Tag Archives: tenor saxophone

SHE CAME TO PLAY: SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN, PART TWO (June 10, 2015)

I can precisely document the time and place my admiration for Sarah Spencer began.  The site was the second floor of Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of New York City) around 3 PM on Sunday, June 5 — an event I’ve documented here. Witnessing this was Tamar Korn (it was her gig), violinist / baritone saxophonist Andy Stein and pianist Ehud Asherie.  Then, happily, Sarah brought her tenor saxophone to the Wednesday, June 10 gig of the Hot Jazz Rabble at the Tryon Public House (4740 Broadway).

Her friends in the Rabble were Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass.

A word before readers jump into the videos.  To tenor saxophone aficionados who have grown up on Hawk, Ben, Lester, and their modern descendants, Sarah’s playing may take sixteen bars to get used to.  If, however, you know the New Orleans tradition of Cap’n John Handy and Emmanuel Paul, Sarah’s bubbling, exuberant work will make you feel at home immediately.

She told me that she doesn’t see herself as a member of the front line, alongside trumpet and trombone, but rather as part of the rhythm section, energizing it in naturally.  What you’ll hear in her joyous ensemble playing sounds like a cross between water rushing over rocks and a very dark, ferocious Bud Freeman who’s been boling crawfish.

With that as preface, here she is on MARIE:

And here Sarah sings DOWN IN THE MOUF’ BLUES, which is a late Clara Smith performance.  Please note that she does more than copy the recorded performance.  Even better, she varies her phrasing from chorus to chorus with lovely shifts of emphasis and meter.  There is the surface appearance of don’t-care roughness, but underneath there is many subtle variations on the simple theme:

Sarah’s authenticity and enthusiasm are very winning.  Her personality doesn’t come through entirely in the videos, so you have to see and hear her for yourself.  I think of her as a youthful Earth Mother of New Orleans stomp by way of the UK and Connecticut.

And she and her Transatlantic Band are playing a gig this June 20th: details here!

May your happiness increase!

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“SEMPLICEMENTE PERFETTO!”: MATTEO RAGGI, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, DAVIDE BRILLANTE

We live in a clangorous world.  You don’t have to live across the street from a dance studio specializing in zumba (as I do) to know this.

The collective tempo we have created for ourselves is very quick, the volume level is high, the intensity is fierce.  Often all I want to hear is the sound of people singing through their instruments, leaving those rapid-fire flurries of notes for another time.  I don’t mean “smooth jazz”; rather, Ben Webster or Teddy Wilson playing a ballad; the Basie rhythm section; a Herb Ellis blues.

This is not a grumpy complaint about these dratted Modern Times, for many living musicians understand and exemplify this principle in their art, in the face of the tyrannical sixty-fourth note.

Matteo

A new CD — two sets of duets by three masterful musicians, recorded in 2013 — is one answer to this hectic world, evidence that swinging beauty is still within reach. It is simply perfect — hence my title.

Here’s a sample, Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (think of Bing, Grace Kelly, and Louis):

and the leisurely swinging EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU:

Sounds beautiful.

The tenor saxophonist is MATTEO RAGGI; the pianist is PAOLO ALDERIGHI; the guitarist DAVIDE BRILLANTE.  (I’ve had the immense good fortune to meet and record Paolo and Davide — Mario and I remain separated by several thousand miles, but this CD is as good as having him come to visit.)  You can hear more of Matteo on YouTube — he’s on there alongside Scott Hamilton, which is a high peak to be standing on — as well as Davide and Paolo, but this disc is special.

Each of the three is a lyrical player, a melodist at heart.  As you’ve heard, each one is skilled in constructing logical solos on his own, and masterful in the delicate art of duet playing — more subtle than verbal conversational dances but built on the same principles of individuality giving way to harmonically sensitive teamwork.  The music is the very opposite of soporific, because something is always happening rhythmically, even on the slowest ballad, but it will not make you feel as if you have stepped into the supercharged urban world.

