Memorable music flourishes in the most unlikely situations. Cellar Dog (once Fat Cat) at 75 Christopher Street, is dark — and the happy crowd of young people playing ping-pong and other indoor sports can sometimes be, let us say, overly conversational. But one’s eye and ear get used to these imperfections: the world isn’t a concert hall. The delightfully shaded music comes right through, as it did on the evening of March 16, 2022, when Tamar Korn, voice; Mark Shane, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Kevin Dorn, drums, came out of the darkness to embrace us. And the ping-pong players were dancing at their tables, so they heard it too.
BIG CITY BLUES:
CLOSE YOUR EYES:
and, cosmologically, with an “oration” from essayist-philosopher Michael Ventura, Tamar and the band soar HOW HIGH THE MOON:
An absolutely delightful musical evening. Elsewhere on this blog I have posted three instrumentals by the Kellso-Shane-Dorn powerhouse, and Tamar’s completely touching performances of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and YOUNG AT HEART. Watch, marvel, and be there in spirit.
I’m here to share pleasures: on March 16th, otherwise an ordinary Wednesday night, the OAO and I witnessed a memorable musical constellation. It took place in the darkness, but darkness is not the enemy of swing. Billed as the Tamar Korn Quartet (at Cellar Dog, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) it was Tamar, magnificently herself; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Shane, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums. It’s been my good fortune to know and hear all of them, separately and together, for years. Inspiration was evident, and good feeling.
Three times during the night, Tamar suggested that they trio have an instrumental interlude, opportunities that were memorable from the first bar.
For their first performance, Mark chose the Dietz-Schwartz affirmation (think Fred Astaire, think Henry “Red” Allen): SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:
Then, the very friendly-reliable EXACTLY LIKE YOU (I missed the first seconds, and apologize for it):
and the (musical) question I hope my readers don’t have to ask, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?:
And because Tamar sang, acted, danced, so wonderfully, I call your attention to the wonderful song she sang at the start:
They were wonderful. They are wonderful. And there will be more music from this glorious below-stairs event to share with you.
The basement venue formerly known as FAT CAT (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) reopened in July 2021 as CELLAR DOG, cleaned up and refurbished — a great gift to us. Here’s a brief 360-degree video that sums up the cheerful ambiance of the place:
But this is not a crabby elder’s post about Those Young People, because their fun makes wonderful music possible. Last Wednesday night when the Tamar Korn Quartet appeared — Tamar, singing, dancing, theatre, joy; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Shane, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums — the OAO whispered that people were dancing at their ping-pong tables, something that makes me happy and hopeful.
The “stage lighting” for the band is almost nonexistent, but remember what Dante took three volumes to tell us, that we must descend into darkness to rise into paradise. And paradise is what these four bright sparks created for us all evening.
I will never forget this performance: Tamar’s brave sweet first chorus, and then, after the modulation, how she plays with the words and melody as if she were stretching clay or kneading dough. When the late Sam Parkins first saw Tamar, he told me that she “got him right in the gizzard,” in the same way as Louis and Caruso. That wasn’t hyperbole. And the lovely work of Jon-Erik, Mark, and Kevin — listening, urging on, responding, lighting the way for all of us.
Isn’t it romantic? Do we even need to ask the question? And there are more glorious interludes to come.
Appropriate to the season, here are three more holiday-wintry favorites, performed by Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, voice and drama; Rob Adkins, string bass; Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet, leader, composer, arranger; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Shane Del Robles, drums. Tamar, Molly, and the Grand Street Stompers had their HOLIDAY STOMP at the new venue, Chelsea Table and Stage, on 26th Street in Manhattan, New York City, December 3, 2021. These performances were recorded by Chelsea Table and Stage and are presented here with thanks.
Here’s a song that has wistful resonance, not just for December 25:
Who’s that man kissing Mommy? Why, it’s Kris Kringle as Shorty George:
and the other side of Mr. Claus . . . that scary phenomenon, in honor of Louis Armstrong, the truest giver of gifts:
I won’t dignify the Grinch by posting his portrait here: there’s enough negativity in the world and you can find his grim visage by yourself. I prefer happier scenes, such as the ones that occurred when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers brought their “Holiday Stomp” to the new Chelsea Table and Stage (26th Street, off Seventh Avenue, in New York City).
Late in the evening, Gordon — courageous among equally courageous colleagues — called for a song that Tamar and the band had only done once before, at the sound check, a song with yards of vaudeville-patter or pre-rap lyrics, YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MISTER GRINCH. Our heroic pal Tamar bravely essayed it with all the hilarious and endearing theatricality she possesses, which is (as they say) plenty. It took a few seconds for the performance to right itself, but it’s not the successes, instead, the recoveries that count so deeply.
