Tag Archives: Tamar Korn

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME”: TAMAR KORN, ROB EDWARDS, JARED ENGEL, GREG RUBY at The Ear Out (August 15, 2021)

Merging poetic speculations and ancient pop music, history and the present moment. Late summer evanescence and music captured as long as cyberspace lives.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

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.

May your happiness increase!

THE MOST OPTIMISTIC WEATHER FORECAST: TAMAR KORN and her METAPHYSICIANS OF DELIGHT at THE EAR OUT: ROB EDWARDS, GREG RUBY, JARED ENGEL, COLIN HANCOCK, ANDREW STEPHENS (August 15, 2021)

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!”

Photograph by Michael Steinman

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.

May your happiness increase!

TAMAR KORN and her METAPHYSICIANS of DELIGHT: ROB EDWARDS, GREG RUBY, JARED ENGEL, COLIN HANCOCK at The Ear Out (August 15, 2021)

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.

Photograph by Michael Steinman, 2017

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 . . .

May your happiness increase!

SO RICH, SO RARE: “LOVER, COME BACK TO ME,” by the EarRegulars Plus — JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE, SHAYE COHN — at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street (July 25, 2021).

James Chirillo, Shaye Cohn, in action.

Who could resist such a request? Thank you, Sigmund Romberg, of course.

John Allred, Jon-Erik Kellso, Neal Caine, showing us how it’s done.

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).

Where it happens — on Sunday afternoons, 1-3:30.

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.

May your happiness increase!

GREAT BIG EYES ON SPRING STREET: The EarRegulars, Irregularly — TAMAR KORN, SHAYE COHN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE, JOSH DUNN (July 25, 2021)

In front of 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, a shrine for friendly music and more.

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 . . . .

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Five) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

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:

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Eight) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

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.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

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.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part One) — WE NEED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

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.

May your happiness increase!

WITH A HAPPY REFRAIN: TAMAR KORN SINGS FOR QUINN (and US)

Tamar, 2008

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.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

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?

May your happiness increase!

THE WINDS IN THE WILLOWS: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (June 17, 2018)

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 here are 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:

May your happiness increase!

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

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.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH, SO THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (June 17, 2018)

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.

May your happiness increase!

IN JOY WE TRUST: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (Part Three): JUNE 17, 2018

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.

May your happiness increase!

“BIRDS DO IT”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS TAKE FLIGHT (Part Two): June 17, 2018

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.

MILENBERG JOYS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

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.

There’s more to come, two more posts’ worth.  Yes.

May your happiness increase!

“UNDER THAT AWNING THEY CALL THE SKY”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS (Part One): June 17, 2018

Photograph c/o JAZZ LIVES

This was a joyous afternoon, full of delicious lights and shadows not found elsewhere.  It was the gift of Hot Jazz benefactor Brice Moss, who — once a year — turns the backyard of his mother’s house into a lawn party for those who feel the music deeply.  It’s a privilege to be there, and to be allowed to bring my camera.  So, although you must provide your own drinks and snacks, Brice invites you to join in the joys through JAZZ LIVES — more than generous of him.

In 2017, The New Wonders had a fine time playing and singing there: you can attend that party here.

This June, it was a wondrous gathering — I’ve named the band TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS, which is a nod to the lovely greenery and several of their song choices.  The Ramblers were Evan Arntzen, reeds, vocal; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, vocal; Sean Eugene Zbigniew Cronin, string bass, vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar, vocal.  They made the most glorious pastoral noises.  Here are several beauties from early in the afternoon, starting with a song that has the hilarious force of Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES for me:

and Irving Berlin’s homeopathic prescription for bliss, SUNSHINE:

James P. Johnson’s celebration of traditions, OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

An instrumental romp on BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

and another Berlin gem, LAZY (rhyming “valise-full” / “peaceful” — don’t underestimate Mr. Berlin’s comic audacities):

There are more joys to come.

May your happiness increase!

WESTWARD HOT! EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29) and a BARN DANCE PARTY with the CARL SONNY LEYLAND TRIO (July 26)

I am a failure as a well-trained tourist, because I shun guidebook attractions such as churches and museums in favor of second-hand stores, outdoor markets, and restaurants.  But I am not yet at the stage where I want to stay at home all the time.  What makes me happy is going to a place (ideally, a beautiful one) where good friends play and sing the music that makes me even more glad to be alive.  And I know I am not alone in this desire.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Such opportunities for musical joy and fulfillment still exist, and one of them is the double boon of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado, and the barn dance concert that Dorothy Bradford Vernon and friends put on in Longmont, in the same state — they coincide most happily.

