Tag Archives: The Beloved

BACK IN NEW YORK / A CURE FOR SPIRITUAL JET-LAG

I arrived back in New York late last night. With no offense to my fellow urbanites and suburbanites, the word that would describe my return is RELUCTANTLY. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster up the good cheer of this Hero as imagined in a beautiful drawing by Thomas B. Allen:

louis-back-in-new-york

Even in enhanced stereo (!) Louis looks young and healthy.

But it will take a while for me to look close to that. The Beloved is 3000 miles away. My apartment has serious water damage . . . precious objects became damp, musty — some can’t be repaired. I feel as if spiritual mildew is creeping up on me, which is not something that responds to ordinary curative methods. While I was slumping around the apartment, wondering what else had been ruined and whether I could ever find everything, I knew I needed serious help of a medical kind.

I called on my own medical group and they rushed to my aid. They are Doctors Warren, Dubin, Caparone, Barnhart, Barrett, Shaw, Cavera, Reynolds, and Reynolds:

I apologize for the swooping camerawork but I was trying to create closeups without a tripod, and I think I was so happy that my hand possibly couldn’t remain steady. Somewhere, Fats Waller and Bing Crosby smile approvingly, too.

This always makes me feel better, and I will now play it again while I do other domestic chores.

May your happiness increase!

THE BLACK BUTTERFLY

In conversation, I have been known to say, “Music saved my life.” And the other person smiles and nods, sometimes saying, “Yes, I understand,” or “Me, too.” But very few people know how serious my four words are.

Although I am by nature optimistic and hopeful, before 2004 I was seriously unhappy for long periods of time — situational rather than biochemical despair. The reasons for my sadness are not relevant here. When I was most hopeless, I thought seriously of ending my life.  I checked out the Hemlock Society website (earnest but very complicated) and lay on my bed thinking of the items I would purchase from Home Depot that would do the job.

But one thought recurred in the darkness, “Is there any guarantee you will be able to hear music — Louis Armstrong first and everyone else you love — if you kill yourself?”  It kept me from putting my plans into action.

We know that music heals, that beautiful sound itself is a form of moving energy much like prayer. The Beloved thinks that the sustaining power of the jazz we love is in its rhythm, the way it connects our beating hearts to the rhythms of the cosmos, and I think she is correct.  Myself, I hear warm tender voices coming from the instrumentalists and singers I love.  Those voices send love deeper than notes or words.  They tell us, “It can get better.  There is beauty in this world, no matter how cold and dark it seems now.”

And the voices were and are right: the proof is that I am writing these words now, able to tell this story from a safe distance, and I have never been happier.

At this point, some readers might object to what they see as a logical flaw.  To them, music never “saved” my life in the way Lassie saved Timmy.  True. But the thought of an unfathomably silent existence was more frightening, more painful than my current ordeal.

A corollary: some years after I emerged from this emotional abyss I was in one of those philosophical discussions — simultaneously silly and profound — where the question was “If you were going to be deprived of one sense, which one would you choose?”  Immediately I said I prized my hearing, would choose to be blind rather than deaf (making the people around the table both incredulous and scornful of what they saw as bad judgment.)

Writing this post about the life-saving powers of music, I wanted to offer my readers a taste of the music that made me then and makes me now glad to be alive. You know that this is my unstated purpose in my travels with a video camera, my hours spent creating JAZZ LIVES.  I am sure I could compile a long list of songs and performances that delight me now and always, but that would be “favorites” rather than “miraculous healers,” a different thing entirely.

One of the recordings that kept me from leaving this earthly existence I can share with you now, three minutes of glowing sound, a recording I have known for forty years. I first heard it in the company of Michael Burgevin, my dear MB.

It said to me then and says to me now that the universe is filled with love and protection and compassion if we only open ourselves to them.

The record is BLACK BUTTERFLY, an Ellington composition played here with ardor and sensitivity by the trumpeter Joe Thomas and friends for a Keynote Records session in 1946:

Writing this post, I thought I would invite my readers to join in on the chorus, and ask them, “What music do you reach for, would you reach for, when Gloom puts his cold hand on your heart?”

My only requests are these: ONE song only, details as specific as possible.  I am not stepping on anyone’s desert-island-discs or ten-best-list, but those lists too often seem contrived, and often are ways for us to show how wide our range is, how much we know.  So please don’t comment, “Anything by X,” if you don’t mind. And, as you can tell, this inquiry is very serious to me.  So no small comedies. Simply, “If I wanted a cure for deep misery, what one record would do the trick?”

With luck, readers can send in a performance that has a YouTube video attached to it so that others can hear the saving beauty that sustains you.