I was there with my camera, and shot a video of this performance — this priceless performance (which Tamar has given me permission to share with you) from the table where I and the OAO were sitting. Thus, you get a diner’s -eye view, with heads in the way. But it has a certain “you are there” quality. And we were.
Tamar sings, “Wish me luck!” at the start, but it’s clear that neither she nor the Grand Street Stompers need it. If you would like to learn more about them, you can of course follow them on Facebook or visit their websitehere. They have created three CDs and two digital sessions (the latter available at Bandcamp).
There will be more to come from this night at the Chelsea Table and Stage: I thank them all, four times.
Someone told me that the Grinch was last seen on Seventh Avenue, stuffing himself into an Uber, fleeing as fast as he can, destination unknown.
Merging poetic speculations and ancient pop music, history and the present moment. Late summer evanescence and music captured as long as cyberspace lives.
Tamar Korn and her Metaphysicians of Delight, once again, performing at The Ear Out (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) on a warm Sunday afternoon, August 15, 2021: Rob Edwards, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Greg Ruby, resonator guitar. The meditation in the middle is by Michael Ventura.
Changes are always being made — and sometimes we are able to make them ourselves. I hope, as autumn begins to unfurl itself completely, that (if you were able) you have visited The Ear Out on a bright Sunday afternoon. Everything is mutable, and if you put off encounters with pleasure, there is no assurance that pleasure will be waiting patiently for you. Your phone is always ready, your computer likewise: human beings have their own orbits and you and I might not be their sun. I have spoken.
Last Tuesday night, at the Dan Block / Gabrielle Stravelli / Paul Bollenback / Pat O’Leary gig at Swing 46, it began to drizzle during the quartet’s last song. I wasn’t worried about me, but about my camera and microphone, both of which survived. But it made me think, once again, of my anxiously protective mother, so concerned that her boy not get wet (showers and pools were OK) — so much so that in adulthood I compressed her warnings into “You’ll get wet, you’ll get sick, you’ll die.” Decades later, I got soaked in a rainstorm and, laughing, looked up at the sky and said, “See, Mom? I’m OK!”
Years ago, I remember Tamar Korn singing APRIL SHOWERS on gigs — its own kind of hopeful optimism — and when she appeared with her Metaphysicians of Delight (my band name) at The Ear Out on August 15, 2021, she pulled another meteorological rabbit out of her invisible hat with IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which is also a sweet lesson in mutability. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guests Colin Hancock on hot cornet, Andrew Stephens on second trumpet (a swashbuckling California import, who learned a great deal from our hero Eddie Erickson).
Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor!
The song is one I associate with Annette Hanshaw, and, in this century, also with the splendid Barbara Rosene. It says: you’ll get soaked, and you’ll be OK, and even better. And the pleasure of seeing and hearing Tamar with a little big band.
I’ve admired Tamar Korn since I first encountered her at The Ear Inn and as the central spiritual engine of the Cangelosi Cards in 2009. She was a phenomenon then (I did ask her if she really came from our galaxy) and she’s kept on glowing. How to describe her? Passionate comedienne-poet might do for the moment.
Tamar and her Metaphysicians of Delight give us a multi-dimensional lesson in the art of slowing down, of taking it easy. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guest Colin Hancock on hot cornet. Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor! And thanks to Israel Baline, too.
I feel so much better already. Don’t you? There’s more to come, so stay tuned . . .
Who could resist such a request? Thank you, Sigmund Romberg, of course.
And thank the EarRegulars for this sustained joy from The Ear Out (that’s located on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3:30 in front of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).
On July 25, 2021, they were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass, with NOLA guest Shaye Cohn, cornet, joining them. And here’s a masterpiece of chamber jazz, no exaggeration: solos, swing, ensemble telepathy, lyricism:
I’ve posted several other luminous performances from this session, with guests Jen Hodge, Josh Dunn, Rafael Castillo-Halvorssen, and Tamar Korn: THEM THERE EYES, IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, and ONCE IN A WHILE. They don’t need explication, although they (and this burst of pleasures) remind me of someone from the UK — obviously deep into her own preferred variety of jazz — who used to comment on my postings, “Too swingy.”
She meant it as a criticism: I take it as the highest compliment.
The EarRegulars and friends deserve our most reverent thanks. And our physical presence: every Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3:30, at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.
And a self-referential postscript: in some unimagined context, should someone ask me, “Michael, what have you done with your life? I understand you were a college professor for decades . . .” I would point them to videos like this as the achievements I’m most proud of.
