I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed. Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice. “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie. I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.
The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.
A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.
I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well. So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also. I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic. His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better. His sound was lovely. And he understood both his horn and the music.
Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so. So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.
Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:
And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:
I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.
I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved. And is.
The way art is perceived, explained, and marketed can be distant from the art itself. Some critics and fans pounce on an artist, decide that (s)he does one thing superbly, and make that an identity. Dick Wellstood = Stride Pianist. Vic Dickenson = Dixieland Trombonist. Gerry Mulligan = Modernist. And so on. However, artists find these identities imposed by others are rather like clothes two sizes too small. Happily, through the history of jazz we find musicians who can and want to do more than their “role” asks of them.
One such person is the reed virtuoso, composer, and singer Evan Arntzen.
Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney
This modern age being what it is, I believe I first encountered Evan through video and compact disc before I met him face-to-face in New York, but I admired his deep swing, cheerful musical intelligence, and deep feeling in all the media I saw and heard. And since I’ve had many more opportunities of late to savor his work because of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, I have come to value him all the more. He can easily play alongside Terry Waldo in the darkness of Fat Cat, read the notes flying by as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawk rhythm section, fit right in with the EarRegulars . . . as well as being a shining light of a dozen other bands, including his own (one such aggregation was called the Scrub Board Serenaders and may now be called the Animule Dance). And he’s a compelling singer (hear I’LL GET BY) that had he been born decades earlier, we’d be reading about girls swooning at the Paramount. This new CD, recorded in France in January 2017, is a marvel because it shows how well he can be himself in many ways, all rewarding.
Here’s Chris Smith’s venerable BALLIN’ THE JACK from this CD:
Some of you might think that is heretical, and you are welcome to do it, because it doesn’t follow the paths you hear in your head, those strictures created by famous records — but it sounds like fine inventive witty music to me. I know, as do you, how BALLIN’ THE JACK is “supposed” to sound — a performance should, by the laws of whatever Deity you like, start with an ensemble version of the last eight and then go right in to it. None of this Fifties television mood-setting vamp, no Second Line beats, no exploration, right? I much prefer these four fellows finding joy in the mildly unexpected and sharing it with us.
“La Section Rhythmique” is not simply your average pianoless trio, but a small stellar musical attraction on its own, lyrical, inquisitive, and impassioned. They know the past but they live in the present, which I commend.
And this quartet creates immensely pleasing variations on the familiar — Evan’s sweetly intense vocal on MISTER JELLY LORD (is it sincerely audacious or audaciously sincere?); a hip serpentine line on I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU called HALF EYES (wordplay worthy of Mel Brooks); a clarinet-guitar duet on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, taken a little faster than usual, perhaps in the name of Modern Romance; a glorious TICKLE-TOE that summons up, without imitation, the blessed Lester Young – John Collins live version; a tender PLEASE that begins with a questing improvisation, perhaps to keep the listener from falling into complacencies; a LITTLE WHITE LIES that tips its 1945 fedora to Don Byas; AFTERTHOUGHT, a happy improvisation on a jazz standard with a similar title that works its way in from the outside; I’LL GET BY that so tenderly explores this dear song in a multiplicity of ways, vocally and instrumentally; a TWELFTH STREET RAG that would have made Milt Gabler very happy; the concluding LOTUS BLOSSOM, deeply reverent, quietly emotional.
Evan, in addition to his other talents, is a marvelous bandleader, someone devoted to getting the most out of the other people on the stand. A musician with a much more limited vision would see himself as The Star and the others as The Supporting Cast, thus performances would be Ensemble-Solos-Ensemble or some other formula. Evan is untrammeled by conventions unless the conventions work in gratifying ways: like my hero Ruby Braff, he views a quartet as four equal voices, with imaginative possibilities resounding. If you sit down with one track that especially pleases you and chart who’s-doing-what-now for the three or four minutes, you will be pleasantly astounded at the richness and variety.
If it isn’t clear by now, I think this disc is a treasure.
You can buy a digital download ($10), an actual disc ($15), and hear sound samples here. Although it’s only by purchasing the disc — how archaic to some! — that you can read the typically splendid notes by Dan Morgenstern.
That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:
At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend. You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street. Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin. I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.
During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students. The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me. That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.
“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:
“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:
“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:
Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.
His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.
Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.” Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.
I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.
