Tag Archives: the blues

POSTCARDS FROM JOEL (FIRST SERIES): Cafe Loup, NYC, June 3, 2017

I hope that the imposing but warm figure in the portrait below is becoming known to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  That’s Joel Forrester, pianist / composer / arranger / bandleader / occasional vocalist.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

I’ve been making regular pilgrimages to Forrester-shrines (find out for yourself here): most regularly his Saturday-afternoon performance at Cafe Loup on Thirteenth Street near Sixth Avenue, 12:30 – 3:30.  That place has the friendly coziness (and none of the dust and clutter) of my living room — thanks to Byron and Sally, thanks to the careful people in the kitchen, and thanks to Joel.

In between sets, sometimes Joel and I talk about people, and music, and literature . . . which might have made me — not all that whimsically — characterize each performance of his as a wordless short story.  He is a writer, by the way.  But that metaphor came to seem a little too pretentious for me, and on the way home from this Saturday afternoon’s recital-with-friends, I thought, “Postcards.  That’s it.”  It has occurred to me more than once that Joel starts out on a journey of his own each time he begins to play, whether the material is his or not, and thus I could see individual improvisations as brightly-colored souvenirs from the Land of Boogie-Woogie, the visit to the Country of Cheesy Fifties Pop Tunes that have real music embedded in them, Joel and Mary’s visit to Paris, his homage to Fate Marable’s riverboat music as heard by Meade Lux Lewis, and so on.

I offer five more such delights from Joel’s recital of June 3, at Cafe Loup.

A lightly swinging blues, SWEET AMNESIA:

Soundtrack music for a short film about improvised dance, LUNACY:

Proper Kerning, CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

A visit to Fats Domino, I WANT TO WALK YOU HOME:

Gershwin and W.C. Handy play gin rummy, SUMMERTIME:

I encourage the musically-minded to come visit Joel at Cafe Loup, but something quite rare and unusual is happening later this week: the Joel Forrester Five is playing a one-hour gig on Thursday, June 29 — from 6-7 PM at The Shrine (2271 Seventh Avenue between West 133 and 134th Streets.  The Five is (are?) Joel, piano, compositions; Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; David Hofstra, string bass; Matthew Garrity, drums.  (It’s the 2 or 3 train to 135th Street.) I’ve never heard this band before, and I look forward to this gig.

May your happiness increase!

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THE SECOND SET: MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Here is the first set (and what I wrote about Joel) of that glorious afternoon.

And now, as the night follows the day or some equivalent, is the second.  Joel at his poetic unpredictable best.  Each piece feels like a short story, and the whimsical titles add to the effect.

BUNNY BOY (a Blues Frolick for the Afternoon):

NIGHT AND DAY (for Mr. Porter of Peru, Iowa, a rendition that seems built from the rhythmic surge up to the spare melody):

MILDEW LIZA (as explained by the composer, also an adept Joycean):

AMAZING GRACE:

TWICE AROUND:

ON MARY’S BIRTHDAY (Joel’s most recent composition as of that afternoon, a rhythmic celebration of his wife’s natal day):

A beautifully somber reading of GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Having heard several performances of Joel’s INDUSTRIAL ARTS, excerpts and improvisations on sections of this piece, which he has been known to perform for eight hours, I asked him to write something about it, because the piece so stands out — in its incantatory splendor — in what I think of as his oeuvre.  Joel writes: I’ve been improvising on it since l974, my first year in New York. When I’m feeling emotionally generous, I give my wife Mary co-composer credit: the music has its genesis in our weekly Saturday mornings at Washington Square Church. I’d improvise at the piano while watching her dance; she feels time in a deeper way than any dancer I’ve ever seen. This would go on for several hours (we were quite young). Then we’d wax ‘n’ buff the floor. The music grew, its interlocking rhythms calling out weird overtones I would learn to embrace if never truly to corral. In its entirety, INDUSTRIAL ARTS occupies 8 hours. I’ve only played it straight-through once: at The Kitchen in l977. I’ve always striven to play a precis of the tune on my solo gigs, borrowing ideas from the 8 one-hour sections. At least 11 times, over the years, I’ve either been warned, fired, or not asked back…all on account of this one, highly-repetitive tune. The most humorous instance of this took place in 1980 at a Bowery art bar called Sebossek’s. I was only five minutes into INDUSTRIAL ARTS when the Israeli cook burst out of the kitchen with blood in her eyes and a sizzling pan in her hand. What she wanted to do was to show me that she had burned herself, thanks to my music. But, of course, what I saw was a furious woman holding a frying pan. For my sins, I admit that I cowered under the piano. …Over the last five years, all that has changed—who can tell me why? Have listeners become inured to repetitive music, if presented in different forms from mine? Short attention spans promoting selective deafness? In any case, a 10- or 15-minute version of INDUSTRIAL ARTS has become part of my standard repertoire; and I seem to be getting away with it. And longer “concert” versions are sometimes called for. Who knew?

INDUSTRIAL ARTS:

YOUR LITTLE DOG (exceedingly tender, my new favorite):

ANYTHING GOES (its opening measures truncated because of videographer-error, but there’s still enough Romp left to see by):

As I write these words, Joel has a steady Saturday afternoon gig (12:30 to 3:30) at Cafe Loup (135 West 13th Street at Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City) and June is an extraordinarily rich month for Forrester-sightings, so check them out http://joelforrester.com/calendar/.

May your happiness increase!

MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO, PART ONE (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

As I’ve written recently, here, pianist-composer Joel Forrester creates music — tender, sensuous, surprising — always rewarding, never pre-cooked.  I’ve been delighting in his recorded work for a decade now, but haven’t stirred myself to see him perform in a long time.  But I did just that last Saturday, May 27, 2017, at his solo recital (12:30 – 3:30) at Cafe Loup , 105 W 13th St, New York (very close to the #1 train), (212) 255-4746. (And at the risk of sounding like a Yelp review, service — thank you, Byron! — was solicitous, and the food was fresh and nicely presented.)

The musical experiences Joel offered that afternoon were, to me, deeper than simple music.  It felt as if he was a repertory company: each performance seemed its own small world — balancing on its own axis — and then gave way to the next.  A gritty blues was followed by a romantic lament, then a rollicking saunter through an unknown landscape, then a dance from a traveling carnival . . . as you will hear for yourself.

Joel is always balancing strong rhythms and subtle melodies, creating his own shapes and changing those created by others.  The range of his inspirations is amazingly broad: in the course of the afternoon’s recital for an admiring audience, he evoked and improvised on the blues and boogie woogie, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Meade Lux Lewis, James Joyce, hymns, the Beatles, and Sam Cooke.

STAGGER JOEL (his variations on an ancient folk blues with a similar name):

GG’S BLUES (paying affectionate tribute to Gershwin’s RHAPSODY):

IN THE RING (a bubbling dance):

BILLIE’S SOLITUDE (for Lady Day and Duke):

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY (FOR THE MOMENT) (musing on Parisian weather):

CARAVAN (Juan Tizol reminding us that the journey, not the destination, matters):

WHITE BLUES (a title explained by Joel, as prelude):

SKIRMISH (with variant titles explained by the composer):

YOU SEND ME (Forrester meets Sam Cooke):

BACK IN BED (implicitly a paean to domestic bliss):

FATE (half-heard melodies care of Meade Lux Lewis):

There’s more to come from this afternoon at Cafe Loup, and more from Joel in his many guises, all restorative.  He has many and various gigs: visit here.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

RAY SKJELBRED AND THE BLUES (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

skjelbred-at-piano

There might be other, very attractive galaxies and universes, but as far as I can tell, none of them has Ray Skjelbred . . . which is a very good argument for ours. It’s a true critical cliche to say of an artist that (s)he is “a poet,” but in Ray’s case this is true in several interlocking ways.  He is not simply someone who tosses off a poem now and again: he is a poet.  Here are two of his poems (three books of his poetry are available here.)

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

*********************************************************************
Magic Show

You see him sawing a woman in half
and you know it’s real,
but how did he get her to keep smiling,
when he wheeled her head to one side of the stage
and her legs to the other?
That’s the trick, really,
and it’s a very old one.

Well, she needed a job,
people said she was pretty,
and she was willing to travel, somewhat.

Most of all she learned to stay silent,
never say how much it hurt.

******************************************************************

What makes those poems so quietly resonant?  Oh, their casual language that conveys deep feeling in sly ways; the way they ask us to look at what we think we already know as if we’d never seen it before; the way they go straight to our emotions without ever tugging at our clothing.  There is no self-conscious poeticizing about them, but they hit solidly without raising their volume.

I feel the same tendencies working through Ray’s piano playing. We know he is at the keyboard, but his reverence is for the song, its exoskeleton and internal turmoils, the possibility it offers for waywardness inside its established form. He is genuinely playing, with courage and ardor.
joe-sullivan-gin-mill-blues-honey

Here is his recent solo performance of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES from the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  He knows it by heart but he’s also so thoroughly internalized both Joe and the song itself that he’s free to revere it but also — a Huck Finn of Chicago Hot — free to leave his socks and shoes on the bank and wade in it, joyously and cautiously at once — having a good time and sharing his pleasures so generously with us:

O rare Ray Skjelbred — who looks and sees and embodies.

May your happiness increase!

TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE TROOPS: BLUES AT V-DISC (MARCH 12,1944)

EDDIE CONDON V-DISC CD

It’s possible you have never heard this nine-minute treasure before, and its intended audience did not either.  Recorded for V-Disc on March 12, 1944, it is one of Eddie Condon’s IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES — that is, a blues with surprises — a concert finale reproduced most happily in a recording studio.  I don’t know whether it was a collaboration between Eddie and recording supervisor George T. Simon, but the pairing is memorable.  The basic personnel is a “Condon group”: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; George Lugg, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano; Pops Foster, bass; Kansas Fields, drums.  The delightful guests are James P. Johnson, piano; Ed Hall, clarinet, Jimmy Rushing, vocal.

(The picture above is of the CD issue of these V-Disc sides, which can be found online if one is willing to search for a minute or two.)

A very similar band had played (and they had been recorded) at Town Hall the day before, with the results also issued on an out-of-print CD, so there is some connection: I don’t know whether the V-Disc sides, which can be slightly wayward, were recorded after midnight the next day.

However.  I post this not only because I delight in the music, and because many JAZZ LIVES readers will find it new, but it is also my quiet rebuke to those who can’t tolerate stylistic encroachment of any kind.  You know: this isn’t “authentic,” it’s not “jazz,” but it’s been corrupted by “swing” — the people who divide the music into schools.  Pops Foster?  He’s a New Orleans bassist.  James P. Johnson?  A Harlem stride pianist.  Jimmy Rushing?  A Kansas City blues shouter.  But the musicians had no interest in such restrictive labeling.  And I am uncomfortable with the notion of Eddie as an intent political activist specializing in racial equality.  These were guys who could play, and that was all.  The results are precious.

May your happiness increase!