I look forward to hearing the music that makes burdens lighter for you, and collectively I must say that this business of being alive — often fraught with deep dark surprises — is all we have, and we should be very very grateful that we are allowed to roam around in the meadow we call Life for our short span. And even in the blackness of our sorrow, there is the a butterfly of healing music.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part Two): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

A second helping of The Ivory Club Boys, a hot band that satisfies. (Here is the first helping, for those who’d rather listen than read.)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were having a wonderful time with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot sounds right off the record — so the scholars may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  (Whisper this: the Ivories even perform songs Stuff never recorded.)  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are more rocking numbers from their second set:

ROSETTA (vocal Sam Rocha):

Stuff’s own IT’S WONDERFUL:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

‘S’WONDERFUL:

MOONGLOW:

SOLID OLD MAN:

MOTEN SWING:

This band was so rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the Ivory Club Boys come to your town, enjoy this set.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part One): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were muggin’ lightly with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot ecstasies right off the record — so the scholars among us may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  My goodness, they even perform songs Stuff never recorded!  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are eight rocking numbers from their first set:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

SARATOGA SWING:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal by Paul Mehling):

DESERT SANDS (a Stuff original, very atmospheric):

CHINA BOY (Mike strides in):

I’M CONFESSIN’ (with commentary by Mister Lipskin at the start):

JEEPERS CREEPERS (ditto and likewise — hear the band shift into tempo after the verse!):

ONE HOUR (vocal by Clint Baker after Mike’s lovely exposition of the verse):

We were with them two hours that night, and the band was so very rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the real thing comes along, enjoy this set — and there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!

GOING SOUTH FOR HOT JAZZ: JANUARY 26, 2014

Good things in store.  On January 26, 2014, Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing a Sunday afternoon gig in the monthly series of  “Basin Street Regulars” concerts hosted by the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society.  It will be held at the Pismo Beach Veterans’ Memorial Building, 780 Bello Street, Pismo Beach.  Clint and his band will play two sets of seventy-five minutes apiece; there will also be jazz from the Cal Poly Jazz Band.  This Sunday session will begin at 11 AM and end at 4:30 PM.  For more information, click here.

“Who’s in Clint’s band?” I hear the cognoscenti murmuring. (Sometimes their rhetorical murmuring can get a trifle loud, but I don’t mind, having invented them for the purpose of sentences such as this one.)

The A-Team,” I respond.

Clint, trombone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Mike Baird, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.

That takes care of Sunday, as far as I’m concerned.  The Beloved and I have made our plans: groceries have been purchased; plants will be watered; computers, clothing, amenities, bric-a-brac, and more will be loaded into the New Old Car . . . to make the trip from Northern California to Less-Northern California, with occasional digressions for begonias, thrift stores, and other pleasures.  Neither of us is a road-trip fancier, but this band is worth the journey and more.

See you there, I hope.

P.S.  In the evening of January 26.  THE MUSIC WAS WONDERFUL.  You should know this.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (and YOU CAN COME, TOO)

I’ve been listening to a bootleg Jimmy Rushing lp where he sings GOIN’ TO CHICAGO, with the famous lines, “Goin’ to Chicago / Sorry, but I can’t take you.”

Thus my title: the Beloved and I are thrilled to be making our debut voyage to the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, and we can — in a manner of speaking — take you. And even if you don’t want to be Our New Pals, you owe it to yourself to check out what the SDJP is offering from Friday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a wonderful job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since their first party in 1988: I looked at their archives and found these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s also proof of fine taste:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

Some of those heroes are gone, but the 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again?  And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier.  Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at the lineup — how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of what I see is a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. Some parties put one seven-piece band (three or four horns with rhythm) on after another and the results can seem similar.

At this Party, there’s a very comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets; there’s only one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site can you find answers to the second question. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

What follows might seem overly gloomy, but it’s no less true.  Many fanciers of the music who have long memories spend much energy lamenting What Was.  “Were you there at the sessions when Big Barko and his Leash-Pullers used to play IN A MELLOTONE (or UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE) for forty-seven minutes?  That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”

I miss it too.  But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eddie South used to say, “It is better to write a check, make a hotel reservation, and be there now than to sit in your living room lamenting that The Great Things are here no more.  The Great Things need you to preserve them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here.  And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that nagging JAZZ LIVES from plucking at my sleeve and whispering “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will bear the emotional burden.

May your happiness increase!

WHY?

The Beloved is very proud of me and what I do, something I treasure.  And in this spirit, she will often introduce me to someone she’s just met who has expressed an interest in music, and say of me, “This is the Sweetie: he has a jazz blog.”

I smile at the person after this identifying statement and wait patiently. Sometimes the reaction is, “Oh, you like Miles?” and I can then explain that my heroes are Louis, Lester, and their living friends. But more often than not the response is polite silence. And a fixed look often comes over the other person’s face — somewhere between puzzled, being struck dumb, having nothing to say, wishing the subject had never been brought up, feeling ignorant, feeling threatened.

I think it has something to do with the ominous, oppressive word

JAZZ

which for a variety of reasons seems to leave people with nothing to say in return.

I am willing and often able to converse on other subjects: the deliciousness of the food, the delights of Northern California, the other person’s interests, where the good places to eat are, how lovely or horrid the weather has been . . . the usual run of non-threatening conversation.

But simply introduce JAZZ into the conversation and the room falls silent.  Is it that people don’t like it, don’t understand it, and are thus reluctant to talk about something so esoteric, so outre?  Really, I have no intention of holding forth about, say, an alternate take of an unissued Jabbo Smith 78 I have found after decades of searching. I am not going to lasso the New Person and force him or her to listen to me play THAT’S MY HOME (badly) on the cornet, or compel him or her to watch my latest YouTube clip.

But someday I am going to try an experiment, and ask the Beloved to introduce me as a) someone who collects rare books; b) builds harpsichords; c) flies model airplanes; d) has a Lionel train setup in the basement; e) is learning the tango; f) rides an adult-size tricycle everywhere; g) just came back from a trip to Wisconsin . . . and see if the petrified stare comes out in the same way.  I wonder what it is about JAZZ that produces such silence?