Even in January, it’s hot down below — when “down below” refers to Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, and when Terry Waldo and the Gotham City Band are in session. As they were last January 29 — one of their Sunday early-evening delights. (I’d advise not looking at the club’s graphic too strenuously; it raises certain questions.)
Our text for today, Brothers and Sisters, is the 1916 hit DOWN IN HONKY TONKY TOWN, by Charles McCarron and Chris Smith. I would never have added the Y to the penultimate word, but that was because I’d never seen the cover of the sheet music. I have changed my ways.
Thissite, the source of the sheet music above, also has a wonderfully erudite discussion about the origin of “honky tonk,” which I found fascinating.
Here is the start of the chorus:
Come honey, let’s go down, to honky-tonky town. It’s underneath the ground, where all the fun is found. There’ll be singing waiters, singing syncopaters, dancing to piano played by Mister Brown. He plays piano queer, he always plays by ear. The music that you hear, just makes you stay a year.
(At this point the variant versions became too deep for me to delve into without a paid sabbatical, but you get the idea — an inducement to good times.)
Here’s the quite hot instrumental version created belowstairs by Terry Waldo, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Brian Nalepka, string bass; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums:
The temperature is in the nineties today, so we don’t need anyone to get us hotter, but this will be homeopathically salutary, and you can also watch it next winter to keep heating costs down.
Not this (announced as “the best New York style cheesecake):
but a hot version of the song immortalized in 1924 and 1925 by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and others, CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME. This is my second CAKE post: the first, presenting two hot performances by Dave Kosymna, Christopher Smith, Ray Heitger, Nicole Heitger, James Dapogny, and Pete Siers (all deftly captured by Laura Wyman) may be visited here.
But my experience of New York and New Yorkers — even from the suburbs, what Flaubert would call the provinces — is that we don’t like to take second place to anyone or anything. And in a cake walking contest, second place is noplace.
So here’s the New York version, created a month earlier at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village) by Terry Waldo and the Gotham City Band, who were on that Sunday Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Jay Lepley, Brian Nalepka, John Gill. Consider for yourselves:
I won’t ask viewers to set up mock combat between Ohio and New York: all those cakes and contests are beautiful and hot.
Some might know W.C. Handy’s AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES as one of the ancient classics — a multi-strain composition, hallowed through decades of performance. But the lyrics tell a deep story: here is an approximate transcription of what Louis sang on the 1954 Columbia session honoring Handy (that recording the precious gift of the far-seeing George Avakian):
Old Deacon Splivin his flock was givin’ the way of livin’ right, yes Said he, “No wingin’, no ragtime singin’, tonight,” yes Up jumped Aunt Hagar and shouted out with all her might All her might.
She said, “Oh, ain’t no use to preachin’ Oh, ain’t no use to teachin’.
Each modulation of syncopation Just tells my feet to dance and I can’t refuse When I hear the melody they call the blues, those ever lovin’ blues.”
Just hear Aunt Hagar’s children harmonizin’ to that old mournful tune. It’s like a choir from on high broke loose, amen If the Devil brought it, the good Lord sent it right down to me Let the congregation join while I sing those lovin’ Aunt Hagar’s blues.
Even in 2017, the Deacon is still waggling his bony finger at us, and even when the lyrics to AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES aren’t sung, you can hear Aunt’s triumph. A convincing example took place downstairs at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band played the song. The hot philosophers sending the message are Terry, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Brian Nalepka, Jay Lepley, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen:
The message is clear. When faced with those who would preach denial of life, always choose joy, no matter who tries to direct your course. I’m with Aunt Hagar.
WEARY BLUES was written in 1915 by Artie Matthews as a ragtime piece, and the earliest recording we have (I believe) is this quite warm and well-seasoned 1919 rendition by the Louisiana Five:
Then it was recorded by many people — it’s terribly catchy with many breaks and it has a natural momentum. I will only offer this piece of history, because my feeling everyone should know this hot record by heart:
But this blog isn’t about archaeology; rather, it’s about gratifying music performed NOW. Down in the basement of Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, Terry Waldo and his Gotham City Band created something beautiful and blazing hot out of WEARY BLUES. The cooks were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.
The savory dish, herewith:
Why do I live in New York? Many reasons, but the possibility of wandering down the stairs on a late Sunday afternoon, making my way through young people focused on beer, ping pong, billiards, conversation, and hearing THAT is one of the chief reasons to be here and stay here.
