I know that is that live music has been more out-in-the-open than before. (I mean no offense to those gallant souls who swung out in the parks for months.) I’ve been to see and hear the EarRegulars three times in front of the Ear Inn on Sundays (1-3:30, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) and if the sun shines, I will be there this coming Sunday to say hello to heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Jay Rattman, and Tal Ronen; I am going to the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, on Thursday, June 10, at 8 PM, to see Colin Hancock and his Red Hot Eight with Dan Levinson, Abanie Falletta, Arnt Arntzen, Vince Giordano, Mike Davis, Julian Johnson, and Troy Anderson (details here). On June 13 I am driving to Pennsylvania (thanks to the Pennsylvania Jazz Society) to see and hear Danny Tobias, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Joe Plowman, Pat Mercuri, and Jim Lawlor (details here).
And, one week later, June 17 — Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso, with Dalton Ridenhour, Tal Ronen, and Mark McLean, playing music from the new Arntzen-Kellso dazzler, the CD COUNTERMELODY. Details here. Important, rewarding, exciting.
First, Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET STRUT:
and this, with the verse, no less:
Now, some words of encouragement. Some of you will understandably say, “I live too far away, the pandemic is not over, and Michael will go there in my stead and bring his video camera.” Some of that is true, although I am taking a busman’s holiday and do not expect to video Evan’s concert, for contractual reasons. (And even Michael knows, although he does not wallow in this truth, that a video is not the same thing as being there.)
I know it’s tactless to write these words, but wouldn’t you like to experience some music that isn’t on this lit rectangle? More fun, and everyone is larger. And you can, after the music is over, approach the musicians and say, “We love you. Thank you for continuing on your holy quest where we can be uplifted by it. Thank you for your devotion.” If this strikes you as presumptuous, I apologize, and the Customer Service Associate will be happy to refund your purchase price plus tax.
I hope to see you out and about. We need to celebrate the fact of our re-emergence into the sunshine.
Walter Donaldson’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG could have been the theme song of the pandemic. But this performance, two months before the lights went out, is cheerful, rambunctious, uplifting.
These celestial noises were created below stairs at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, at one of their Thursday-night revels, this one featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Apologies to John for not including him in the frame: I recall trying to do so and being blocked by someone’s head, never a great accomplishment in cinematography:
Cafe Bohemia has not resumed its revels, although we live in hope. But — did you know — Jon-Erik, John, Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, will be playing outside The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, tomorrow, Sunday, May 15, from 1 to 3:30?
Many compact discs are like visits to a new restaurant with a tasting menu. The listener has course after course brought to them, and with luck, every dish is not only delightful in itself but part of a larger experience. And one makes a mental note to go back and bring friends. Sometimes, of course, one beckons to the waitperson and says, “Please, can we skip ahead? I’m not happy with this. If you’d just bring me the flourless chocolate cake and the check, that would be great.” And the CD goes into that purgatory between give-to-a-friend-or-the-thrift-store-or keep-for-the-moment-but-not-forever.
The new CD, COUNTERMELODY (Dot Time Records), by Evan Arntzen and esteemed friends, isn’t a meal: it’s a brightly-colored, many-sided journey. Details here and here if the names above have already convinced you.
Before you read a word more, two samples which will reveal much and reward more:
SOLITARITY, by Evan:
and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, sung by Catherine Russell:
Although the terms “old” and “new” are dangerously weighted and too binary, COUNTERMELODY is a shining showcase for “old” music (nearly a hundred years old) played as “new,” and “new” music that passionately embraces “old” traditions. SOLITARITY is delightfully weird — that’s a compliment — but it also sounds so much like a New Orleans funeral, mournful and exultant at once. And to borrow from Billy Wilder, each of the musicians here has a face, a vivid, glowing singularity — a set of big voices, and I don’t simply mean Catherine Russell’s combination of trumpet and cello and full orchestra. Speaking of singers, Evan’s vocal rendition of GEORGIA CABIN is perfectly dreamy. I don’t want him to put down his horns, but he could do a lovely vocal album.
But back to the journey I was describing. The CD begins with a half-dozen “traditional” songs — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 18th STREET STRUT, CAMP MEETING BLUES, GEORGIA CABIN, PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES, and WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO. Connoisseurs will check off the homages to Ory, Moten, Oliver, Bechet, Louis, and Dodds. But these are not formulaic choices. They come from a deep immersion in the repertoire and a desire to do the music homage in its full glory, not in the eleven tunes that everyone plays. The performances are totally energized but also respectful of the original outlines of the songs and of performance practice. The ensembles are strong (having two trumpets who can kitten-tussle in mid-air is a great thing) and the solos fierce or fiercely tender.