Note: I have not written this post as an inducement for the cognoscenti to tell me how we are live in a cultural wasteland; how Americans are so stupid; how no one knows anything. Ranting about a current offense to taste is, to me, tedious.  I don’t encourage angry contemptuous bashing here, and hope I have not been guilty of it myself.

But it is — a la Yul Brynner — a puzzlement.

May your happiness increase! 

LOVE SONGS AND SOME RHYTHM: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS SWING BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 14, 2013)

This music makes me feel very nostalgic for summer in California with the Beloved and among friends, and happy to know I will be out there again in 2014. One of our staunch musical friends is the eminent Clint Baker.

These performances take me back to an evening in Mountain View, at “the Wednesday Night Hop,” where Clint and his New Orleans Swing Band gave us all, not just the dancers, reason to be very happy.  The NOSB was Clint, of course, trumpet and vocal; Benny Archey, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, banjo / guitar; Sam Rocha, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

YEARNING:

JOE LOUIS STOMP:

Trombonist Benny Archey was new to me.  He could be drummer / pianist Jeff Hamilton’s brother, so strong in the resemblance, but Mr. Archey is a retired Wyoming orchid grower, visiting California intermittently, who plays serious trombone.  I was very glad to meet and hear him.  And the rest of the band!  The distinctive voices of the front line players, weaving and bobbing expertly, and that rhythm section!  Dance music of the highest order. Thanks, as always, to these brilliant navigators of melody, and to Audrey Kanemoto and the people who create and sustain the Wednesday Night Hop.

May your happiness increase!

TWO SONGS FOR THE BELOVED, SUNG BY MESSRS. WALLER and CROSBY

If I needed proof that the world is miraculous, I would only have to think of the Beloved.  Mr. Waller explains:

Following her has increased my happiness beyond measure.  Mr. Crosby gives voice to my sentiments:

I hope all of you have a Beloved in your lives, a remarkable person with a deeply generous spirit.

And it was her idea that I start JAZZ LIVES.  So I might suggest that she has earned your gratitude as well as mine!

May your happiness increase!

JULY 6, 2013. LOUIS LIVES. AND WE FEEL IT DEEPLY.

This story begins in a sweetly undramatic way.

The Beloved and I had spent the afternoon of July 6 doing a variety of errands in the car.  We had some time before we had to return home, so she suggested that we do a short bout of “thrifting” (visiting our favorite thrift stores) in the nearby town of San Rafael, California.  She favors a hospice thrift place called HODGE PODGE; I opt for GOODWILL, which is half a block away.

Once in Goodwill, I looked quickly at men’s clothing and took two items off the rack for more consideration.  I saw there were many records in the usual corner, perhaps three hundred LPs and a half-dozen 78 albums.

Just as I write the novella of the life of the person ahead of me on line in the grocery store by the items (s)he is buying, I create the brief biography of a record collector by what patterns there are.  Admittedly, the collection I perused was not solely the expression of one person’s taste, but it seemed a particularly deep 1959 collection: original cast, Sinatra, Dino, Hank Williams, comedy, unusual albums I had not seen before.

In about ten minutes, I found a Jack Lemmon record on Epic, where he sings and plays songs from SOME LIKE IT HOT (he was quite a good pianist), the orchestra directed by Marion Evans.  (Particularly relevant because I am also finishing the 1999 book, CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER — that’s Billy — and enjoying it greatly).  A Murray McEachern mood-music session for Capitol, CARESS, with Jimmy Rowles; the somewhat dubious JAZZ: SOUTH PACIFIC, with Pettiford, McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Rudy Williams; Ethel Waters doing spirituals and hymns on Word; Clancy Hayes with the Salty Dogs — Jim Dapogny on second cornet / valve-trombone, Kim Cusack on clarinet — OH BY JINGO on Delmark.

Then I moved to the 78s.  I thought about but did not take a Black and White album of six songs by Lena Horne with Phil Moore, but took without hesitation a Capitol collection of Nellie Lutcher, because Sidney Catlett was on a few sides, I think.

More than a few minutes had passed.  My knees were beginning to hurt and other people, one with a well-behaved dog, had been drawn to the trove.

The last album I looked at was an unmarked four-record 78 album.  The first sleeve was empty.  The second one held a Fifties TOPS record “Four Hits On One Record,” which I disdained.  The third was a prize — a late-Thirties Bluebird of Fats Waller and his Rhythm doing AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (“Recorded in Europe”) and GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR, which pleased me a great deal.  It would have been the great treasure of my quest.

I turned to the last record and caught my breath.  I know this feeling well — surprise, astonishment, intense emotion — the equivalent of a painless punch in the solar plexus.  I’ve felt it other times before — once a year ago in California with a Bluebird 78 in a Goodwill (take that confluence as you will) which I have chronicled here.

This record was another late-Thirties Bluebird, this one by Louis.  One side was Hoagy Carmichael’s SNOWBALL (which made me smile — it’s a great sweet song).

Then this:

SUPERMOON and SWING YOU CATS 011

For nearly a decade my email address has been swingyoucats@gmail.com.

Initially, I took it as a self-definition and an online “alias” because those three words are to me a collective exaltation — “Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters!” in a swinging four – four.

But “Swing you cats!” is not only exhortation — “Let’s unite for our common joyous purpose!” but celebration that we are communally on the same delighted path.