For my readers: may the most heavy WEARY BLUES you ever feel be just this light upon your heart.
Even if they don’t have trained voices, the instrumental soloists I know tend to be really convincing singers, often with a loose, sleeves-rolled up approach to the song, which, by its casualness, conceals a real understanding of melody, rhythm, and how to “sell a song.” (And sometimes the most under-documented singers are the most affecting: Basie, muttering his way through HARVARD BLUES, Hawkins emoting on LOVE CRIES, Carter wooing us with SYNTHETIC LOVE.)
Musicians know that bursting into song delights an audience (if it’s not offered on every performance) and it rests tired lips and hands. Here are three wonderful examples from a Sunday afternoon session by Terry Waldo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen, Brian Nalepka, John Gill, and Jay Lepley — January 29, 2017). I will point out that everyone in this band has been known to warble a chorus, but today I am concentrating on Messrs. Fryer, Arntzen, and Nalepka — all of whom have sung in performance and the recording studio.
And since so much of American pop music of the last century and more takes romance as its subject, here are three very different love songs: the first a chronicle of deprivation (“I’d love to join the fun but they bar me.”) the second a narrative of how serendipity made for great love (“I kept buying china / Until the crowd got wise.”) and the last a happy description of mutual adoration (“My baby don’t care who knows it.”)
Jim Fryer chronicles romantic woes, Lombardo / Louis style on SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:
Evan Arntzen reminds us of Bing, 1931, incidentally, with I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY (IN A FIVE-AND-TEN CENT STORE):
and Brian Nalepka tells the truth (ask Mary Shaughnessy), MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME:
These frolics happen most Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City (take the #1 train to Christopher Street / Sheridan Square).
When it’s good, you can tell right off. And this — recorded at Fat Cat, at 75 Christopher Street, New York City, is good.
While Terry and Company were waiting for everyone to arrive on Sunday, January 29, 2017, they gently launched in to this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic — once only a new pop song — and created some very fine and spiritually moving vibrations. The creators? Terry Waldo, piano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.
Music like this improves the world. Blessings on you, gentlemen.
And a rather sour postscript, which has nothing to do with the glorious music presented here. This video ends up on YouTube, my cosmic megaphone to broadcast the joy that others create. But many people who post comments on YouTube do so to complain. “The video is too dark. The crowd is too noisy. One of the musicians is not up to my high standards.”
My imagined response is, at its most polite, “Dear Sir (it’s always a male writer!), such complaining is rather like pointing to the wonderful free dinner, made for you by a world-renowned chef, and refusing to eat it because it is on what you think is the wrong china. Since the internet has made most people think that everything is free, and that their often tactless expressions of taste are true criticism, I simply sigh.”
Insert loud sigh here. Now I will enjoy the video again, to be uplifted by the generous mastery of these musicians.
No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance. A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926. For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.
And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:
The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history. But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point. Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good. But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding. Court adjourned.
Pianist / vocalist / scholar / composer Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band several Sunday afternoons every month (from about 5:45 to 8) at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.
Fat Cat is an unusual jazz club, even considering that it is roughly parallel to two other basement shrines, Smalls and Mezzrow: Greenwich Village’s answer to the long-gone Swing Street. A large sprawling room, it is filled with the furniture one would expect from a college student union: ping pong tables, pool tables, and the like. One may play these games for $6 / hour and many young people do. The bar also offers homemade pomegranate soda for $3, a remarkable boon. Another distinctive feature of this establishment is the singular adhesiveness of their low couches: once I sit down, I drop below sea level, and know I will arise only at the end of the last set after embarrassing flailing.)
On this Sunday, Terry’s band was particularly noble: Jay Lepley, drums; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and soprano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet instead of his usual horn. Terry had been leading the group in his usual cheerful egalitarian fashion. Then I saw a distinctly recognizable fellow — musician and friend — appear to my left. It was the Sage of several states (California and Arizona), friend and protege of Willie the Lion Smith . . . Mister Michael Lipskin, known to himself and us as Mike. He asked Terry if he could play a few . . . and he did, shifting the repertoire to two numbers rarely called in such ensembles (by Ray Noble and by Ellington) with splendid results. And here they are:
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (at a very Thirties rhythm-ballad tempo, entirely charming):
I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT:
The latter title may be slightly ironic given the intense belowstairs darkness of Fat Cat, but the music shines brightly.
