The song is CHINA BOY and I believe the next words of the chorus are GO SLEEP, but you couldn’t find a finer example of being brilliantly awake than this performance.
These five musicians are billed as RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS, with Ray at the piano, the occasional vocal, arrangements and spiritual-ethical leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. (Study Hamilton’s melodic accompaniment and solo!)
This performance comes from the Sacramento Music Festival (although I may have the rapidly-changing name wrong) in a delightfully compact room on May 24, 2014:
That is compelling evidence of the magnificence of this little band: hot and delicate all at once, plunging forward with the greatest relaxation. I hope our paths intersect before too long.
In 2014, I had the serious luxury of encountering Ray in a variety of settings at a number of festivals and gigs: I look back on those days and those sounds with wonder — both that they occurred and that I was able to witness them and capture them.
While I was sauntering through my archive of unreleased performances by Ray and friends, I found something unusual — although not unusual for those of us who honor and follow him, those of us who have seen him at jazz festivals, moving from one venue to another, becoming friends with each new piano, taking its pulse by playing it, meditatively yet with strong emotions. During the Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, I knew his meditative ways well enough to turn my camera on him before he became part of the ensemble — Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, in red polo shirts. And I was rewarded.
Ray told me, “The piano interlude is sort of what I like to do as I adjust to a new piano and setting.” I’ve heard him explore rare Ellington, a Monk blues, Thirties pop songs, and more. I hear the laandmarks of a characteristic blues strain and Bud Freeman’s AFTER AWHILE.
But the interlude so strongly made me think of someone who probably spent no time at the keyboard and who died long before Jess Stacy was born . . . I mean Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in SELF-RELIANCE, the source of these lines: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.“
Yes, perfect sweetness, mixed with Chicago grit and California musing. Thank you, Cubs. Thank you, Ray.
The singular musician and personality Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page was born today, January 27, in 1908. Alas, he moved to another neighborhood on November 5, 1954. Happily, he left behind a good deal of evidence: soaring heroic trumpet solos, wonderful vocals. He remains an inspiring presence who comes through whole on record. I don’t ordinarily celebrate birthdays on JAZZ LIVES, but he deserves to be remembered and celebrated.
Here’s Lips — leading the way as only he could — at a concert on February 22, 1947, at the Caravan Hall at 110 East 59th Street in New York City, with Charlie Castaldo, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Charlie Minogue, drums. Beautifully recorded as well:
Music from three of these Caravan Hall concerts has been issued on Jazzology Records (including performances by Bunk Johnson, Muggsy Spanier, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Baby Dodds, and others). The CD notes do not explain what saintly benefactor(s) recorded the concerts, but apparently the evenings were structured as friendly battles between two groups of musicians: established African-Americans, often from New Orleans, and a band of young Caucasians, some of whom went on to be famous, others remaining obscure — Castaldo, who worked with Goodman and Shaw . . .was he Lee Castle’s brother? and Minogue here).
I think that’s a mighty helping — and accurate depiction — of the energies Lips Page brought to music and to performance.
What follows is in celebration not only of Lips, but of Dr. Scott E. Brown, the James P. Johnson scholar. The second edition of his JAMES P. JOHNSON: A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is something I eagerly look forward to.
Unlike the eight minutes above, what follows is silent, static, tantalizing (made available by the resourceful Jean-Marie Juif):
That’s a CBS television camera; the three stylishly-dressed men are Lips; Zutty Singleton, drums; James P. Johnson, piano. This is a less-reproduced photograph from the same occasion: one that is currently eluding me shows Lips playing, his body bent over Zutty’s drum kit, if memory is accurate.
Jean-Marie also opened the door to new information. There were two television shows — not preserved — by what Getty Images calls “Eddie Condons Jazzopators,” a name that would have made Eddie recoil and then lie down in his version of a Victorian swoon. CBS broadcast a variety show, MEN AT WORK, and Eddie Condon brought a band twice: these photographs are from April 16, 1942; the second show was May 14. Here‘s the sketchy IMDb link, and heretells who appeared on almost all of the sixteen episodes. Of greatest interest to us would be the appearance of “jazz harpist Adele Girard” on October 20, 1941, on a show that also included Professor Nelson’s Boxing Cats.
This description comes from tvobscurities.comand I take it as reasonably accurate, even though it makes no mention of Eddie and calls Robert Alda a “comic”: Beginning July 7th, 1941, WCBW broadcast an hour-long variety show called Men at Work every Monday from 8:30-9:30PM (starting with the December 22nd, 1941 broadcast, the show was cut down to 55 minutes; a five-minute news program was shown from 9:25-9:30PM).