As I did in the previous Goodwill experience, I took the record over to the Beloved, who was seated peaceably, reading a local free paper.  “What did you find?” she said cheerfully.  I went through the records I’ve described, and then reached for the unmarked album and said, “Look at this.”

She admires Fats as I do, so GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR was properly celebrated.  Then I silently showed her the final record, and we both drew in our breaths.  When she could speak, she said, “Is today a special day?  Some anniversary of your blog?”

And then it dawned on me.  Choked up, I eventually said, “This is the anniversary of Louis’ death.  July 6, 1971.”  After a long, tear-stifled interval during which we simply looked at each other and the record, I took my treasures to the cashier, paid, and we went home.

To describe my feelings about this incident, I run the risk of characterizing myself as one of the Anointed and elaborating on this fantasy vision, where Louis, in the ethereal sphere, sees what I do in his name and approves — sending a little token of his approval my way.

I know that some readers might scoff, “Please!  That record was a manufactured object.  Thousands of copies were made.  It was simple luck that you got it.  Do you think Louis — dead for forty-plus years — would know or care what your email address is?”  I can certainly understand their realistic scorn.

But since I am sure that the Dead Know — that they aren’t Dead in any way except the abandoning of their bodies, who is to say that my taking this as an affirmation from Somewhere is so odd?  How many of us, for whatever reason, have felt the presence of someone we love / who loved us, even though that person is now “dead”?

So I felt, in a more intense way, connected to Louis Armstrong.  That is not a bad thing.  And I could hilariously imagine the way I might have popped up on one of his letters or home tapes.

I hope all my JAZZ LIVES readers, cats indeed, will happily swing on now and eternally.

I send them all my love.

And I celebrate SWING YOU CATS by making it the first whirl of the JAZZ LIVES homemade video jukebox*:

For those who want to know more about this record, read and hear my man Ricky Riccardi’s essay on SWING YOU CATS, here.

*I have witnessed much high-intensity irritation on Facebook directed at people like myself who make YouTube videos of a spinning vintage record without using the finest equipment.  I apologize in advance to anyone who might be offended by my efforts.  SWING YOU CATS sounds “pretty good” to me.  And my intermittent YouTube videos — the “JAZZ LIVES” DANCE PARTY — will offer 78 sides that aren’t on YouTube.  Just for a thrill.

May your happiness increase!

RAVE REVIEWS and MEANINGFUL SILENCES

JAZZ LIVES’ readers may have noted that I am enthusiastic about the music and I write about the art I love in the most glowing terms.  But I thought I should explain some things about the ways in which my enthusiasm is shared.

First, a true story — with true identities changed or blurred as much as possible.

A musician I know — I am calling him M — plays the marimba, most expertly.  M is a poet of the wooden bars and I admire M’s work greatly.  I wrote enthusiastically about M’s new CD because it gave me great pleasure.  M was very happy; so was I.  M told M’s partner, N, about this — N is somewhat sharp of tongue although we get along well on our infrequent encounters — and N’s response was a derisive nasal explosion of air, then, “Well, Michael only writes good reviews!”  I heard this story from M, and it pained me greatly.  It has stuck in my memory for months now, and not only because I feel very sorry for M.

Another true story, with no need to change identities.

I began this blog in 2008 at the urging of the Beloved, who is very wise.  But before I took the first step, I said, “What do I do if I go to hear a performance and I don’t like it, or someone sends me a CD that seems imperfect to me?  Do I say so in print and make enemies?  I don’t want to give stars to music or musicians.”

She said, “For years, GOURMET Magazine sent its reviewers to various restaurants.  If the place was wonderful, it got written up in print.  If it wasn’t, they said nothing.”

This made sense, because silence is very powerful.  You will note, for instance, that when you email someone with a request and they do not wish to do it, some people write back and say, “No,” or they explain . . . others keep still and you get the point.

So when I write that I feel so fortunate to have heard A sing or B play or the LMNOPQ Stompers swing out, I really mean it.  And when I think to myself, “I could have died and never heard this subtle pinnacle of music,” it is coming from my heart.

I really mean that I really mean it!  The jazz world is so small and I am already so fortunate in being allowed in to it, that there would be little visible benefit in currying favor by writing falsely good reviews.  And what I think of as my credibility would erode rapidly if I praised someone really splendid and then turned around with similar adjectives to apply to a much less creative performer.

When a publicist writes me and asks me to preview a new CD for JAZZ LIVES, more often than not I listen and then write back — politely — and explain why it isn’t for me.  Some people are gracious; some say nothing; very rarely do I get a response that suggests I have hurt someone’s feelings.  I solicit very few CDs — from publicists or the artists themselves — and they are only ones I know will have some aspect that interests me.  I do not want to end up with piles of CDs I do not end up praising, and I know that artists are — for the most part — not wealthy individuals who can afford to waste money.

Speaking of money . . . . but that is another blogpost entirely.  Let me just say that if JAZZ LIVES were a corporation, it would have been bankrupt about ten blogposts after its chartering.  Enough said for the moment.

So I do not “monetize,” nor do I use JAZZ LIVES as a place to undermine anyone’s art, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.  I think we should be celebrating the Beauties we have or we recall, and that keeps me — and I hope my readers — both happy and busy.

May your happiness increase!