Everyone knows Evan Arntzen as one of the quietly dazzling instrumental virtuosi of our time, but we might not recognize him as a sweetly compelling storyteller. Here he brings a Twenties pastoral to that least pastoral of spaces, Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) making that cavernous student union – rec room into a bosky dell, 1924 style, thanks also to Mister Berlin:
Talent runs in the family, they say. And in this case, they’re right. Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging. His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella. But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it. This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.
On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.
Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds. If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.
Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:
Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal. Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.
She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings. Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.
This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.
And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden. Years of obsessive listening pay off.
Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding. And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!
Our hero John Gill says, “Everyone has a little Elvis in them somewhere,” and he proved this once again at Terry Waldo’s Sunday gig (December 18) down in the darkness of Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, New York City. There’s a direct line from Presley to Gill to us, and this song is my idea of a healthy corrective to all the manufactured holiday cheer.
John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus
John’s colleagues, helping him find his way on his dark indigo quest, are Terry Waldo, piano; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet.
In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library. I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.
I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide. Often, the diagram was a flow chart —
Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic). More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .
Sectarian art criticism, if you will. You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays. And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.
The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention. Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).
Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig. No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization. Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.
The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer. For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.
And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.
DIGA DIGA DOO:
MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):
EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):
OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):
Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.
Billiards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons atFat Cat. On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances. I posted the first half of this delightful session here.
Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.
A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES. Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:
Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):
EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):
Hot from the oven, I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov). Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:
BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:
RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):
For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat— where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.
Perhaps two Sundays of every month, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band descends the wide stairway to the expansive basement that is Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) for a hot session from about 5:45 to 7:45. Ragtime, blues, W.C. Handy, Morton, Louis, vintage pop tunes, and more are the delightful offerings. I took my camera down there on Sunday, March 13, and captured a dozen highlights — music created by Terry, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, string bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums / no vocal yet; Jim Fryer, trombone / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet / no vocal yet.
Here are the first six delights.
MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND, which begins as a duet for Jim Fryer and John Gill and then takes on passengers:
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:
HESITATING BLUES, at a faster-than-usual tempo, with a soulful vocal by John Gill:
CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME, delivered enthusiastically by Evan Arntzen:
THE SONG IS ENDED, happily not true, sung earnestly by Jim Fryer:
MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Jon-Erik Kellso’s majestic evocation of Mister Strong:
Another half-dozen to come. Look for Brian Nalepka’s up-to-the-minute announcements on Facebook for which roving masters will be with Terry on Sundays to come. And remember — you CAN keep a good band down. At least for two hours in the Fat Cat basement and rec room.
I know that the magnificent drummer Daniel Glass is capable of fully engaged conversation; he eats and drinks (pistachios and more), and has a full life away from his drum kits. But he continues to be so generous in his wise offerings that I don’t quite see how he carries on a life in addition to what he gives us. I’ll have to ask him whether he actually sleeps . . . when I see him next. Daniel is so often in motion that a still picture hardly does him justice, but it is a start.
The wisecrack (so beloved by those who have never been in front of a classroom) is “Those who can’t do, teach.” Daniel Glass is that rare creature who both does and teaches, and he accomplishes both of those ends with a light yet memorable touch. When I call him a chameleon, I don’t of course mean it in the zoological way, but I mean it as highest praise: someone who easily and without fuss shows us generously his deep and varied talents, all of which come from a center of knowledge, the desire to inform us with gentleness and accuracy, and a splendid basis of experience — living experience, never dusty.
I should explain that I am not a drummer; my drum career was if not nasty and brutish, certainly short — because I am mentally but not physically coordinated. The high points of my percussion career have been as an observer (watching Krupa, Jo Jones, Gus Johnson, Leeman, and their modern forbears), an autograph-seeker (Jo again) and purchaser (one set of 5B parade sticks bought from Jo at Ippolito’s drum shop.
But I am someone who finds information — beautifully and clearly presented — thrilling. And if Daniel Glass never put a stick to a drumhead, I would salute him as a splendid guide through matters percussive. But more about that below.
I first met Daniel in the darkness of Fat Cat one Sunday when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band was the most admired attraction. I’d never heard him and was properly suspicious — after all, how good could he be if I didn’t know him? — but within two choruses I realized I was in the presence of a Master, someone who played for the comfort of the band, was in the idiom but not imprisoned by it, a musician with history and innovation balanced neatly within him.