For those who want to go directly to the source(s), here you can learn all about the barn dance — featuring the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio — and here is the official site for the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a long weekend of beautiful music.

The EJF rotates its out-of-state attractions, so although I have twenty posts (with video evidence!) from my trips there in 2014 and 2016, I don’t feel it’s right to use videos from bands that won’t be there in 2018 to promote the current festival.  However, by typing EVERGREEN into this blog’s search engine, you can enjoy the evidence for many hours.  More about the 2018 band lineup below.

But since Carl’s Trio is more or less intact with the splendid Jeff Hamilton on drums (I believe Marty Eggers is playing string bass instead of our friend Clint Baker) I have no qualms about sharing this 2016 post with you.  My videos cannot convey the great warm welcome that Dorothy and friends extend to anyone walking through the barn doors.  The music and the dancers were truly memorable.

The Evergreen Jazz Festival offers ten bands, which means that the main problem most guests will have can be expressed by “I can’t decide between seeing X, Y , or Z,” rather than by “There’s nothing to do.”

Here is the schedule: eleven hours on Friday, twelve hours on Saturday, seven hours on Sunday.  You can sleep on Monday, or on the plane.  

A few words about the bands (you can read full descriptions on the EJF site).  Since I am an out-of-towner, I have no problem putting my fellow o-o-t women and men first — a kind of upside-down local pride.

Carl Sonny Leyland will be rocking the house once again (even the elk were doing splendid rhythmic gyrations in the parking lot).

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet — a band I succumbed to instantly last year in Nashville, where they recorded their debut CD, a tribute to Fats Waller that brought happiness and swing.  They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass.

World-travelers Ivory&Gold — that’s Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Anne Barnhart, flute and vocals — who offer musical world tours that always surprise.

The frolicsome Rock Island Roustabouts — co-led by Hal Smith, drums, and Jeff Barnhart, with Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo/guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass.  The names alone will tell you that hot music is assured.

Multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud (yes, the name is strange — from a Bob Wills song — but the music is intoxicating) featuring Dennis on clarinet, fiddle, mandolin, and more, also with the phenomenal vocalist Tamar Korn and our man in swing Kevin Dorn, drums.

Pianists Brian Holland, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Jeff Barnhart will perform three trio sets on two pianos in the wonderful Evergreen church: beware of flying black and white ivories!

There will be a jam session set by the “EJF All-Stars”: Marc Caparone, cornet; Eric Staffeldt, trombone; Roger Campbell, clarinet; Rory Thomas, banjo; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Two sets by the Sweet and Hot Quartet: Jeff Barnhart, Bob Leary, Anne Barnhart, and Steve Pikal (Friday) and Hal Smith (Sunday).

If that were not enough . . . Denver’s own After Midnight, which fashions itself after the Goodman Sextet with vibraphone; Felonius Smith Trio, which pays tribute to venerable guitar blues; the Gypsy Swing Revue, which lives up to its billing;  Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles, a young energized swing band; the Queen City Jazz Band, celebrating its 65th anniversary and featuring Wende Harston on vocals; youth bands from the University of Colorado, the Denver Claim Jumpers, and the Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars.

The EJF features lovely small venues . . . so you need to consider purchasing tickets sooner rather than later.  I’ll be there, but I only take up one seat.  Hope you can make it also!  It’s been a great deal of fun and with this schedule, I know it’s going to continue.

And just in case you say, “What!  No music?” here is RUSSIAN RAG by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, recorded informally in Nashville in July 2017:

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RARE SOUNDS: JAKE SANDERS, “ESTRELLAS DE RADIO”

I first encountered Jake Sanders almost a decade ago at Banjo Jim’s, when he was the leader of the Cangelosi Cards, the group that had Tamar Korn as its vocal improvising genius.  Later I followed him to other Cards gigs and an especially wonderful rainy evening in a dance studio where he swung like mad, Charlie Christian style, on electric guitar.  When he moved to Chicago, I saw and heard him with the Fat Babies in person, on record, and on video, and now he is blazing his own paths.  (Most recently for me, in a trio with Dennis Lichtman and Jared Engel which appeared at The Django in New York City — lovely eloquent music.)

His new CD is what we used to call a doozy, precisely because it follows no narrow formula.  Here’s a sample of the music Jake loves and plays with great feeling — captured at the February 2018 CD release party in Mexico City:

And here you can buy an actual disc or download the music (each for the low price of $10 USD) or hear four of the thirteen tracks, in case you need convincing.

and here is the prose (not by me) that accompanies the music:

Estrellas de Radio features the sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and upright bass. The songs and styles range across a broad spectrum of traditions, drawing from or expanding upon the roots of American jazz. The album features beautiful waltzes, rags, blues, and band arrangements of four guitar solos originally published in the 30’s which have never been previously recorded. Three of these rare and unique compositions are credited to guitar legend Nick Lucas.