Worthington Minor, the CBS director-in-chief of television, was in charge of Men at Work. Each program took two hours to rehearse and practice. During any given show, viewers might watch singers, dancers, bicyclists, acrobats, roller skaters, mimics, comics, toe dancers, boxing cats, puppeteers, marionettes, Indian dancers, ballroom dancers, comic cellists and more.
Some of the acts seen on the program included Lou and Dorothy Rowlands (roller skaters), Hildegarde Halliday (mimic), the Two Deweys (jugglers), Hank Henry and Robert Alda (comics), Ruth Page and Bentley Stone (dancers), Burl Ives (singer), Reid and Mack (acrobats) and Libby and Betty (bicyclists), to name but a few. Men at Work was last seen on Monday, January 26th, 1942, after thirty broadcasts.
No kinescopes of the Condon episodes [characteristically racially integrated] survive, and so far no home-recordings of the audio portion. However, my explorations of Getty Images this morning yielded jewels.
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton:
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums;Joe Sullivan on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Eddie, Billy Taylor, Sr., and Pee Wee Russell:
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Eddie Condon on guitar; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Zutty, Eddie, Joe, Billy, Pee Wee, Bennie Morton, Max Kaminsky:
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums; Eddie Condon on guitar; Joe Sullivan on piano; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Benny Morton, trombone; Max Kaminsky, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Max and Bennie have changed places, but the same band:
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Television debut of all-star jazz band on CBS Eddie Condon on guitar, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and other jazz greats. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
That trio again!
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
With Eddie, half-hidden, at right:
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano and Eddie Condon on guitar. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
If you’re like me, these photographs may evoke emotions somewhere between sorrow and frustration, expressed briefly as “Why weren’t these programs recorded?” I offer these speculations. One, CBS had enough to do with sending these programs out “over the air.” The number of people who had home television sets was small — beneath “small.” Perhaps you could see one in the window of what would eventually be called an electronic store. I am doubtful that bars had televisions in 1942.
Preservation of broadcast material — as in radio — was not seen as crucial, for this was entertainment and thus perceived as ephemeral. For us, now, the idea of hearing more of James P. Johnson is a wonderful fantasy. If you lived in New York City then, however, you might be able to hear him five or six nights a week in Greenqich Village; Eddie and his friends were at Town Hall or Nick’s. So there was no scarcity: if you missed hearing Lips Page on Wednesday, you could always hear him on Friday.
At least we know MEN AT WORK happened and we can see flashes of it.
This just in (Feb. 7) thanks to good friend / deep researcher David J. Weiner:
The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement. One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.
Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:
CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020
Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.
Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional. He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.
So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now. I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing. Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls. I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.
I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall. It was loud. When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action. I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.
The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall. I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume. The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left. As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away. I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance. I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.
But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again. These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy. (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)
47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:
CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:
FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:
INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:
As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there. I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes. It’s never too early to anticipate joys.
Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.
One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more. The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental. Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs. (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)
But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.
In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams. I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972. (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.) The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.
In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it. So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music. There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.
Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES. I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.
The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines. (How DO they age so well?) For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek. Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord. I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:
“They called him a shouter.” Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage. In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice. But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful. Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:
Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938. Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert. I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):
Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.
Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:
It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:
In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us. (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)
But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.
These posts require a good deal of research. For instance, in the first song performed by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (March 7, 2020), Big Joe Turner’s CHERRY RED, the lyrics refer to “your Hollywood bed,” and I had to find out what variety of bed that was.
The general consensus is that it is a bed frame with low legs, a box spring, a mattress, no footboard but with an upholstered or elaborate headboard. Hence:
In other versions of CHERRY RED, Big Joe sings “your big brass bed,” but Sonny wisely chose an ornate headboard for this performance:
Those lyrics describe pleasure, regularly offered and enjoyed: in fact, the erotic bliss is such that the singer’s athletic female partner raises his blood pressure to possibly dangerous levels, but it’s worth it. “Eagle rock me, baby.”
IF I HAD MY WAY (in an instrumental version) made famous once again by Bing Crosby, was written in 1913 by James Kendis (music) and Lou Klein (words). The lyrics, suitable for that year, are chaste and respectful: the singer wants to treat his darling with reverence befitting a queen. I can’t say that this 2020 version is at all reverent, but it surely rocks just as vigorously as the carnality of CHERRY RED:
And to keep everything in balance — Dionysiac eroticism and Apollonian good behavior, here’s a boogie-woogie jam with no name and no theme: Sonny announces it as NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS, which I like tremendously:
More to come from this wonderful little band that does everything so well. It seems ages ago that I was in this little room, in the front row, camera and notebook, enjoying every thirty-second note. Gratitude to you, Sonny, Lakshmi, Jeff, and Jacob, for so generously giving of yourselves.
To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation. But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug. When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang. And hugging? Unendurable.
But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.
THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece. When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive. I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn. And it makes me think of other improvisations that march. OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground. He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.” INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?
This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it. The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar. It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019. Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.
May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden. Until then:
More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.
This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds. I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN. (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)
SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years. Note the more accurate composer credits!
But two postscripts. I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference. I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.” But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were. And certainly an explicit exclamation point. So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years. Perhaps a security guard at the mall.
The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading. Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious. Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent. But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent. Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog. But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again. And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.
The place where it all happened, and we are hopeful these joys will come again. Thanks to Mike Zielenewski, Christine Santelli, and Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, blues and jazz had a cozy nest here.
These days, I find myself moaning and growling more than usual, and I think I am not unique. So here is moral musical empathic support.
The blues — Victoria Spivey’s DETROIT MOAN — in living color, rendered with great conviction by Mara Kaye; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and mutabilities; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, on October 24, 2019.
I hope you don’t find Mara’s line “I can’t eat beans no more,” that culinary lamentation, too personally relevant.
And if you are not Facebook-averse or -phobic, visit Mara’s site: she and guitarist Tim “Snack” McNalley have been holding at-home-West-Coast-Saturday-recitals that I know you will enjoy. A sample, here.
Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.
I’m not a practitioner of homeopathy, although I have used some of its remedies with success. But I do know that a basic principle is “like cures like”: you suffer from too much heat, you take in a remedy that increases the heat. Bear with me.
Doctor Hamilton. “May I see your insurance card?”
In gloomy times like this, my first impulse is to share the most effervescent music I can find, and I suppose that might work for some listeners. But today I am taking a homeopathic approach: offer you some gloomy groovy sounds — and please do wait for the musical punchline!
Doctor Zimmerman. Take as needed.
These four eminent medical professionals got together for a consult on Saturday, March 7, under the auspices of the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California: Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal, and moral enlightenment; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass and mood-enhancement; Jeff Hamilton, drums and philosophical commentary; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and spiritual journeys. Under Doctor Leyland’s guidance, they performed a Dark Sonata in Bb, otherwise known as the Empty Room Blues, recorded by Memphis Slim in late 1940:
I don’t know why this makes me feel better. It would make me uncomfortable to think it was Schadenfreude — “Hey, someone’s got it worse and that’s wonderful!” — but perhaps it is the immense joy of hearing these artists bring such light-hearted expertise to a dark text. And the punchline makes me laugh.
I hope you feel better, too. Don’t hesitate to call the office if symptoms recur.May your happiness increase!
Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:
there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:
Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.
Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.
I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:
WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:
YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Now, even more good news. Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen. “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says. And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers. All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays. The HOT CLUB, you know.
And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.
It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.
Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.
New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices. But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.
There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club. Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show. And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.
Now . . . .
and another view:
LIVE MUSIC for sure. And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.
But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.
BLACK SHEEP BLUES:
For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:
Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:
“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:
I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th. It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive. So . . . see you there!
A corner in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood: Google says it is “18th and Racine”:
then, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer Andy Schumm:
then, some music that ties the two together: a performance of Andy’s own “18th and Racine” on September 13, 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, with Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malachi:
That’s an admirable piece of music, which nobody can deny. The players are dressed in adult business attire, but they are neither stiff nor constrained; in fact, there’s a bit of unscripted comic repartee before they start to play.
I have been digging through my archives to find previously unknown performances from Jazz at Chautauqua, starting in 2011. This video, this performance, was hidden in plain sight: it had been given to the larger YouTube public for free six years and a month ago. I was dumbstruck to see that it had been viewed fewer than one hundred times. Was it dull? Was it “bad,” whatever that means? Had the Lone YouTube Disliker come out of the basement to award it his disapproval? No, none of those things.
I write this not because my feelings are hurt (Love me, love my videos, or the reverse) but because I don’t understand this lack of enthusiasm.
“Pop” music videos are viewed by millions, and the audience for “hot jazz,” “trad,” whatever you want to call it, is a crumb in the cosmic buffet.
But — follow me. Invent a band with a clever name. Let them sit in chairs on the street in the sunshine. Let them be a mix of young women and young men. Let them be emotive. Let there be a washboard. Perhaps one of the members is fashionably unshaven. There are shorts, there are legs, there are sandals, there are boots. No one wears a suit, because buskers have their own kind of chic, and it has nothing to do with Brooks Brothers. If the members know who Strayhorn and Mercer are, they keep such knowledge to themselves. They are very serious but they act as if they are raw, earthy, primitive. Someone sings a vaguely naughty blues.
Mind you, this is all invention.
But let a fan post a new video of this imaginary group and in four days, eleven thousand people scramble to it.
