Tag Archives: The Big 72

ATLANTA 2012: ED POLCER, DUKE HEITGER, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 21, 2012)

A set of hot music by Ed Polcer, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano, Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums. Recorded April 21, 2012 at the Atlanta Jazz Party.

Ageless music — even if the repertoire comes from 1917-1935, the energy, wit, and passion are unabated.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (for Louis and Papa Joe, Bix and his Gang, Condon and his boys, whether at the Park Lane, the Newport Jazz Festival, 47 West Third Street, or the New School):

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (in honor of Fats Waller, Danny Coots’ “Uncle Fred,” and the crew of THIS OLD HOUSE):

FIDGETY FEET (recalling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the Big 72 and all the bands worldwide in between):

May your happiness increase.

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BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

UKE AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC

 Let’s see.  How many jazz musicians / singers do you know who have performed and recorded with Norah Jones, Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective (and the Big 72), the Grove Street Stompers, Blue’s Clues, J.C. Hopkins, Willie Martinez, the Pre-War Ponies, and more? 

Let’s complicate matters.  Make this imaginary personage a singer, trombonist, ukulele virtuoso, composer . . . give up?

Why, it’s Mississippi-born J. Walter Hawkes, someone who raises the spirits of the band and the audience by just walking into the club.  I first heard JWH at the Cajun in late 2004 and have delighted in his playing and singing since then.   

I knew him primarily as a profoundly moving singer — someone who combined down-home openheartedness with urban subtlety (imagine someone with a Southern flavor — sounding much like a local boy singing with the band, if that local boy knew all about Bing and Hot Lips Page and Buddy Holly).  JWH believes what he sings, without any overlay of dramatization: his phrasing comes from the heart.  (I was thrilled to be able to capture his slow, innocent-lascivious ROSE ROOM on video.) 

And then he picked up his trombone, once again melding the two Greens, Bennie and Big, playing with force and delicacy, bringing hip harmonies into a traditional ensemble.

I’d never had the good luck to hear him show off his ukulele talents on a gig (although I’d seen him do this on YouTube) but JWH is now out in the open for all of us who haven’t yet had the pleasure — he’s recorded and released his first CD as a leader, something we’ve been waiting for.  It comes in a brown wrapper — a recycled cardboard sleeve — but there’s nothing low-budget or ordinary about the music within. 

And, yes, it is an indication of JWH’s sense of humor that it’s called UKE AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC.  The songs are COQUETTE / IF I LOVE AGAIN (taken at a rocking tempo) / UNDERNEATH A BROOKLYN MOON (a pretty original by J.C. Hopkins) / YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC / SAY IT SIMPLE / BUY ME A BEER, MR. SHANE (not too difficult to unravel) / SUNDAY SUIT (THE GAY 90’s) / WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR (AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY) / CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES.  JWH plays trombone, ukulele, and sings; the fine bassist Doug Largent adds his melodic self (and “Vectrex Dreams,” whatever it or they might be), and Andy Burns is heard on drums and vocals.  “Skullduggery,” too.  It’s a wonderfully rewarding disc — varied, heartfelt, comic, and tender.  You can buy it direct from JWH on a gig (the best way, I think) for $12 or a cassette for $7. 

JWH’s gig schedule: http://www.blatboy.blogspot.com/

Or to purchase the CD from his site, visit http://www.blatomaster.com/music.php.

I admire JWH and his work, if that isn’t made clear above — and I was eager to hear this disc.  But I’ve been playing it over and over: good music to drive to work by, fine in headphones . . . an all-purpose musical offering.  And there are clever overdubs, changes of mood — it’s a well-planned disc, so when it ends, you’ll say, “Give me more!”

Need proof?  Here are JWH and Doug (with drummer Russ Meissner) performing the title tune live in May 2010:

THEY CALL IT MUSIC: “THE BIG 72” (March 19, 2010)

Last night I went to another of Kevin Dorn’s late-Friday evening gigs at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South).  The band, “The Big 72,” plays from 10:30 to 2:30.  Staying for all four sets would require a preparatory nap, something I’ve never managed to do — but I was so delighted with the music that I stayed for two sets rather than my customary one.  You’ll see why. 

Like his hero Eddie Condon, Kevin likes to employ his friends for gigs (you’d be surprised at the rancor floating around the bandstand on some gigs — not Kevin’s) and he had a particularly congenial crew of individualists last night. 

For lyricism, there’s the always-surprising Charlie Caranicas on cornet, who has a singing tone and many nimble approaches, not just one.  The clarinet master (and occasional singer) Pete Martinez was in splendid form, murmuring in his lower register or letting himself go with whoops and Ed Hall-shrieks.  I’d heard Adrian Cunningham only on clarinet before (at The Ear Inn and Sweet Rhythm): it was a revelation to hear him on alto, where he showed raucous rhythm-and-blues tendencies, bending notes in the manner of Pete Brown.  In the background, Michael Bank took tidy, swinging solos and offered just the right chords behind soloists.  He deserves a better piano, but he added so much.  Kelly Friesen, hero of a thousand bands, pushed the beat but never raced the time, and his woody sound cut through the Garage’s constant aural ruckus.  And Kevin — well, he was in his element, letting the music take its own path without getting in its way by “leading.”  His solos were delicious sound-structures, full of variety and propulsion, but I found myself listening even more to his accompaniments: the sound of a stick on a half-closed hi-hat cymbal, the steady heartbeat of his bass drum, the tap of his stick on the hi-hat stem.