Recorded over a two year period by Alex Hall at Reliable Records in Chicago, the album features a host of musicians from New York, Chicago and Detroit; these include: Jared Engel, Dalton Ridenhour, Dennis Lichtman, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Beau Sample, Paul Asaro, and Patrick Donley.

Three tracks feature the exceptional sounds of Fraulini Guitars hand-crafted by the esteemed luthier Todd Cambio. (Jake Sanders plays an Annunziata on Serate Primaverili, Speranze Perdute, and Flappers Trot; Patrick Donley plays an Angie on Speranze Perdute).

While the early Italian pioneers of the jazz guitar Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang made their mark on 20th century music, an earlier generation of Italian string virtuoso were also recording in America. Masters such as Giovanni Gioviale and Giovanni Vicari brought old world sounds to the new world. L’Ultimo and Serate Primaverili are adaptations of Giovale’s brilliant compositions originally conceived for mandolin. Speranze Perdute was inspired by a recording by Giovanni Vicari, as was the mazurka Mia Carina, which he recorded with The Continental Trio.

While Nick Lucas is famous amongst jazz aficionados both as a vocalist and for his early recorded guitar solos (Picking the Guitar and Teasing the Frets), he is also credited with composing numerous guitar solos which were never recorded, but appeared in folios and early flat-picking method books. Bootlegger’s Blues, Flappers Trot, and Gold Diggers are all examples of Lucas guitar solos which exist as sheet music, but have not been recorded until now.

The exquisite waltz, Margaret, that appears as a piece in The Nick Lucas Guitar Method Vol. 1, however, was composed by J. Nicomede. Sanders’ unique conception and arrangements of these songs are drawn from his nearly 20 years of playing roots music. (Flappers Trot, guitar and piano) (Bootlegger’s Blues, Gold Diggers, Margaret, guitar, violin, piano, bass).

Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Wang Wang Blues are classically-styled guitar and mandolin duets arranged in studio. Charleston Rag, known as a piano solo, is heard here uniquely arranged for piano, guitar, and upright bass. The Memphis Shakedown, made famous by the Memphis Jug band, is a common tune for old-time and jug bands performing today. However on Estrellas de Radio the tune becomes something altogether different, achieving new sounds in old music. The Sunset Blues is the album’s one original composition. Like any blues it borrows from the past, however its spare style, unusual form, and crafted melody give it a sound all its own.

ABOUT JAKE SANDERS:

Jake Sanders is a guitarist, bandleader, and arranger, whose musical career began in New York City at the end of the last century. After years as a street performer, playing jazz and American traditional music, Sanders formed the popular roots band, The Cangelosi Cards. They performed nightly in the back rooms and bars of the East Village, but soon traveled well beyond Manhattan, playing shows from Shanghai to Stockholm. After years with the Cards, Jake joined The Fat Babies, an acclaimed hot jazz band which continues to perform weekly at Chicago’s world famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. His last album with the group, Solid Gassuh (Delmark Records), made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2017” list – a rare feat for a traditional jazz band in modern times.

A long time musical collaborator with vocalist and world-renowned Lindy hop champion, Naomi Uyama, Jake both plays guitar and arranges for her swing outfit, Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. Sanders has recorded with the great stride and ragtime piano player Paul Asaro, and has been featured on record and stage with the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

Jake Sanders has performed at The Chicago Jazz Festival, The Detroit Jazz Festival and The Brooklyn Folk Festival as well as countless clubs, dance halls and theaters throughout North America. Jake’s guitar playing has brought him across Europe and Asia and he is a regular performer in-residence at Cracovia 32, home of the emerging swing scene in Mexico City. As a solo performer or with the Handsome Devils, The Dotted Halves trio or with the quintet, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Jake Sanders is a consummate traveling musician who can be heard far and wide.

A few words from me, on behalf of JAZZ LIVES.  I trust Jake’s taste completely, so even though some of the compositions on this disc are not Hot Music in the established sense, I fell in love with the sounds here at first playing.  The only reason this post is written at the end of May rather than a few months earlier is because I wanted actual discs to play in the car.  I’ve amazed a number of unsuspecting passengers with ESTRELLAS DE RADIO, and one even said, “Michael, I didn’t know you liked beautiful music like this!”  I do, and you will.

May your happiness increase!