FREE AND JOYOUS: TAMAR KORN AND FRIENDS at THE LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013): GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, CRAIG VENTRESCO, JARED ENGEL (Part One)

Tamar Korn was a remarkable singer, musician, and presence when I first heard her some six years ago.

She has continued to blossom, to explore, to experiment in the most joyously rewarding ways.  She wants to embody each song, getting to the heart of its emotions, in words, notes, and gesture.  In the words of my friend Davide Brillante, she is “an illuminated person.”  And the musicians around her are clearly inspired by her perfectly pitched extravagances.

The Beloved and I were happily in the audience at a San Francisco venue we’d not encountered before — The Lost Church, 65 Capp Street — when Tamar and Friends took the stage on June 8, 2013.  (It’s a fascinating place for music and theatre and more.)

The Friends (they deserve the capital letter) were Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — with a guest appearance from guitarist Dave Ricketts of GAUCHO later in the evening.

Here are the first four performances of a glorious dozen:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

LONESOME AND SORRY:

THE SONG IS ENDED:

Deliciously memorable, playful music — performances both simple and deeply textured.

Thanks to Tamar and her / our Friends, to Brett Cline, Erma Kyriakos, Confetta and Anatol and Scott for their kindnesses and for increasing our joys.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE IN BLOOM AT BIRDLAND: DAN BLOCK / JAMES CHIRILLO (May 8, 2013)

May 8, 2013, was a special day in jazz lore — although the mainstream jazz media didn’t pay it any attention: the fourteenth anniversary of David Ostwald’s Wednesday early-evening gig at Birdland with the band once called the Gully Low Jazz Band, then the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, now (appropriately) the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.  The participants included Jon-Erik Kellso, Tom Artin, Dan Block, David Ostwald, James Chirillo, Marion Felder — and guest stars Anat Cohen and Bria Skonberg.  The joint was jumping, but here’s a sweet bit of musical romance: Dan and James duetting, becoming a tiny but fulfilling orchestra on TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

Who knew midtown New York City could suddenly become so bucolic?  The pipes of Pan and a verifiable Roman lute . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who was at my side, for Lynn and Danny, for Mar and Ricky, Noya and Eric, and all the other loving couples out there.  And if you’re currently single, be not afeard: take a chance on love!

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING (February 24, 2013)

Yesterday, your grateful / intrepid videographer took his new knapsack, camera, tripod, and microphone to a live jazz event, set up, and recorded. . . . after a month’s hiatus in the schedule.

The event was the Sunday afternoon gig of Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band — that entertaining group no longer at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, but now taking up a serious weekend residence (Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 PM) at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, 1434 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California.

Mal’s colleagues were Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, reeds; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; guest Waldo Carter, trumpet on JOE LOUIS STOMP.

I chose two selections from the afternoon’s performances not only because they felt so fulfilling, but also because I had not captured either song on video for JAZZ LIVES.  The first, a mixture of wistfulness and comedy (that’s the Mal Sharpe way!) is the song Billie Holiday and Lester Young made immortal in 1937 — FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And the second, a walloping tribute to the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis (with a side-glance at Bill Coleman, having a good time in Paris) is JOE LOUIS STOMP:

I’m ready! — for the Jazz Bash by the Bay / Dixieland Monterey 2013 . . .  Hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase.

. . . AND A DOLLAR SHORT?

Written much more in sorrow and bewilderment than in self-righteous anger:

I continue to be puzzled by the lack of generosity of jazz fans in live music venues.  Many people who are having a good time and yelling WOOHOO! at the end of a set of inspired music by live musicians slip away when the tip jar is passed or — with visible discomfort — put a dollar bill in it.  And the bill is sometimes put there under guilt-inducing scrutiny: a person (spectator, friend, or musician) moves the jar from patron to patron, waiting patiently, making eye contact.

A friend has been in charge of passing the tip jar at some gigs, and she has told me, “When I stand in front of someone with the jar, the person will take a dollar bill, crumple it up, and put his / her closed hand into the jar so that the bill cannot be seen.  When I count the money at the end of the gig, the crumpled dollar bills far outweigh any other ones.”

At some gigs, the tip jar sits in front of the band or on top of the piano, it may remain almost empty all night.  If it can be ignored or skirted, it is.

Of course there are a thousand reasons and rationalizations for this lack of largesse.

“It’s a terrible economy” is perhaps the first.  I couldn’t deny that.

“The musicians are getting paid by the club / bar / management, aren’t they?” comes in second.  One hopes so, but at what rates?

A more elaborate construction is “Tipping is a disgrace.  The musicians shouldn’t have to beg, and my way of protesting their salaries is to refuse to demean them with a gratuity.”

That last one I like a great deal, for it manages to sound noble while the speaker’s wallet is safe, untouched.

I am sure that JAZZ LIVES readers who have waited tables or served food and drink in other ways have stories of frugality (to be exceedingly polite).  For many people, “tourists” of one kind or another, the lack of generosity may result from an unfamiliarity with the customs of the country, a pervasive unawareness.  But if you come from far away to (let us say) New York or San Francisco and you have a guidebook, it does mention the subject.  Even if the commentary is most often about waitpeople in restaurants and people who carry suitcases elsewhere, a wise tourist who wishes to be gracious can understand the significance of a jar and what might be offered to creative musicians as a tangible thank-you.