Here’s WOLVERINE BLUES (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Jim Fryer, John Gill, Brian Nalepka in addition to Terry and Daniel):
And hereare all the videos from that frolicsome late-December 2015 session.
When I had my Daniel Glass Experience (the first of several) I had no knowledge of this gloriously head-spinning performance from 2009 created by Daniel — with the smallest amount of percussive equipment one can imagine) — the blessed John Reynolds, and the superb Rusty Frank:
Sidney and Jo are grinning, I am sure.
Here is a wonderful interview where Daniel explains where he came from and where he is taking us. It’s from 2012, so some of the references to “now” are perhaps slightly out of date, but it gives a wonderful sense of who he is as a musician and scholar:
I couldn’t keep up with the articles, books, and videos that Daniel has created, but I can say a few words about his two 2-CD sets, THE CENTURY PROJECT and TRAPS. The first would have pleased Isiah Berlin because Daniel is both hedgehog and fox: his knowledge and love and enthusiasm is both intensely focused and broad. THE CENTURY PROJECT, on the face of it, is a history of jazz drumming from 1865 to 1965 — and it accomplishes that purpose beautifully — but it is also a quietly subversive, never didactic, history both of American music and of the contributions from other cultures. We think of the trap set as an American creation, but Daniel opens up that perhaps narrow idea to ask where the Turkish tom-toms came from, the Chinese cymbals, temple blocks, and so on. Never dull but splendidly researched.
Here’s Daniel explaining and beautifully demonstrating “double drumming,” which was a revelation to me — both the history and the performance:
Here’s the splendidly musical solo with which Daniel concludes THE CENTURY PROJECT — on a cousin of SING SING SING:
Oh, and did I mention there is music? Daniel and friends (including our own Dan Barrett and Dan Levinson) move from New Orleans parade music to ragtime to early jazz onwards to swing, bebop, and beyond. Even if you’ve never come closer to drumming than tapping impatiently on the arm of the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, these musical interludes are priceless as jazz and as history.
And here is a very brief introduction to TRAPS, the companion 2-DVD set which beautifully displays and anatomizes a century of the most gorgeous vintage drum sets:
Even I, who know little about vintage drums aside from the sound of Zutty Singleton’s cymbals in 1928 or Sidney Catlett’s hi-hat in 1944, or the way those drum sets looked in still photographs and films, found this riveting up-close history.
Daniel’s website — foundhere — offers a fascinating blog, podcasts (philosophical and percussive) opportunities for lessons in person and via Skype, the aforementioned books, DVDs, and more. Clinics and gigs of all kinds — from Terry Waldo to Eydie Gorme and Marilyn Maye, from private parties to Christmas celebrations and swinging big bands. He has much to share with us, and he offers it generously.
A good deal of inspiring music blossoms underground — I think of Mezzrow, and Smalls, and Fat Cat, that paradise of unusual pleasures: hot jazz, creative swing, a variety of games, soft couches from which one might never rise, and youngbloods having fun, playing games, coming in, out, and around.
Pianist / singer / composer / scholar Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band there most Sundays from about 5:45 to 7-something, two sets. On Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had a particularly illustrious crew: aside from Terry on piano, there was John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone . . . thus the music was loose, expert, and gratifying. Here are several highlights of that late-afternoon session:
APRIL SHOWERS (where Brian reminds us that Spring is always on the way):
HAPPY FEET (vocal Evan):
ACE IN THE HOLE (vocal John):
WILLIE THE WEEPER:
All of the musicians in this edition of the Gotham City Band were well-known to me, many of them for over a decade, but the new fellow, Daniel Glass, is a stunning ensemble and solo drummer: he listens, he swings, and he has a whole peaceful arsenal of appropriate sounds. JAZZ LIVES readers may know him better than I did, but he is someone special, and I will write more about his various enterprises in future.
Right now, I am going to think of violets descending from the sky, a lovely image.
Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.
Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself. It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself. The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT). Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.
A word about the superb band. Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper. And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces. Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered. And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green. The most pleasing small shocks.
The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound. Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable. The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.
Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors. Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition. And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us. Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes. Ours, too. She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely. A sign from the heavens of some destiny.
Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before. For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality. One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still. It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place. Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open. I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage. And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence. On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true. The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay. But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing. And the audience loved it. It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.