Then, SMILES, usually played and sung with a certain amount of sentimentality, whether it’s by Charles La Vere or Chick Bullock: the musical equivalent of a 1925 Valentine’s postcard, cherubs and hearts crowding in. But not here:
That’s two minutes and thirty-four seconds of exuberance. My initial reaction was “WHAT?!” But I was properly smiling as Evan and Charlie chased each other around the backyard, twin five-year olds who have eaten too much Halloween candy. Honoring the innovators implies a certain amount of possibly-disrespectful but loving innovation: the result is immensely restorative. While my nerve endings were still tingling, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Catherine Russell sing IF YOU WERE MINE as no one, including Billie, ever sang it, complete with the verse, which I’d never heard. A properly churchy DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE follows, then originals by Halloran, Kellso, Benny Green, and Evan . . . and the disc concludes with two brief cylinder recordings of AFTER YOU’VE GONE and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, created by the band and the master of hot archaisms, Colin Hancock.
After that, I wanted a glass of ice water, and, after a pause, to play COUNTERMELODY again, and tell my friends, as I am doing here.
So don’t be the last one on your block to walk around humming and grinning because of COUNTERMELODY. You can receive it in its lovely package (fine notes by producer Scout Opatut) or digitally, here or here.
Postscript: someone said of me, with an edge, “Michael only writes good reviews,” to which I responded, when I heard, “I only review good music.” COUNTERMELODY is over the moon and beyond the beyonds in that way.
Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.
Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.
But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.
The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.
I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.
Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:
I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.
To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:
Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .
I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when we say, “Stop! That’s enough beauty!” and certainly this recent period is not one of those times.
John Allred, Duke Heitger, Ehud Asherie, 2009
So I offer a vivid example: Duke Ellington’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD played with great feeling and virtuosity by John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on a Thursday night, January 16, 2020.
The fellow introducing the performance and then leaving the stand to enjoy it better is Jon-Erik Kellso, who knows a good deal about the creation of beauty.
Allred’s magnificence is that he makes those pieces of greased metal sing heartfelt memorable songs. And the string section of Munisteri and Ronen is glorious also.
Here’s a beautiful sustained lesson in how to Groove, taught by four past Masters: Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tal Ronen, string bass. Their classroom was Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, on January 16, 2020. The text for this class was Vincent Youmans’ SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY.
With these four in control, it’s ALWAYS, not SOMETIMES.
In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians. Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring. But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds. More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful. Where on earth did you come from?”
That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own. And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.
I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn. Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:
and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B. Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:
And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.” Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:
I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air. But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful. I think, “I want to hear more!”:
Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him. The results:
I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.
For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.
I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.
An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:
So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.
Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.
You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.
I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.
More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.
If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:
Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy. You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:
I’ll leave with this. At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!” My thoughts exactly.
Evan Arntzen, once the new fellow from out of town, continues to delight and amaze. He and his gifted friends did it again last Thursday, January 23, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York. Those friends are Darrian Douglas, drums; Tal Ronen, string bass; Ben Paterson, Fender Rhodes; Albanie Falletta, guest vocal.
Here are four lovely highlights from that evening.
Harold Arlen’s BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:
Spencer Williams’ I FOUND A NEW BABY, with a nod to Lester:
Wingy Manone’s STRANGE BLUES (but come closer and don’t be afraid):
Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, which Albanie does so well:
Suggestions for pleasure? Come to Cafe Bohemia for more good sounds; follow these musicians for more of the same.
It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.
Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums. “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax. “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:
(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)
Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,” September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:
Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:
I will explain.
“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City. Now it is just a restaurant. “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food. Now, only food. The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now. (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.) Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons. Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.
That’s not difficult to take in. Everything changes. “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.
But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.
The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course. But it’s simple economics. When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result. This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band. And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”
And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music. Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent. I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency. And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.
So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music? When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”
I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection. I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog. And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that. And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube. I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.
But you. Do you take the music for granted, like air and water? Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it? Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish? Mind you, there are exceptions. Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy. But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide. Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.
If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing. Or you can stay home and watch it wither.
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 . . . .
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.
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.
Here is some beauty for us — by Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. They created this quiet marvel and many others on November 21, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down, a place where beauty is invited to make itself comfortable on a regular basis.
BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL always makes me think of Herschel Evans, so much a part of the 1938-9 Basie band. His short life is a model to us — not that we should die so young, but that we should make beauty, make its creation our goal, and thus be remembered decades after we are no longer on the planet. You could substitute “love” for “beauty” and still be right.
(I also think of Ruby Braff and Sammy Margolis, but they are another story — although branches from the same lyrical tree.)
Thanks to Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn, and Tal Ronen — people who send us love notes of the best kind — and to Christine Santelli and Mike Zieleniewski, who make evenings like this at Cafe Bohemia possible.
Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:
there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:
Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.
Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.
I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:
WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:
YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Now, even more good news. Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen. “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says. And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers. All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays. The HOT CLUB, you know.
And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.
It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.
Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.
This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door. But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session. Here are a few highlights.
Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:
Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:
ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:
Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:
And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:
Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay. Yes, it happened.