Wondrous music was made (to quote Fratello JLC) in front of the Ear Inn on Sunday, July 25. If you were there, you know. If you weren’t, you can see and hear a sample now — created by the EarRegulars on their penultimate performance of the afternoon, THEM THERE EYES, featuring the regular EarRegulars for the day, John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass, with irregular EarRegulars Tamar Korn, vocal; Shaye Cohn, cornet; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Josh Dunn, guitar.
Leader Jon-Erik Kellso and Rafael Castillo-Halvorsen, guest trumpet, sat this one out to not have an excess of brass – but you can imagine their grins. Oh, my!
Have you been? Joys await for those who can drop in. And there’s Sunday, August 1 . . . .
Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.
It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:
And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.
Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:
Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
In the glory days, which are waiting in the wings for their cue to return, joy reigned supreme at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights.
January 16, 2011 was no exception.
I witnessed it myself — uplifting music provided generously by the EarRegulars and friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, and friends Pete Martinez, clarinet; Bob Curtis, clarinet; Tamar Korn, vocal, and Jerron Paxton, vocal.
Tamar’s incredibly passionate BODY AND SOUL, featuring Jon-Erik, Mark, Matt, Pete, and Neal:
SOME OF THESE DAYS featuring Jerron and Bob with the core quartet:
Harry Barris’s classic uplifting melody becomes even more airborne here, thanks to Tamar, Jon-Erik, Mark, Pete, Matt, and Neal:
I was there. Perhaps you were also? We look forward to reunions — an idea we can safely embrace. Until then, do as I do and hug the music and its creators to your heart.
Yes, it’s that time again! — although our secret is that any time is good to hear The EarRegulars. A wintry Sunday night is what we have, though, and a metaphysical visit to The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, is a warming experience. Let’s drop in for the second part of a session from November 14, 2010, featuring Dan Block, clarinet and alto saxophone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — with a nice theme being (mostly) the music of Irving Berlin. Tommy Dorsey and Bunny Berigan didn’t make it, but MARIE stands on its own without them:
Always welcome, some 1936 romantic optimism:
A different kind of romantic ardor, courtesy of Fats:
And a delightful visit from Tamar Korn, who sings LAZY RIVER:
Finally, a return to Berlin with Tamar’s THE SONG IS ENDED:
See you next week. Keep the music playing: when it’s most dark, it sustains us.
I am a relentless optimist — otherwise I wouldn’t be typing now — but there’s not much even I can muster up about the recent past and the continuing present. My arms get tired. But “we need to have something to look forward to,” wise words said by a friend. So even though my hope for the future might be built on something more delicate than empirical evidence, I offer it to you.
This journey into the future starts in the summer of 2007. It is not a lamentation, an elegy for what was lost. Rather it is a celebration of joys experienced and joys to come. With music, of course.
The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks
My involvement with this place — which looks like a bar but is really a shrine — goes back to the summer of 2007, before JAZZ LIVES existed. Jon-Erik Kellso (friend-hero) whom I’d first met at Chautauqua in September 2004, and later at The Cajun in 2005-6, told me about a new Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn, a legendary place I’d never been to. I think I made the second Sunday, where he, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate played two very satisfying sets.
Incidentally, 326 Spring Street is a minute’s walk from the corner of Spring and Hudson, where the Half Note once stood. There, in 1972, I saw Ruby Braff, Jimmy Rushing, and Jake Hanna one night. Finest karma, I would say.
The band at The Ear Inn (not yet named The EarRegulars) — a collection of friends, eventually Jon and another horn, two rhythm, most often Matt Munisteri, guitar, and someone equally noble on string bass, held forth from around 8 to 11 PM. Because I knew the musicians (or could introduce myself to them as Friend, not Exploiter) I could bring my Sony digital recorder, smaller than a sandwich, place it on a shelf to the rear of the band, record the sets and transfer the music to CDs which I would then give to the musicians when I saw them next. The food was inexpensive, the waitstaff friendly, and I could find a table near the band. It was also no small thing that the Ear was a short walk from the C or the 1; if I drove, I could park for free. These things matter.
I thought it then and still do the closest thing to a modern Fifty-Second Street I had ever encountered. Musical friends would come in with their instruments and the trio or quartet would grow larger and more wonderful. Although I was still teaching and went to my Monday-morning classes in exhausted grumpiness (“This job is interfering with The Ear Inn!”) these Sunday-night sessions were more gratifying than any other jazz-club experience. The emphasis was on lyrical swing, Old Time Modern — a world bounded by Louis, Duke, Basie, Django, and others — where the Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) came to trade ideas, where musicians hinted at Bix, the ODJB, Bird, and Motown.