Now, I know that both younger and older generations have been enabled — perhaps encouraged — to put distance between them and the music by records, radio, videos on YouTube, downloads, and more.  But when a jazz fan visits an establishment where there is one person or a dozen playing instruments or singing, it is harder to ignore their tangible reality of the artists at work.  They are PEOPLE.  They have instruments; they sing or speak into microphones.  They make eye contact.  They are much larger than earbuds, more substantial than any digital download.

To me, the person unwilling to give the musicians something as an expression of gratitude is saying wordlessly but powerfully, “You musicians are not people I have to acknowledge.  You are background music, hired to play while I eat and drink.  Philosophically, you are the barely-visible soundtrack to my pleasure.  When I go home, you might continue to exist, but not in my reality.”

Few working musicians are prospering playing improvised jazz, I think.  Many of my heroes and heroines are singing and playing their hearts out for fifty dollars an evening.  Plus tips.  Or sometimes the improvisers “play for the door,” which is not a way to go home feeling well-compensated.

I am haunted by the cheerful words one musician told me midway through a three-hour performance in a bar where the patrons were regularly consuming drinks.  “Michael, I love this gig!  It pays sixty-five dollars and a salad!”  (This was not an ironic or satiric utterance: he stated this happily.)

How many of my readers would be willing to work for three hours for this salary — and that’s before taxes?  And the musician, I assure you, was world-famous.  He was not stacking boxes in a supermarket; he was not pumping gasoline.

I would like to propose a new moral / aesthetic guideline.  Of course I have no power to enforce it, except to suggest that it is both fair and kind.

Those who download music from iTunes, for instance, pay close to a dollar a song.  And in that case only some of that money goes directly to the artist.  Wouldn’t a dollar a song be a fair starting point for compensating musicians playing live in front of you?  True, you cannot necessarily stuff them into your earbuds — Newtonian physics is against it — but they are creating something right in front of you.  Or, a more tangible model.  A seventy-five minute CD costs fifteen to twenty dollars.  Listen to an hour-plus of music; pay the band something equivalent.

I hear the objections.  “People will stay away from clubs and bars if they are expected to pay such high prices for the music.  And the owners want to see their places filled with patrons buying food and drinks to justify the expenditure of hiring jazz musicians.”  

I know that the “cover charge” drives some casual — and some serious — listeners away.  But I wonder whether musicians are happy when they are forced to push a tip jar into people’s line of sight and wait for the dollar to be dropped in.  Is this inspiring or demeaning?

What might we say to the patron who has had a few glasses of win and a meal — let us say a thirty-dollar tab or less — who then puts a dollar in the tip jar under duress.  Is it too much to say, “Put the cost of one glass of wine in the tip jar; fair to you; fair to them”?

I do my best to be generous now, but I was guilty of this in 1972.  I saw Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s and sat the whole night nursing a $2.50 bottle of Miller beer, which didn’t taste all that good at 9 PM and was foul after midnight.  In my defense, I was a college student with a part-time job who was earning $1.85 / hour.  But I feel bad about it now, and wish I had been able to be more generous.  I wish I could apologize to Roy and the band.  I was wrong.

I am sure that some listeners and perhaps a few musicians will object to the fuss they perceive me as making here.  “It goes with the territory, and my heroes who played in the (insert golden decade here) didn’t make a great living, so why should I complain?”  The logic bothers me.  Because Johnny Dodds had a drive a taxi to be somewhere in the neighborhood of solvent, should modern musicians.

Is the artist unworthy of a living wage?

I think ultimately that listeners have some moral obligation to be generous to the musicians they say they admire.  

If they choose to lament that their favorite players are having a hard time, have they contributed tangibly to the ease and comfort of the artist?  

And, on a larger scale, those who lament the lack of places to play, artists being forced to take day jobs to survive — in fact, the very DEATH OF JAZZ — to give it the appropriate journalistic emphasis.  Are the people who look away when the tip jar comes or drop a dollar in it killing off jazz and jazz musicians by their delicate frugalities?

The Beloved, very wise, said to me, “Didn’t you write a post about this already?” She is right.  It’s one of her finest qualities.  I expect some disagreement to be expressed by both fans and musicians.  But I find the manifestations of a lack of gratitude dismaying.  And since gratitude is one of the primary engines beneath human kindness, I do not feel upset about writing this polite protest against its absence.  Words from Thoreau’s CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, slightly edited, seem apt here:

I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor.

When the individual plays a trombone, a guitar, or sings, should we cease to be neighborly?

Ponder this, dear listeners.  Bills come in denominations larger than ONE.

May your happiness increase. 

ON THE GENTLE ART OF CRITICISM

When the Beloved and I are out for a walk and I have commented on something, a flock of crows may fly by and give their verdict:

and I will turn to the Beloved and say, “Oh, everyone’s a critic!”

When people caw in print it is sometimes more difficult to get the rancor out of the air.  I can deal with the gentleman who wrote in to tell me that I was a “traitor to Jazz,” because he and I no longer converse.  Life is too short to welcome and encourage personal abuse.

But I am disheartened by the anger displayed by people commenting on YouTube videos.  I read comments that seem furious at the audience at a public performance in a restaurant for talking while the music is playing.  I understand the viewer’s unhappiness, but think, “Sir, shouting in print at people in a video-recording for their bad manners may make you feel better, but the talkers can no longer modify their behavior to suit you.  Your comment, although a genuine expression of your frustration, is not the best use of your energy.”