For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT. (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)
Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us. Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.
I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.
Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!” It was and it is.
With Hal’s permission, here is a tribute from one great jazz drummer to another — its source Hal’s website.
My friend and teacher Wayne Jones passed away on Thursday, May 30. He celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, and married the devoted and caring Charlotte on May 24.
It is difficult to express just how much Wayne meant to me as a person and as an inspiration for drumming. From the time I met Wayne — at the 1972 St. Louis Ragtime Festival — there was never a moment when I worried about his friendship.
Though I had heard Wayne on 1960s-era recordings by the Original Salty Dogs, hearing him live was a life-changing experience! He unerringly played exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right touch and the right volume, with an economy of motion, though I think he must have had the loosest wrists and fingers of any drummer I ever saw! The Original Salty Dogs were, and are, one of the greatest Traditional Jazz bands of all time. But with Wayne on drums, they were something else. The late Frank Powers described the Dogs’ rhythm section as “The Cadillac of Traditional Jazz Rhythm Sections.” Frank’s description was spot-on, and Wayne’s drumming was an integral part of that sound.
He played with a lift, even when using woodblocks and temple blocks to accompany John Cooper’s ragtimey piano solos. (I remember when a musician who heard one of my early recordings, featuring woodblocks, said “You need to listen to Wayne Jones. Now, there’s a drummer who swings!”) That stung at the time, but my critic proved to be correct. Wayne swung when he played Traditional Jazz!
Not only did Wayne inspire me with his onstage performances. He also made invaluable contributions to my Jazz education by sending boxes and boxes of reel (later cassette) tapes, LPs, CDs and photocopies of articles. A chance comment such as, “You know, I’m really interested in Vic Berton” would result in a large box of cassettes arriving a few days later, containing every Berton recording in the Jones collection. Wayne was totally unselfish and giving, and I am humbled to think how much of his free time was taken up with educating “The Kid.” Whether in person or in a letter he could be gruff, but always soft-hearted. No one ever had to question his sincerity or generosity.
Years later, Wayne wrote some wonderful liner notes for projects I was involved in. I will never get over the kind words he wrote for a session I made with Butch Thompson and Mike Duffy, but anyone who reads those notes should be aware that my best playing is because of Wayne’s influence!
By the time he wrote those notes, I considered Wayne to be family. I know Wayne felt the same way…Once, during the San Diego Jazz Festival, I commandeered an empty venue with a piano to rehearse the “Rhythmakers” for a recording to be done immediately following the festival. We had been playing for just a few minutes when Wayne wandered in. Obviously he was out for a stroll, in search of coffee for when he walked in the room he was in street clothes — no band uniform or musician badge. He found a seat near the back of the room and settled in to listen. Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore looked up from her music, spotted Wayne and stammered, “Th-th-this is n-not open to the p-public!” Wayne replied, “It’s o.k. I’m family!”
We had many wonderful “hangs” over the years, during festivals in St. Louis, San Diego and elsewhere. “Talking shop” was always fun, though Wayne had interesting opinions on all kinds of things besides drums and drumming! For instance, he was passionate about Elmore Leonard’s writing and frequently quoted lines of dialogue from Leonard novels when he wrote letters. During the past couple of years, I always enjoyed the phone calls with Wayne when we discussed the characters and plots of the television show “Justified” (which is based on Elmore Leonard characters).
Fortunately I had a couple of chances to visit Wayne at home while he was still able to talk and listen to music for extended periods of time. He had slowed down considerably, but still had a fantastic sense of humor and well-informed opinions concerning a variety of subjects — particularly the contemporary Traditional Jazz scene. The last visit was a lot of fun until his expression turned serious and he looked down at the ground and asked quietly, “You want my cymbal, Kid?” Wayne knew that his playing days were over, and he wanted to find an appropriate place for his “signature” cymbal. It was difficult to keep my composure, but I gratefully accepted “that” cymbal which livens up so many recordings by the Dogs, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the West End Jazz Band, Neo-Passe’ Jazz Band and more. The cymbal went to a good home, where it is respected, well-cared-for and used in special circumstances only. The first time I used it — with the Yerba Buena Stompers — John Gill, Leon Oakley and Tom Bartlett looked up immediately, recognizing the presence of an old friend on the bandstand.