VIVIDLY ALIVE: THE BRAIN CLOUD, “LIVE AT BARBES”

I adore the surprises that happen at jam sessions or when musicians are asked to play alongside each other in new combinations, but Heaven smiles on that rare entity, a WORKING BAND.  The Brain Cloud, led by Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, violin, mandolin, and more) is such a remarkable entity — and they’ve just released their third CD, “Live at Barbes.”

Photo by Seth Cashman

Here’s a sample: music does speak louder than words!

Dennis Lichtman and all the members of the Brain Cloud have created the world’s most swinging, melodic “safe space”: which is to say, a place where all kinds of lyrical music are welcome to flourish — not historical or archaeological, but alive now.

Once upon a time, we know, there was just MUSIC — a beautifully undulating landscape as far as we could see.  Then, people looking to sell product — journalists, publicists, record company executives, even some musicians — came and divided the landscape up into little fiefdoms whose occupants glared at one another.  The Brain Cloud suggests that a return to the prelapsarian world is possible: imagine a record store where The Carter Family and Benny Carter are friends, where Lester Willis Young and Bob Willis share a drink, a cigarette, and a story.  Or a place where double-entendre blues sit in the same pew as hymns, where “Dixieland,” “roots music,” “Americana,” all those dazzling names for what is essentially the same thing, coexist beautifully, because they are all only music that has stories to tell and in the telling, enlightens the listener.

Photo by Tom Farley

To the music: as you can hear and see above, the opening track on this CD, JEALOUS HEARTED ME, is no academic exercise: a Carter Family song, it reminds me of rocking Fifties rhythm and blues, with an outchorus that would equal any Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.  The expert Merrymakers here are Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Skip Krevens, guitar, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Each track is wonderfully itself — the CD isn’t a monochromatic blur — but each is a joyous lesson in the merging of “styles.”  So aside from the “roots” classics — venerable as well as new (from Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Cline) — there’s Alex Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME (hooray!) and the 1939 Broadway song COMES LOVE and the Twenties LONESOME AND SORRY and IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW.

Since the Brain Cloud has had a long residency at Barbes (on Monday nights) there is a delightful mix of exuberance and comfort.  Everyone’s made themselves to home, as we might say.  And — in case you worry about such things — the recorded sound is excellent.  Those who have been to Barbes already have multiple copies of this disc; if you’ve never made it into Brooklyn for such frolics, you’ll want your own copy.  And on a personal note: listening to the Brain Cloud has helped me to drop my own narrow suspicions of music that I didn’t think was “jazz,” always a good thing; I’ve been following them since 2009, and this disc is a wonderful encapsulation of what the band does so well.

Here you can find out more about the Brain Cloud, hear more music, buy this disc, or a download, or even as a limited-edition cassette.  And more.  Don’t just sit there!  Move that cursor!

May your happiness increase!

“SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON”: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JARED ENGEL, CRAIG VENTRESCO at the LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013)

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, my apartment has slowly morphed into a combination library / computer workshop / recording studio / and who knows what, based in the living room, with various effusions of CDs, books, external hard drives, cassettes, photographs — generally confined to the living room.  To my left, cassettes from the late Seventies on; to my right, a four-speed phonograph with (as I write) a Jess Stacy Commodore 78 of RAMBLIN’ and COMPLAININ’ on the turntable, adjacent to a newer stereo system.  Also on my left, long-playing records and hard drives; to my right, a wall of CDs.

There are rules: a new CD will migrate to the kitchen counter, but it knows it shouldn’t be there and it tends to hide and look abashed when discovered.  The bathroom and bedroom are off limits to music-infestation.  No, don’t ask for photographs.

But having JAZZ LIVES since February 2008 is like living inside a giant multi-sensory photograph album.  Insubstantial in some ways, seriously substantial in others.  I’ve posted nearly six thousand videos on YouTube, which means I’ve been a busy tech-primate.  And some more videos haven’t been posted, so the bits of information are thick in this one-bedroom palace of sound and sight.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

Every so often I want to hear and see something that gave me pleasure several times: at the moment of experience and, later, in writing about it, posting it, and enjoying it.  One that came to mind today was a performance I witnessed and savored in California at San Francisco’s The Lost Church, almost four years ago: Tamar Korn, Craig Ventresco, Jared Engel, Gordon Au, and Dennis Lichtman — mellowly celebrating the lunar power of love with SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

Awfully sweet, this speaks of a world where young people could ask the cosmos for help in romance and receive it.  Life before phones.

I will indulge myself in this again, and I encourage you to do so also.  When I take a day off from blogging, the search bar on front page will lead you to treats.

May your happiness increase! 

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!