Even more disheartening is the commentary of a viewer that X is playing badly.  One such critic wrote in recently that “the audience deserved better.”  I wonder how someone, sitting at home, is able to judge what the audience did or did not deserve for the price of their tickets.  Does an imperfect performance offend so much that it should be made to vanish?

What bothers me is the implied insult to the musicians, who are working with all their skill, energy, and decades of experience to create something beautiful.  Merely playing one repeated note on the piano for four minutes at a fast tempo and staying attuned to the rhythm is beyond most amateurs, but the amateurs have no problem saying that “Y’s performance is very bad.”  And when we graduate to the difficulties of playing a trumpet or a saxophone . . .

I am not espousing a general bland appreciation for everything.  I go away from some performances saying, “Gee, I didn’t like that very much.  I think L doesn’t always play in tune, or R rushes.”  But there I am expressing my subjective judgment, and it remains personal and private — unless we are going to have all jazz performances measured on-the-spot by scientific arbiters with metronomes and pitch-analyzers.

Generosity of spirit might be what we should aim for, rather than “good” or “bad,” “better” or “worse.”

I wonder if this critical urge comes from a lack of impulse control born from decades of ranking and rating (i.e., the Academy Awards, Playmate of the Year, Best-Of lists), of people sitting in front of their television sets at home, yelling at the football player who has “done badly.”  Or in other contexts, people watching generations of beauty pageant queens compete, and saying to the screen, “I wouldn’t vote for her.  She is ugly!”    Or, in the parlance of the times, “That SUCKED!”

I wonder also if the people who comment so acridly on these videos would find it proper to say to a jazz player or players as the musicians got off the stand, “Wow, you played so badly!”  I think most listeners would think such judgments would be at best rude, at worst cruel or unwise.  “Would you say this to someone in person?” might be a useful rule in criticism.  It is so easy to write something in anger, then press SEND or POST — and what is in print tends to stay visible.  And perhaps harmful.

Once, years ago, I was coming home on the train from a classical concert and I fell into conversation with a man who had been going to concerts for decades.  He was also unhappy with people who could not sit still and listen peacefully.  His theory was that the coughers and talkers and rattlers and paper-shufflers could not stand subordinating their own egos for the length of a performance.  “Look at me!  I’m here, too!”  I doubt that everyone who coughs is possessed by ego-demons, but I wonder how many of the most “offended” critics are upset that X — with the soprano saxophone — is getting all the attention.

Finally.  Jazz magazines still rank recordings with stars.  No stars bad, five stars good (to paraphrase ANIMAL FARM).  I remember reading that a critic in a famous magazine said of an early-Fifties Lester Young performance that it was “bad,” that Lester played with a “cardboard tone.”  He was entitled to feel this way, but I prize those Lester Young recordings, and am happy that this critic was not in a position of imperial power where he could have had the masters destroyed.  That music remains long after the critic’s response has been forgotten.

The crows may be performing a useful function while cawing.  That chorus of sound may say, “Someone dropped half a sandwich!  Let’s go, boys!”  Or their sound may mean, “Watch out!  Hawk’s in town!”

If our criticisms are not equally useful, do they need to be expressed in print?

And who knows who is criticizing You while You are unaware?

Peace, brothers and sisters.

May your happiness increase.

“SQUEEZE AND RELEASE,” or “THE MAL SHARPE SHOWCASE”: ANOTHER SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO with MAL SHARPE, DWAYNE RAMSEY, CLINT BAKER, SI PERKOFF, PAUL SMITH, and CARMEN CANSINO (Dec. 23. 2012)

I don’t quite remember how we found out about Mal Sharpe’s regular sessions (his Big Money in Jazz Band) at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (Sunday), the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach (Saturday), and Armando’s in Martinez (one Thursday a month), but these anything-can-happen festivities have been a continuing pleasure.

Mal is not only an engaging trombonist / singer; he also enjoys the possibilities of improvising in front of — and with — an audience.  So at the same time the Beloved and I have enjoyed the down-home sounds, we’ve also been delighted by the chances Mal takes . . . quizzing the audience, muttering philosophically just loud enough to be heard, having a good time.  And Mal surrounds himself with some of the best musicians, who drive the band and provide subtle moments for an attentive crowd.

My title — somewhat mysterious in itself, perhaps — can be untangled or interpreted for readers too impatient to watch all the videos at the start of SUNNY SIDE below.

Here are five slices-of-life from December 23, courtesy of Mal, Clint Baker, trumpet; Paul Smith, string bass; Dwayne Ramsey, reeds; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, piano.

Mal becomes more anatomical than we might expect on his vocal rendition of ROSETTA:

IF I HAD YOU (with the bridge given over to Carmen, our heroine):

Clint stomps off SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET at the 1938 Louis-Fats jam session tempo:

Need spiritual counseling?  The Reverend Dwayne lays it out for us with soul on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

And I know they heard this musical trilogy all the way over in Provincetown — I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE SONG IS ENDED / Closing Ceremonies:

Something different . . . unpredictable . . . hot jazz and hilarity intertwined.

May your happiness increase.