When this blog came to be, I started writing about nights at The Ear — rhapsodical chronicles. I’m proud that only the second post I wrote, DOWNTOWN UPROAR, was devoted to the seven months of happy Sundays at 326 Spring Street. Again, I wrote about it EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WE FORGET ABOUT OUR CARES— a musical reference you’ll figure out. In late April 2008, I could depict in words the session where a lovely graceful couple danced balboa in between the tables (the Ear, as you will see, got many people into a small space) and was my first chance to hear Tamar Korn, that wonder — FEELING THE SPIRIT. And in all this, I had the consistent help and encouragement of Lorna Sass, who has not been forgotten.
Those who know me will find it puzzling, perhaps, that there has been no mention of my ubiquitous video camera, which I had been using to capture live jazz as far back as 2006. For one thing, the Ear’s tables were close together, so there was little or no room to set up a tripod (videographers must know how to blend in with the scenery and not become nuisances: hear me, children!) Darkness was an even more serious problem. I had shot video in places that were well-lit, and YouTube allowed people to adjust the color and lighting of videos shot in low light. The results might be grainy and orange, but they were more visible. Early on, YouTube would permit nothing longer than ten minutes to be posted, so the lengthy jams at the Ear — some running for thirteen minutes or more — had to be presented in two segments, divided by me, on the spot. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Rereading my descriptions I am amazed: “I was there? That happened?” as in the presence of miracle, but something that I didn’t do and can’t take credit for changed my life — a video of the closing ten minutes of an October 2008 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY posted by Howard Alden, who was playing rather than holding a camera, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd:
Obviously The Ear Inn would never double as a Hollywood soundstage, but I posted this video on JAZZ LIVES. I thought, “Let me see if I can do this also.” But it took until June 7, 2009, for me to put my Great Plan into action, finding a camera (with the help of Jerome Raim) that would penetrate the darkness. Here are the first two results, the first, featuring Jon-Erik and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
That is my definition of stirring music, and so is this — MOONGLOW, with Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, clarinet, Harvey Tibbs, trombone, sitting in, all creating a galaxy of sounds:
That’s slightly more than a decade ago. There are currently no Sunday-night sessions at The Ear Inn. But this post is not to mourn their absence.
I write these words and post these videos in hope for a future that will come again. I have no date to mark on my kitchen calendar, but, as I wrote at the start, I am an optimist. And I think regular Sunday-postings of music from the Ear will remind those of us who were there and enlighten those who were not. Between June 2009 and late 2019, I compiled around 400 videos, and I plan to create regular Sunday experiential parties to which you are all invited. It is not precisely the same thing as being there, saying hello to Victor or Barry or Eric, hugging and being hugged, ordering dinner and ale, waiting, nearly trembling with anticipation for irreplaceable joyous music . . . but I offer it to you in love, in hope that we will all be ready when the great day comes:
It is nearly three o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. In the ideal world, which can return, I would be putting my camera, batteries, and notebook into my knapsack, ready — too early, as is my habit — for a night at The Ear Inn. I’m ready.
Tamar Korn has been a bright light in my sky for more than a decade now, since I first watched and heard her (I am sure I was open-mouthed astonished) perhaps at Banjo Jim’s. Early on, I did ask her, “What planet are you from?” and she laughed but wouldn’t answer. My inquiries to NASA have proven fruitless, and I think the rumor of her being born in California is just to throw us off the track. Whatever . . . Tamar sent me this video a few days ago and I felt it was and is a great gift. She wanted me to tell you that she was singing for her three-and-a-half year old nephew Quinn. But I know that she won’t mind our joining the party.
No Gene Kelly, no puddles, but Tamar, a raincoat, and an umbrella are more than enough to lift our hearts. Even without the raincoat and umbrella.
and because the prevailing circumstances make it terribly relevant, I offer another of Tamar’s performances — recorded out of doors.
Tamar’s Wildwood Ramblers, ten years later: Evan Arntzen, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin, Dennis Lichtman
It’s a Yiddish song that offers its hearers the most fervent wishes for health and happiness: read about it and witness this outpouring of barefoot joy here.
Photograph by Michael Steinman
I may have told the story of the greenish phone-photograph above, but it pleases me. When I posted the photograph on one or another blogpost, someone said to me in the mocking tone of one who has discovered a slightly naughty secret, “You love her, don’t you?!” I grinned at my interrogator and said immediately, “Of course.” It seemed a very foolish question and it still does.
Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.” Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!” Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar. Not so here. This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.
Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad. Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry. Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways. In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!
Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:
Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:
We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:
Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly. And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.
Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:
and in a Hawaiian mood:
That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):
and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?
It’s October in New York, and the air is appropriately cooler. I know that cold weather is coming on, and that isn’t a pleasant thought. So I will present some wonderful warm music from late spring of this year, free-floating and joyous, performed amidst the trees by Tamar Korn and her Wildwood Ramblers, thanks to Brice Moss. The Ramblers (as I hope you know by now) were Dennis Lichtman, Evan Arntzen, Sean Cronin, and Adam Brisbin. Oh, the beauties they created and so generously gave to us.
Here and hereare the performances I’ve posted earlier (I think there are sixteen). This is Part Four or Part Five, depending on what kind of math is your usual procedure.
As to Tamar herself, I’ve been a devoted follower since 2009. Once I took this portrait photograph in the darkness. Someone, seeing it, said derisively to me (with the air of a middle-schooler mocking a romance) “You LOVE her!” and I said the only thing I could say, “Of course!”
Photograph by Michael Steinman
Here are three more reasons to love them all.
JAZZ ME BLUES (“Come on, Professor, and Jazz me!” — something no student has ever said to me, and that’s a good thing.):
DEEP NIGHT, with heartfelt harmonizing from Tamar and Evan:
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, a riotous romp, suitable to end a glorious day of music. Don’t miss Evan’s nose flute interlude! And, as always, such a privilege to be there and to capture these sounds for you and perhaps for posterity:
I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here). Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader. It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.
But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30. The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.
I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance. Each performance rewards repeated listening. (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)
The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).
IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:
OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:
WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:
MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:
I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out? When’s the concert tour?” No one else is making music like this anywhere.
Michael responded on Facebook:
Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.
A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.
Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:
I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher. Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!
Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby. He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no more but last longer”).
Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career? Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils? Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.
“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt. Calling David Fletcher!
And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:
I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.
Listen once again, and be delighted. I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.
Tamar Korn is magic, and she makes magic happen. But even those of us who are accustomed to her extra-terrestrial surprises can find themselves astonished.
It happened throughout the afternoon of June 17, 2018, where, thanks to Brice Moss and family, Tamar and her Wildwood Ramblers (Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Sean Cronin, and Adam Brisbin) could romp and woo us with their sounds in the glade. But one performance still brings stifled tears to my eyes.
Before we begin: the song is not A BEI GEZUNDT, recorded by Mildred Bailey and Cab Calloway, but an earlier composition by Abraham Ellstein, sung by Molly Picon in the 1938 film MAMELE. And if you want to see Molly in domestic bliss — even though the challah burns — you can search YouTube for “Molly Picon” and “MAMELE.”
But I want to draw your attention, and hearts, to Tamar and her Ramblers.
This performance reminds me that when Fats Waller was asked by an interviewer late in his short career what he saw himself doing in future, he answered that he wanted to tour the country giving sermons in front of a big band. Tamar does all this with her most empathic quartet — first, teaching them the song (what dear quick studies they are) and then offering us the lesson of hope and gratitude, something we need in these days and nights.
Because Tamar and friends are on this planet, I thank my lucky stars. You are encouraged to join me in this emotion.
It’s Labor Day 2018, and instead of playing outdoors or being at someone’s barbecue, I’m inside at my computer — by choice, I add. I have joy to spread.
This is the third in a series documenting a wonderful uplifting long afternoon out-of-doors, a Brice Moss Production featuring Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, and Sean Cronin. Parts one and two can be savored here.
Tonight, if you are caught in homeward-bound holiday traffic, this music will keep you from feeling trapped. Just don’t stare at the screen, please?
Here are four more effusions of pure “It’s good to be alive.” (There will be a Part Four as well.)
CREOLE LOVE CALL (scored for two clarinets, and one Songbird — flitting gracefully between Adelaide Hall and Louis’ slide whistle):
The ancient favorite — DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — which my father taught me before I’d entered kindergarten. Happily, there are no videos of my performances. But here are the Wildwood Ramblers — and stay until the end for a very sweet surprise (although if I have to tell you that, something’s wrong):
Some very good advice (with choral effects) even if you don’t have a Sweetie to Squeeze, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:
and another moon tune — DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT:
The experience, then and now, makes me tremendously happy. I feel that if anything will save us, it will be joy. So drink deep (stay spiritually hydrated!) of what these blessed artists so generously offer.
The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight. But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella. The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music. You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here. And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention. Thrilling to be there.
I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:
LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):
I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):
IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:
ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):
Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard. She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke. I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band. And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.