Here are ten performances I recorded.  At first the Garage’s patrons were unusually chatty and ambulatory (or should I say Talky and Walky?)  but many of them noticed that me and my video camera.  Surprisingly, they executed sweet arabesques of ducking down and getting small so they wouldn’t walk in front of my lens.  Thank you! 

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, a pop tune beloved by late-Twenties jazz players (I think of Teagarden and Condon among them):

A devoted, serious reading of SUGAR by Pete Martinez:

If Louis Armstrong didn’t invent THEM THERE EYES, he certainly owned this bright, silly song (until Billie Holiday came and reinvented it for everyone):

That probing, perhaps unanswered question (before Charles Ives), HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, played as a Wettling-Davison romp rather than a lament:

MY GAL SAL (whose title musicians happily corrupted into “They called her Syphillis Sal”):

Homage to Bix Beiderbecke — here’s JAZZ ME BLUES:

IDA (Sweet As Apple Cider) is forever associated in my memory with Pee Wee Russell, whose choruses were always unusual in the best way:

BALLIN’ THE JACK, an eternally popular “here’s how to do this new dance” song:

Finally, BLUES MY NAAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, recollecting JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S:

The Big 72 calls what they play music.  Or what would you suggest?

RINGSIDE AT KEVIN’S: Feb. 5, 2010

My readers will catch the reference in the title to one of the great recordings of the early LP era (some might say one of the great recordings of all time) RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S, a collection of live performances by Eddie Condon’s 1951-52 band at the club named for him.  The music is precise but utterly spirited, a collection of great idiosyncratic soloists forming a cohesive ensemble unit.

Drummer Kevin Dorn doesn’t have his own club, and he probably wouldn’t want one — but the music he and his band, THE BIG 72, played last night at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, New York City) evoked the Condon band of the Fifties in the best way.  Not as a repertory exercise (although listeners with long memories might hear a respectful nod to a famous recording here or there during the set) but as a Condon-inspired exercise: hire the best players, let them have space to blow on good, sometimes less-heard songs, and enjoy the jazz.

The crowd did.  (As an aside, I have to say that The Garage has the most mobile — or perhaps fidgety? — audience I’ve ever seen in a club: an apparently steady stream of people who had come in for a drink, a chat, or one song, entering and leaving.  Come and meet / those tramping feet — about two miles south of Forty-Second Street).  Hear a woman in the audience, who had been dancing wildly to the music, shout out “We love you!” before the band sails into HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And that band.  Kevin, summoning up the driving energy of Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, George Wettling — while listening to and supporting the band, varying his sound as the music demands.  Bassist Kelly Friesen, a rhythmic rock, whether walking the chords, slapping, or even bowing the bass — he cut through the chatter and lifted everyone up.  Jesse Gelber at the piano, talking to it as a man inspired, grinning enthusiastically at the keyboard.  Trumpeter and sometime vocalist Simon Wettenhall, fervent and animated but subtle, turning curves like a race-car driver.  Michael Hashim, mixing a gentle Hodges-approach with a violent rhythm-and-blues side, always enjoying himself.  And my hero of the night, clarinetist Pete Martinez, who was in full flower with his patented version of Ed Hall’s inspired rasp in his tone.  And, in the fashion of the great informal aggregations of jazz, each of them is a particularly stubborn (although mild-mannered in person) individualist who keeps his identity safe while playing for the glory of the ensemble.  What a band they are!

People in the know are accustomed to seeing and hearing this aggregation under the heading of the TRADITIONAL JAZZ COLLECTIVE.  Kevin and colleagues have taken on a new name, somewhat mysterious — THE BIG 72.  To find out what it means, you’ll have to ask Kevin at a gig. 

Here they are on Friday, February 5. 2010:

Paying homage to Bix Beiderbecke (and to Condon’s BIXIELAND sessions) they began with a quick I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE, capped by Simon’s derby-muted improvisation on Bix’s recorded solo:

Then, perhaps in tribute to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wherever, who formed the mass of the audience, they launched into a rocking FIDGETY FEET:

The aforementioned question (sometimes unanswerable) that reminded me of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

Another Bix-inspired homage, although he never knew the song, composed later by Hoagy Carmichael: SKYLARK, with a rough-toned but convincing vocal by Simon:

And finally, in honor of Mr. Hall and perhaps Oran “Hot Lips” Page, here’s THE SHEIK OF ARABY, complete with verse:

I had a wonderful time listening to this band.  And — don’t keep it a secret — they have a steady gig at the Garage, late night sessions two Fridays every month.  You should see what they’re like live: I plan to!