I understand that my taste is not your taste. And I know that anyone who privileges their taste (“I know what the real thing is. I like authentic jazz!”) is asking for an argument. But . . . .”Huh?” as I used to write on student essays when I couldn’t figure out what in the name of Cassino Simpson was going on.
Is this the triumph of sizzle over substance? Is the larger audience listening with their eyes, a group of people in love with bold colors in bold strokes? Is all art equally good because some people like it?
And if your impulse now is to reproach me, “Michael, you shouldn’t impose your taste on others,” I would remind you that imposition is not my goal and shouldn’t be yours, and that there is no schoolyard bully at your door threatening, “Like what you see on JAZZ LIVES or else, and gimme your lunch money!”
Everyone has an opinion. I spoke with an amiable fan at a jazz festival. I had been delighting in a singularly swinging and persuasive band, no one wearing funny clothes or making noises, and when I told her how much pleasure I was taking, she said, “That band would put me to sleep! I like (and she named a particularly loud and showy assemblage whose collective volume was never less than a roar). I replied, “Not for me,” and we parted, each of us thinking the other at best misguided. Or perhaps she thought me a New York snob, and I will leave the rest of the sentence unwritten. The imp of the perverse regrets now, perhaps six years later, that I didn’t ask in all innocence, “Do you like Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins?” and see what her reply was.
As the King says, “Is a puzzlement.”
Legal notice: no such band as described above exists, and any resemblance to a group of persons, real or imagined, is accidental. No one in the 2013 performance video asked me to write this post in their defense, and they may perhaps be embarrassed by it, for which I apologize. Any other questions should be directed to JAZZ LIVES Customer Service, to be found in the rear of our headquarters (look for the bright red cat door). Thank you.
Only a few days ago, I had my first immersion in the pleasures of Pismo — not the sunsets or the salt-water taffy, but the musical joys of the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea, which combines congenial people and seriously uplifting music.
What finally got me to Pismo (aside from the immense kindness of Linda and John Shorb and other helpful folks) was the chance to hear and see some friends and heroes in new combinations: Larry Scala, guitar; Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Marc Caparone and Danny Tobias, cornet and trumpet; Dave Caparone, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Danny Coots and Jim Lawlor, drums; Steve Pikal and Bill Bosch, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; the Au Brothers; and — new to me in person — the Shake ‘Em Up Band and Jeff Beaumont’s Creole Syncopators. She didn’t play an instrument, but I was also able to be dazzled by my Facebook friend Brettie Page.
But first on my list was “Larry, Dawn, and Friends,” a group that delighted me throughout the weekend. Readers will know how much I admire Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, and Danny Coots, but it was a pleasure to see Larry — with his nice mixture of the blues, Basie, and Charlie Christian — lead a small group. His long-time friend Bill Bosch also impressed me because Bill is a purist who plays without amplification and has a lovely sound.
Here are three highlights from the first set I caught. First, the rarely-played swing tune COQUETTE, yes, by Carmen Lombardo:
Dawn’s lovely version of the Gershwins’ THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME:
And a lightly swinging THAT OLD FEELING that has a truly feeling coda:
More to come! (I’ve already been invited back to Pismo for next year, and it took a long pause of several miliseconds for me to say “Yes!”)
I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to see, hear, and sometimes record pianist-composer-inventer Joel Forrester in this summer of 2018, because he and Mary will be in France for much of the next year, from September onward. If you take that as an undisguised suggestion to go to one of his gigs, none of us will mind.
JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner
Joel is a remarkable explorer: not only does he follow his own whimsies, giving himself over to them as they blossom in sonic air, but he also is curious about forms. He casually said at this gig (last Wednesday night at JULES(65 St. Marks Place) that one composition came about, decades earlier, when he was deciding to be a bebop pianist or a stride one. I think the two “styles” coexist nicely in him to this day. Here’s some evidence. And if “traditionally-minded” listeners can’t hear and enjoy his wholly loving heretical embraces, more’s the pity. Or pities.
Joel is also full of various comedies, and some of them come out in wordplay. So this tune, which makes me think of Chicago, 1933, is called THE SPERM OF THE MOMENT. Imagine that:
Celebrating a tender domestic return (as Joel explains), BACK IN BED:
NATURAL DISASTER, which happily does not live up to its title:
GONE TOMORROW, a meditation on the passage of time, which makes me think of 11:57 PM on my wristwatch:
SHELLEY GETS DOWN, complete with siren, in honor of singer Shelley Hirsch:
An entire tradition of improvised music passes through Joel while he is busily making it his own. We’d be poorer without him.
Dalton Ridenhouris a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things. And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there? Time to break into spontaneous applause!”
He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving. I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal. I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.
His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.
Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do. It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so. My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.
Here’s SEDALIA BLUES. Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.
I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.
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.
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):
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 inher 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?
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/.
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.
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.]
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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.