Lester Young would have loved these sessions, and no one here is copying him, but the spirit is much the same.  (On that note: those readers who listen and want to play what Barbara Lea called “the game of Sounding Like” can get ready with their names.  Matteo sounds just like A, or perhaps B; Paolo like C or D; Davide like E or F — definitely!  But why not listen to these players on their own, rather than painting them as small living figures in the shadows of dead giants?)

Half of the ten selections are duets with Paolo (CHINATOWN; GHOST OF A CHANCE; I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA; I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE  BASKET; ON THE ALAMO); half with Davide (THE RED DOOR; COME RAIN OR COME SHINE; JITTERBUG WALTZ; POW-WOW; EV’RYTHING I’VE GOT BELONGS TO YOU).

Beautiful recorded sound (much better than on the YouTube videos) and casually erudite notes.  Now all that’s left to do is for you to find out more about Matteo and to buy the CD.  Try here!

Fratelli, grazie — for the fine sweet floating music.

May your happiness increase!

LEON “CHU” BERRY (1908-1941)

A holy artifact from the Larry Rafferty Collection:

CHU BERRY REED

I can’t write the dialogue here, “Mister Berry, could I have one of your used reeds and could you autograph it for me?” but it obviously happened and it feels sacred to those of us who understand the power of Chu.

Because he has been gone nearly seventy-five years (victim of an automobile accident in 1941) Chu has been eclipsed.  But Charlie Parker named his firstborn son Leon in Chu’s honor, and Sonny Rollins has told young musicians asking for advice on tenor players, “Listen to Chu Berry!”

We can still do that: SITTIN’ IN, recorded for the Commodore Music Shop in November 1938, with Chu, his friend Roy Eldridge,trumpet; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  It’s based on a strain from TIGER RAG and — although very brief — allows us to hear Chu’s speaking voice as well as his energetic tenor style:

To think of his early death is so sad. Yet he left us so much, if we can only hear it.

May your happiness increase!

WARM MELODIC EXPLORATIONS: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

The masterful Joel Press created a wonderful musical evening at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street) at the end of my 2013 stay in New York City — a first portion posted here. Joel had Michael Kanan, piano; Boots Maleson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, along for some soulful melodic explorations, which bow to Masters Lester and Thelonious along the way.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU, which jumps right in:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

ALL OF ME:

In honor of Don Byas and Slam Stewart in 1945, a duet for tenor saxophone and string bass on INDIANA:

SOPHISTICATED LADY:

Music to warm the heart and melt the snows.

May your happiness increase!

DECLARATIONS OF LOVE: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

Some “contemporary creative improvised music,” sounds to me as if players are creating auditory versions of Kandinsky angularities.  Let us remember always how the tenor saxophone, when played by a Master, can croon and purr and woo and seduce: groovy love.

Two sweet examples below come from an evening at Smalls — December 20, 2013 — with a quartet led by tenor Master Joel Press, with piano Master Michael Kanan, string bass Master Boots Maleson, and percussion Master Fukushi Tainaka. The tempo for the first is yearning rapture (“Oh, how my life would be transformed if I could call you mine.”) and the second is the delighted excitation of things perhaps best imagined rather than verbalized (“Wow!”).

IF I HAD YOU:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Declarations of love, not only to specific people who may or may not have been in the audience or on the planet, but to Ike Quebec, Eddie Miller, Lester Young, Art Tatum, Jimmy Rowles, and a host of others who well deserve our love and reverence.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO PLAY LIKE EDDIE MILLER?

What a wonderful tenor saxophonist (and occasional clarinetist) the late Eddie Miller was!  Whether he was on records with the Bob Crosby Bobcats or big band, next to Wingy Manone, Bunny Berigan, leading his own bands in New Orleans or New York, he was a bubbling, exuberant delight.

Here’s a small sample:

Miller’s easy pulse, bright tone, and irresistible swing make him sound as if he’s simply floating along — but the illusion of weightlessness is never so simple to maintain. Perhaps seven years earlier, Miller was in his natural habitat — as a sideman in a New Orleans-tinged small band:

Miller is hardly acknowledged these days as a remarkably subtle player.  He was modest, content to make the most of sixteen bars, a man less vigorously ambitious than some of his peers, a fellow who enjoyed the camaraderie of the ensemble (how beautifully his lines weave in and out — he never gets in anyone else’s way) without being a Leader, a Star. Modesty doesn’t always make for name recognition, although Miller was well-known in his Crosby days.