On a recent phone call, Wayne had difficulty conversing on the phone. We got through the conversation — barely — and I wondered if that would be the last time we talked. Unfortunately, it was. When I called again, he had fallen and was headed for the hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of May 30 and I never had a chance to tell my mentor “good-bye.” But fortunately I was able to convey how much he meant to me during a performance a few years ago.
There are certain “Wayne licks” that have great appeal to drummers who studied his records and his live performances. (Drummers who have listened closely to Wayne, including John Gill, Chris Tyle, Steve Apple, and Kevin Dorn, will know what I mean). At a festival in the late ’90s, I was playing with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band when Wayne came into the room and took a seat a few rows back from the stage, but directly in view of the drums. He scrutinized my playing with the usual poker face. I thought about the description of Baby Dodds seeing George Wettling in the audience one time and “talking” to George with the drums. So I deliberately played in Wayne’s style. Tom Bartlett wheeled around and grinned through his mouthpiece. Kim Cusack eyed me and gave a quick nod, as did Mike Walbridge. But, best of all, out in the audience Wayne looked up, set his jaw and slowly nodded his acknowledgement. I would not trade that moment for anything.
Farewell, Wayne. Friend, teacher, inspiration. You will never be forgotten and you will always be loved.
May 31, 2013
A few words from JAZZ LIVES. I’m happy that we can see and hear Wayne swing the band. Here’s YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (I’LL TELL YOU MINE) by a 1996 edition of the Salty Dogs. Although Wayne doesn’t solo, his sweetly urging time is always supporting the band, and the just-right accents and timbres behind the ensemble and soloists are masterful. Catch the way Wayne ends off the tuba solo and rounds up the band for the final ensemble choruses. The other players are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Bob Neighbor, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; John Cooper, piano; Jack Kunci, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba:
And at the very end of 2010, nearly the same band (Cusack, Bartlett, Kunci, Walbridge, Jones) with two ringers: Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Asaro, piano, performing SMILES. Again, masterful work: hear the end of the banjo chorus into Bartlett’s solo, and the way Wayne backs Schumm:
Thanks to Ailene Cusack for these videos (and there are more appearances by Wayne and the Dogs on YouTube).
After hearing the news of Wayne’s death, I kept thinking of the star system of jazz — which elevates many wonderful players, giving them opportunities to lead bands, have their own record sessions, and we hope make more money. But so many exceedingly gifted musicians are never offered these opportunities. I would take nothing from Gene Krupa, for instance, but for every Gene there were many beautiful musicians half in the shadows: think of Walter Johnson, Jimmie Crawford, O’Neill Spencer, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Nick Fatool, Harry Jaeger, Gus Johnson, Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best . . . and Wayne Jones.
Wayne didn’t lead any recording sessions; he might not have had his picture in DOWN BEAT advertising a particular drum set — but he lifted so many performances. Wayne leaves behind some forty years of recordings with Clancy Hayes, Marty Grosz, Frank Chace, Eddy Davis, Jim Kweskin, Terry Waldo, Edith Wilson, Frank Powers, Jim Snyder, Carol Leigh, Tom Pletcher, Bob Schulz, Jim Dapogny, Turk Murphy, John Gill, Don DeMicheal, Jerry Fuller, Sippie Wallace, Franz Jackson, Jim Cullum, Ernie Carson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Karoub, Ray Skjelbred, Peter Ecklund, Bobby Gordon, and three dozen other players in addition to the recordings he made with the Salty Dogs.
I took a few inutes out of my absorption in the Sacramento Music Festival (hooray!) to write this. Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, I will be at St. Peter’s Church on East 54th Street in New York City . . . to honor and praise our friend Joe Muranyi. (Save two seats down front — the Beloved might be there too!)
Joe was greatly loved by several generations of musicians and jazz scholars for his playing, his wit, his generosity of spirit. As Louis had learned so much from Joe Oliver, Joe Muranyi became this century’s own “Papa Joe” to many. So I encourage you to do homage to the man and his sounds.
But there’s more. Many people will speak about Joe, but there will be music. Appropriately! Among the players: David Ostwald, Mike Burgevin, Marty Grosz, Chuck Folds, Terry Waldo, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Marty Napoleon, Sal Mosca, maybe a few more. Ricky Riccardi will talk about his friendship with Joe and show two videos of Louis and Joe together. I expect Michael Cogswell will have his own heartfelt memories of Joe.