MEET ME AT THE CORNER OF SWING AND LOVE: DUKE HEITGER and DAN BLOCK PLAY RHYTHM BALLADS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 23, 2012)

Before the tempos in jazz became so severely divided into Very Fast and Less Fast, there was a beautiful land known as Medium Tempo — a Canaan of Swing.  In this land, there were infinite shadings and subtleties, and one of the most rewarding emotional expressions was something called — by those who knew — the Rhythm Ballad.  It wasn’t BODY AND SOUL played at the speed of maple syrup and then double-timed; it was a slow medium with a real pulse, the best way to play love songs that the dancers could still move to.  Rhythm ballads are often neglected these days, but here are two very touching examples taken from the last session of the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua.  The rhythm section is Pete Siers, drums; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano . . . which for me would be enough delight.  But then we have two poets — Duke Heitger creating beautiful visions out of WHEN DAY IS DONE (a song of sweet longing for one who is missed), followed by Dan Block, building the most ethereal castles-in-the-air for PENTHOUSE SERENADE, which is subtitled WHEN WE’RE ALONE, and celebrates sweet intimacy — something that can’t be rushed, either.

I imagine — or I hope — that some readers of JAZZ LIVES will turn away from the computer and say, “Honey?  Come over here right now.  Put down that screwdriver / iPhone / spatula and let’s dance.”

This one’s for Louis and Johnny Hodges, for my Beloved, and for yours, too.

May your happiness increase.

CELEBRATE DAN MORGENSTERN’S 83rd BIRTHDAY AT BIRDLAND (Wednesday, October 24, 2012)

I know some people think birthday celebrations are silly.  The cake isn’t good for us; HAPPY BIRTHDAY is only eight bars long and most musicians feel trapped when it’s requested.  And some of us feel, “Gee, I’m too old for a paper hat and . . . where will they put all those candles?”

But I think that birthdays are a good thing.  The Beloved had one recently, and it was very sweet.  And — after all — isn’t it just our way of saying, “We are SO glad you are here?”  Who could argue with those sentiments?

So I want to let everyone know that this coming Wednesday, David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be celebrating Dan Morgenstern’s eighty-third birthday in the best way . . . by playing hot jazz for him at Birdland from 5:30 to 7:15 PM.  

The participants?  Bria Skonberg, trumpet (and no doubt vocals); Dan Block, clarinet and alto sax; Jim Fryer, trombone (ditto the above); James Chirillo, banjo; David Ostwald, tuba and commentary; Marion Felder, drums.  And I’ll bet a blue-label sunburst Decca of THANKS A MILLION that there will be other musicians in the house who want to make their love for Dan public and resonant.

If you have to ask who Dan Morgenstern is, I don’t think you’ve been taking careful notes: scholar, lover of all sorts of good music, archivist, writer . . . and friend of the best.  His liner notes educated so many of us and pointed us in the right directions, and he keeps on keeping on.

Birdland is at 315 West 44th Street and my guess is that the room will be full — so call 212.581.3080 to make sure there’s a place for you.  

I can’t be there (I will be at Kennedy Airport, boarding the plane to Newcastle, UK, for the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — Marcia Salter will stand in for me!) but perhaps one or two of my readers could come up to Dan and say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me.”  That would be a great treat.  (Or, if you don’t like that one, just tell him, “I found out about Hot Lips Page because of you.”)

And — what’s a birthday without a present?  Spare Dan the socks or the cufflinks.  Just send him our love.  And this:

May your happiness increase.

GET HAPPY?

Over breakfast, the Beloved and I were talking about worry.  Everyone knows in some logical way that worry is useless and destructive, but most people have a hard time asking our anxieties to take a nap.

You can read her moving ruminations on the subject here

As is my habit, my thoughts drifted to music . . . and I started telling her about the paradoxical phenomenon I associate with 1931-33: delightful songs where the singer cheerfully tells the audience that WE’RE OUT OF THE RED, WE’RE IN THE MONEY, HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, and so on.  The title of this post — with no question mark — is a Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler exhortation.

“Better times are coming . . . now and then,” said philosopher Josh Billings, musing over his suitcase and whiskbrooms.

Then, there’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, whose lyrics still make a good deal of emotional sense (although the verse and the chorus seem to have come from two different songs):

and the more manic (or is it simply Ted Lewis’ delivery) DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE — where Benny Goodman and Muggsy Spanier embody optimism without speaking a word:

and the songs that silently say, “We have no place to go and no money, so let’s tell ourselves it’s fine and perhaps it will be,” such as LET’S SPEND AN EVENING AT HOME and the older SLEEPY TIME GAL, where the singer tells his partner that it would be so delightful to forgo “cabaretting” and staying out late in favor of domesticity.  KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE — because, as the subtitle tells us, TROUBLE’S A BUBBLE.

Or the culinary versions of this sentiment: A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH, AND YOU, and LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.

My question — unanswerable although enticing — is whether these songs made a difference or they were lies manufactured by people in the Brill Building who knew that writing about imaginary prosperity could make them fifty dollars.  Were these songs the musical version of cheap gin, another effort to keep the peasants from overturning their apple carts and marching on the government with pitchforks and bricks?

From my vantage point in 2012 with breakfast consumed and the promise of a lunch, I can find these songs enchanting.  I can grin at RAISIN’ THE RENT and GET YOURSELF A NEW BROOM (AND SWEEP YOUR CARES AWAY) but I wonder how people who were hungry felt when they heard these Timely Tunes.  Did hearing BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? make anyone without coinage feel better?

May you all find that your troubles vanish when wrapped in dreams.

May your happiness increase.