Tag Archives: THE BASS SAXOPHONE

SKVORECKY and ROBINSON — BASS SAXOPHONE(S) in CONCERT

Skvorecky

That’s the much-missed Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, who died in 2012, and the happily-with-us multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker Scott Robinson.  I don’t know how I first found my way to Skvorecky’s work, but perhaps thirty years ago I picked up THE BASS SAXOPHONE, a novella — recommended on the back by Graham Greene (!) and was entranced in the first few pages.  Skvorecky was wry without being broad (although he indulged a taste for slapstick in several of his books), whimsical without being silly, political without being overly didactic.

Skvorecky Bass Saxophone

And he wrote beautifully about jazz — how it felt to play it (he had been an amateur tenor saxophonist in his teens), what the music did for listeners and dancers . . . in the Forties world where having a Chick Webb record was both a radical act and a life-affirming one.

I found out that he was teaching at a Canadian university, and (acting on impulse) I sent him an admiring letter and a cassette tape which had Joe Rushton (the bass saxophone master) on one side and and Art Tatum on the other.  He sent back a very gracious handwritten note of thanks which I still have — it’s tucked into my copy of THE ENGINEER OF HUMAN SOULS.

I just found out about a wonderful concert that I know JAZZ LIVES readers in the New York area would find very rewarding.  I will still be in California, so you’re on your own here.  It’s taking place this coming Wednesday. January 9, 2013,  at 7 PM, at Bohemian National Hall on the east side of Manhattan.

From Scott Robinson himself:

This special event, a “jazz and literary tribute to Josef Skvorecky,” is co-sponsored by the Czech Center and the Dvorak American Heritage Association.  Readings from the great writer’s work, including excerpts from his famous novel The Bass Saxophone, will be interspersed with the music.  I will play bass saxophone exclusively, along with my dear friend pianist Emil Viklicky – who knew Skvorecky personally – plus Martin Wind on bass and Klaus Suonsaari on drums.  All the details are here.

It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a rare opportunity to enjoy the best intersection of literature and music — with great improvisers in each realm.  I urge you to be there!  Admission (at the door) is $20; students, senior citizens, Czech Center Club Members $10.

May your happiness increase.

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DROP THAT SACK!

Before the words begin to flow, here’s some convincing evidence, courtesy of my videographer friend Elin Smith — Thomas Winteler’s Jazz Serenaders with Bent Persson playing POTATO HEAD BLUES, recorded at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival:

Thomas and his Jazz Serenaders have recorded DROP THAT SACK! — a CD of music associated with Louis and Sidney Bechet, including their collaborations and ending with two songs associated with later Bechet.  The songs are ONCE IN A WHILE / ALLIGATOR CRAWL / SAVOY BLUES / ORIENTAL STRUT / TEXAS MOANER / DROP THAT SACK! / OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT / DON’T FORGET TO MESS AROUND / PERDIDO STREET BLUES / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / STRANGE FRUIT / VIPER MAD / PETITE FLEUR.

The musicians are Thomas, clarinet, soprano sax; Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet;  Rodolphe Compomizzi, trombone;  Jean-Claude “Lou” Lauprete, piano; 
Pierre-Alain Maret, banjo, guitar; Henry Lemaire, bass; Jean Lavorel, drums.

I hadn’t heard or heard of Thomas before the 2010 festival, but Bent Persson made a special point of recommending him to me — and when Bent recommends another musician, I take it seriously.  Thomas is a superb player; like Bent, he understands not only the records but the idiom, and can nimbly become Bechet or Johnny Dodds while sounding like himself — no small accomplishment.  And the CD is a delightful representation both of the Masters and of the twenty-first century musicians doing them honor.  It’s always a pleasure to hear some of the less-recorded Hot Five and Hot Seven material, and this band is able to summon up the deep melancholy of STRANGE FRUIT as well as the jubilant elevation of VIPER MAD.

Ideally, one would buy a copy of the CD from Thomas at a gig, but for those who aren’t flying around Europe in search of the real thing, the financial details are:

Send your address and 30 swiss francs or 22 euros to :
   Thomas Winteler
   ch. du levant 10B
   1299 Crans-près-Céligny
   Switzerland

(the price includes postal costs)
 

You can find out more about Thomas and his friends (including his substantial discography complete with music clips) at his website, http://www.winteler-music.ch/. 

Finally, some speculative etymology.  I think with affection of the Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, who wrote in his novel THE COWARDS (or his novella THE BASS SAXOPHONE) of his difficulties with jazz-related English (he was a youthful amateur tenor player during the Second World War): encountering “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” for the first time, he was puzzled by the word-by-word translation: could it really mean “Walking pompously with an animal carcass roasted whole”? 

I have the same feelings about “Drop that sack!”  Is it really an old-time racially-based joke about chicken-stealing, or did it mean, “Let’s get out of here” or “Get rid of that unattractive person”? 

It adds something to the resonance of the words that DROP THAT SACK was one of the two titles that Louis recorded “anonymously” with Lil’s Hot Shots for a competing label while he was under contract to OKeh — trying to hide Louis’s conception and sound would be like pretending the great Chicago Fire wasn’t burning . . . . but I wonder if there are hidden meanings to the expression, just as we later learned that “Struttin’ with some barbecue” was a pre-PC way of saying, “Walking proudly with my beautiful girlfriend.” 

Suggestions, anyone?