I suspect that the rollicking fluidity of his essential style — Miller never seems to be working hard — caused listeners to underrate him in favor of more dramatic players.  Indeed, as I listened to as much Miller as I could to prepare this blogpost, I thought, “Really, he is the Bing Crosby of the tenor saxophone: everyone would think ‘I could do that,’ without realizing how difficult it is.”

But now.  For a limited time only!  If JAZZ LIVES readers would like to learn the secrets of Eddie Miller’s hot style, these hot licks can be yours for a pittance, half a dollar.

Here’s how.

Study these pages.  Practice every day. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 004 Let’s look inside! EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 005 I hear you saying, “But I’m not a tenor saxophone player.” EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 006 Everyone of a certain generation copied Louis (no matter what their instrument), then Bird and Diz (likewise).  Couldn’t we start a small Eddie Miller movement? EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 007 With some concentration, I could play those on the piano (if I weren’t so busy blogging). EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 008 I want to hear my friends work these hot licks into their solos. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 009 It’s not so hard, is it? EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 010 I’d also love to know which of the licks — for the player / historians out there are recognizably the children of other famous saxophonists. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 011 The book was published in 1940, and I think dreamily of a time and place where young people (or older ones) wanted to grow up to sound like Eddie Miller.  This seems like a distant Paradise now. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 012Those sharps are beginning to proliferate.
EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 013Courage!
EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 014Just think what possibilities are open to the person who can perform these hot licks: be the life of the party forever!EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 015 And here’s a complete solo chorus, transcribed for us.  (There is a version of this song by the Crosby Bob Cats on YouTube, but I’ve been hesitant to include it, simply because Eddie doesn’t play all thirty-two bars, so it might be a different version.  Research! as we used to say. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 016 Bregman, Vocco and Conn had more ideas than simply helping everyone to sound like Eddie Miller.  New worlds to conquer: EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 017 “Fellas!  Gals!  Let’s start our very own Swing Band!” EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 018 One of the pleasures of this blog is the way it permits — encourages! — me to share what I have.

This book cost $2.95 at an antique store a few years ago.  I bought it without hesitating and only thought of it again recently, because of a conversation with a young reedman about the Pee Wee Russell folio.

So now I feel I’ve done my part in making the air full of the light-hearted buoyant sounds of Eddie Miller.

The rest is up to you.  Be sure to report back!

May your happiness increase!

JOEL PRESS HAS NEW STORIES — AND NEW YORK STORIES — FOR US

The event didn’t make the mainstream media.  The few print journals devoted to improvised music didn’t report it.  And the “jazz critics” online and off were quite taciturn about it.  But it seems important to note that the surprising saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Joel Press, formerly commuting back and forth between Newton, Massachusetts, and New York City . . . has come to NYC to stay.  Or, as they used to say, “for the nonce.”

If you haven’t heard Joel Press, you could ask pianist Michael Kanan about him. Or perhaps saxophonist Lena Bloch, pianist Spike Wilner, or a dozen other NYC jazz luminaries.  Or you could take the cyber-shortcut and observe this:

Joel’s a creative player with his own sweetly energized internal swing machine, making his own way through the most endearing features of the tradition without being anyone’s repeater pencil or (to use an archaic objective correlative) sheet of carbon paper.  He enjoys standards, ballads, jump blues, and more.  Although he’s been on the scene for more than thirty-two bars, he is no relic, but a vigorous searcher.  He hears rhapsodies and offers them to us.

The good news is more resonant than the fact that Joel now has a new address.  He’s brought his horns, his energy, and his delight in melody with him.  And you can hear it all this coming Saturday (April 6, 2013) at Smalls — 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) beginning at 7:30 PM.  Joel will be encouraged and supported by three of the finest: Tardo Hammer, piano; Sean Smith, bass; Steve Little, drums.

“Good deal!” to quote Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase.