Tag Archives: The Cajun

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Five — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE CAJUN with SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV, BOB RINGWALD

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

For the moment, this is my final bowing-low in a series in honor of Eddy Davis (even though I have more music and words from December 26, 2019, to share).  I’ve devoted nearly a week of posts to him because of the intense emotional collision of grief and joy he brings forth in me and those who knew him and enjoyed his work.  His play, I should say.  I’ve been going backwards chronologically, and although I saw and enjoyed Eddy and “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” at The Cajun possibly very early in 2005, this 2006 session was the first time I brought a video camera there.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

Ordinarily, the band would have been Eddy; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Greg Cohen or Debbie Kennedy, string bass, with guests.  For this night — July 5, 2006 — it was Eddy, Scott, Conal, Dmitri Kolesnikov, string bass, Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxophones, with a guest appearance by Bob Ringwald, piano and vocal.

The camera I was then using recorded to mini-DVD discs, a particularly stubborn medium, so these videos stayed on the shelf until 2017, when I found that I could transfer and share them.  I asked Eddy if that was something he would like (he did) and then asked if he would write something about the gig:

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

SWING THAT MUSIC:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT? / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob Ringwald:

BLACK BEAUTY / SWEET MAMA (vocal Eddy) / THE CASTLE RENOVATED:

THE CASTLE, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

DAPHNE / MY FRIEND (vocal / composition by Conal) / TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE (Conal):

This band was — without exaggeration — a doctoral seminar in ensemble playing and collective momentum.  It was an honor to be there, and a greater honor to be able to share these videos with you.  And this was a complete evening at the Cajun, just under two hours of live performance.  It is as close as any of us will get to that deeply-remembered and now-departed experience.

Debbie Kennedy, the wonderful bassist, Eddy’s dear friend (I think she’d also call herself a student at the University of Davis) has written lovingly about Eddy, and I present her words here:

Eddy was one of the most amazing musicians I ever met in my entire life. SUCH a character with a fierce love of music. One of the best bandleaders I’ve ever played with. I just hope that his passing was painless and that his transition was smooth.

Apart from all the incredible happiness/joy that I experienced from playing with Eddy every Wednesday night at the “Cajun” restaurant from 2000 to 2006 in an extremely special band, I lucked out in 2008 and won a Greencard in the “Greencard Lottery.” Part of that process was that the immigration authorities needed a “Letter of Employment” showing that I would be earning a certain amount of money every year (even though I’d already been living in NYC for 10 years and earned enough to support myself comfortably, I guess they wanted to see that I would be self sufficient and not claim welfare).

Eddy very kindly wrote that Letter of Employment for me, stating that I was working with Woody Allen’s band (which was the truth – I had subbed frequently with the band starting October 2004, but I still wasn’t yet playing on a weekly basis when he wrote it). I strongly feel that his letter (especially with the name “Woody Allen”) clinched the decision for my Greencard to be granted.
Thank you Eddy!!

Then, eventually, he was kind enough to have me on the gig with Woody every week, starting a few years ago. It was actually Greg Cohen’s gig, but Greg moved to Berlin at a certain point around 2011 / 2012, so I did end up playing the gig on a weekly basis at that time, when Greg moved to Berlin.

This was an absolutely invaluable experience and was the gig that kept me alive when so many other freelance gigs had dwindled in recent years.

I feel incredibly indebted to Eddy and I feel blessed to have had such regular playing with him for so many years: Giving me the steady gig at the Cajun in 2000, and when that finished in August 2006, I still played with him pretty regularly, culminating in playing every week with him in the Woody band right up until last month.

March 9th was our last gig.

Like some others who knew Eddy well, I thought he was invincible and thought he was going to pull through this – he’d pulled through so many other illnesses before: terrible car accident, shingles, hellish Sciatica, High Cholesterol, high blood pressure, Diabetes…you name it, he’d had it (and he loved to tell you all about it, ha, ha! 😉).

Nothing will equal the pure joy that I felt on such a deep level when we were in the middle of playing a tune, him horsing around, having a great ol’ time.

Rest In Peace, my beautiful friend ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Eddy loved what I will call “false endings,” where the band appeared to have concluded the song and the performance — and the audience would applaud — but, no, they weren’t through as he would (grinning hugely) launch into a bravura ending that left us cheering.

I think of those “false endings” as a metaphor for Eddy and his art. He appears to have gone, but he hasn’t.  As long as we can hear him, see him in videos (and he left us hundreds of solo performances from his apartment), and remember him, he ain’t gone.

Incidentally, I have been posting Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun because it pleases me so — Debbie Kennedy is in it as well as Eddy, Scott Robinson, and Simon Wettenhall — but Barbara has done many other paintings of jazz clubs, landscapes, and abstracts — that are not yet in private collections.  And you know me: I only promote artists (visual as well as musical) whose work I love: find out more here.

May your happiness increase!


EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Four — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE EAR INN with SCOTT ROBINSON, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, DAN BLOCK, PETE ANDERSON

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

I’ve asked musicians who worked with Eddy and thus knew him better to write their loving recollections.  But I will indulge myself here for a few sentences.  Eddy always acted glad to see me, and he was happy to have his performances captured on film, but I am not sure he knew what to make of me (a reaction he was not alone in) so we never had a long conversation until the last time I saw him — where he enthusiastically spoke with great energy about the musicians he had played with when he was sixteen or seventeen.  I was amazed and delighted and pursued him with the idea of doing a video interview, but — for all sorts of reasons I can only guess at — he was silent about the idea, which I regret greatly.  At least he wrote some of it down on a letter to me which I will share in Part Five — but, ever the well-brought up Midwesterner, he addressed me as “Mr. Steinman,” curiously formal.

He was remarkable to me because of his indefatigable energy.  He electrified any group that had the good fortune to have him at the center.  He was genuinely a joyous sparkplug. The other people on the stand felt it, as did we.  He bounced; he rocked; he was having a lovely time and wanted to make sure we did also.  Eddy was a complete showman, but it felt completely honest.  And his unpredictability was charming in startling ways.  I never knew what he was going to do, and that was such a pleasure — anticipating the next brightly wrapped package and then savoring its contents.

His command of harmony was lovely; he knew where he was going and genially took everyone along with him.  His solid rhythm was never mechanical, and in some ways his banjo artistry redeemed every caustic thing said about that stringed instrument; he was flexible and elastic and I imagine I hear the whole history of jazz and popular music in his playing.  And that history — made current and shiny — came through in his incredibly broad repertoire: Doc Cooke and early Ellington, Django and Jerry Herman, his own lyrics to jazz classics.

He gave of himself with such deep generosity.  And although each of us is unique, few of us can embody that idea so joyously.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Three — AT THE EAR INN with ORANGE KELLIN, SCOTT ROBINSON, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

Eddy Davis was a stubborn fellow — he did what he wanted to, but more important, he would not budge from what he had in mind.  (I speak from experience.)  So Eddy refuses to go away, which is a wonderful thing.

Here is the third part of my delighted-yet-grieving evocation of him: a session from The Ear Inn on June 3, 2012.  The Ear was darker than usual (hence the yellow graininess of the image so that you and I could see as well as hear) but the brilliant music is nearly blinding.  The details, and the music, below, as I offered them in September 2012.  The first part of my series can be found here; the second part here.  I have one more session to offer, from even more years ago.  But love and joy and loss are not bound by clocks.

Eight years ago, I first visited the Cajun Restaurant in the West Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) on Eighth Avenue.  It had been around for a long time, but it was known as the only place that still featured “traditional jazz,” however one defined the term, seven nights and two afternoons a week.*

A regular attraction was the Wednesday night band — a compact unit led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, and dubbed by him late in its run WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM.  Most often, the instrumentation was Conal Fowkes, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and Eddy — four players with a strong lyrical streak who could also make a bandstand seem wildly hot in the tradition of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or Soprano Summit on an uptempo outchorus.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene — a Wednesday night.

Since the regular Wednesday night gig ended, this band has gotten together for musical reunions — although not as often as its fans and partisans would like.  Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Eddy, Conal, Orange, and Scott would be “the EarRegulars” on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at The Ear Inn.  And I present some of the frankly magical results herein.

Eddy would not be insulted, I think, if I called his approach “quirky,” and his whimsical view of the musical spectrum colors and uplifts the band.  Another leader might have stuck to the predictable dozen “New Orleans” or “trad” standards, but not Eddy.  His musical range, affections, and knowledge are broad — he approaches old songs in new ways and digs up “new” ones that get in the groove deeply.  He knows how to set rocking tempos and his colleagues look both happy and inspired.  In addition, Eddy writes lyrics — homespun rather than sleek — for some classic jazz tunes, and he sings them from the heart.  All of these virtues were on display at The Ear Inn — friendly, jostling, witty solos and ensembles, and performances that took their time to scrape the clouds.

The melody for BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST might be elusive for some, but it has deep roots — Lil Hardin Armstrong’s TWO DEUCES, which Eddy has turned into a love song and the band has turned into a down-home West Village classic:

TWO-A-DAY is one of Eddy’s favorite obscure songs — a Jerry Herman number praising a kind of vaudeville bill (and time and place) from the ill-starred musical MACK AND MABEL, charting the lives and times of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand.  When Eddy sings lyrics about the “atomic age,” Scott emphasizes the point through his distinctive space-age attire:

POTATO HEAD BLUES, with jaunty lyrics and wondrous playing.  All for you, Louis:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE needs no introduction — recalling the Ink Spots and their sweet lovemaking on Decca Records:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, came into The Ear Inn after another gig — hence the formal wear — sat down, and joined the band for a calypso-infused THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT.  Maybe this bucket was full of Red Stripe beer?:

At the start of THANKS A MILLION, you’ll notice an empty chair next to Orange — soon to be filled by the illustrious Dan Block on bass clarinet, with Scott switching over to one of his taragotas, or taragoti — which he’d first taken out for POTATO HEAD BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WIH SOME BARBECUE, complete with verse:

And the session closed with Eubie Blake’s lovely affirmation, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, taken at a strolling medium tempo:

P.S.  This session happened in the beginning of June and has only emerged three months later — no reflection on the splendid heartfelt music, but because of some small technical difficulties . . . now happily repaired.

*At the end of July 2006, The Cajun closed after a twenty-eight year run — to make way for a faceless high-rise apartment building.  When I find myself on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, I try not to search the spot where it once was.  It was a flawed paradise, but we miss it.

Early on in this post, you can see Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun.  Barbara, as you know, is also a very personal singer — heartfelt and tender.  It was in this incarnation that I first met her, and she knew Eddy before I did.  Here are her feelings about him:

Eddy Davis.

He welcomed me on the stage of The Cajun with Conal Fowkes, Debbie Kennedy, Scott Robinson, Simon Wettenhall and a myriad of other players and singers. I never wanted to be anywhere else on Wednesday nights. I would often sing “My Foolish Heart” which was a favorite of my Mom’s and I later realized was a favorite of Eddy’s. He was always so pleased when someone knew something other than the “regular” tunes. He would play “Artificial Flowers,” a Bobby Darin hit, or a Jerry Herman tune. There were no rules. Just good songs.

A few of us worked on a play that he had written for a while and we would do read-throughs at his apartment. One particular time I was late, having just gone through an emotional goodbye with someone we all knew, and he gave me a fatherly hug and an expression of understanding that made me know how much he cared for me. It floored me. This depth of feeling and understanding certainly came out in his music, but not always one on one, so it was very meaningful to me. About this same time he arranged for me to sit in at the Carlyle with Woody Allen for a couple of different nights. He would just gesture for me to come up and sing a chorus without any fanfare. I remember doing “One Sweet Letter From You.” He knew how much this meant to me. If he could give someone an opportunity, he did so with joy and without thought of compensation.

I also loved that he was from Indiana. We were small town midwesterners in Manhattan. He reminded me of the people I had grown up with. We talked the same language. My parents would have liked him. I will miss him terribly. He taught me so much.

May your happiness increase.

“DOING THINGS RIGHT”: EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020)

Eddy Davis — that bright light, never very far from his banjo, always ready to propel the band, to play the proper chords, to uplift everyone with song — one that he wrote or a venerable classic — moved on after his illness yesterday afternoon.  My title for this post is because I think it will never be possible for me to think of him as was.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

Although I witnessed him in all his splendor over fifteen years, I didn’t get to know him in the way I might have others whom I saw and spoke to more regularly.  So in Eddy’s case, the music — eloquent, subtle, brightly-colored —  will speak for him here.  The last time I saw him was December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, where he was one-fourth of that night’s swinging quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal.  I’ve presented a hot performance from that evening here.

And now, with more complicated emotions, I offer the first three performances of that night.  They start off easily — I think of the way musicians feel the pulse of the room, get used to their instruments (even if it’s only been a day since they were last playing), take the  measure of their friends on the stand.  But don’t underestimate this music: I think of spicy cuisine that initially tastes tame but then after a few spoonfuls, you realize just how hot it is.

BOGALUSA STRUT:

and some basic math — doin’ things right:

and a dream of the place where they make you welcome all the time:

I will devote the next few days to honoring the sly, expert, exuberant Eddy — through performances I captured and through the recollections of others who were at closer range . . . who were playing rather than behind a camera.  He remains is.

And someone I respect deeply, Scott Robinson, has written this tender essay about Eddy, which I offer to you here:

I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.

I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.

When I got the call today that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears. Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

Scott Robinson

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!” (Part Two): The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

Once, the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra had a steady gig in New York City where they made wonderful music.  The club is gone; the gig is gone.  But the music remains.

Here is the first part of this glorious archaeological dig, with almost an hour of new / old 2006 music, and the stories underneath the surface.

Here’s the first video segment:

and the second:

That night the MRO — usually led by clarinetist Orange Kellin — was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Szemela, violin; Jesse Gelber, piano; John Gill, banjo, vocals; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums, and the songs played are WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME (Gill does Ted Lewis) / RED PEPPER RAG / UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE (Gill) / RUBBER PLANT RAG arr. Pete / EGYPTIA / “OUR GANG” theme out:

And Part Four, THE RAGTIME DANCE / KROOKED BLUES / NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE / HIGH SOCIETY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (out theme) //

Those were great times.  And not simply because of any historical-nostalgic longings, but because of the wonderful music, played with inspiration rather than ironies.  I am grateful to have been there, and even more grateful that I could bring a video camera and a tiny tripod . . . gifts from the past that gleam today.

After this post was published, a friend reminded me that the CD,
“MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA: AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL” (with its
wonderful 1898 photograph of Broadway at 28th Street in Manhattan!),
is still available from Stomp Off Records: PO Box 342, York, PA 17405.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!”: The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN, PART ONE: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

The power of memory:

That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable.  Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her.  Or so I hope.

Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions.  Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?

Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible.  But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.

Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:

Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:

Exhibit C, self-explanatory:

In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.  It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.

The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog.  I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases.  She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance.  I was free to modestly of generic food.  (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)

I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved.  Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera.  It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band.  At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.

Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this.  Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen.  But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to  post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record.  I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.

John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.

Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music.  A woman fanning herself: it was July.

Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //

Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //

To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol.  And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.

May your happiness increase!

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART TWO: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

I never know what might surface in this aging-boy’s den of things that I call my apartment, but often it is pleasing and surprising. Some weeks back, I posted the first segment of an evening of jazz, hot and sweet, performed at The Cajun, long gone, by the Red Onion Jazz Band in its summer incarnation, which means that many of the “regular” members were absent, although the “subs” were superb. You can see it and read about it all here.  (And you can admire the still photograph of the ROJB just below.)

Overseen by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, The Cajun was a novel in itself: ask anyone who went there or made music there.  But that’s another, unwritten blog.

I reprint Dick Dreiwitz’s essay on that night, because it is so good and so apt:

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

The band, for that night, was John Bucher, cornet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Alan Cary, banjo; Ronnie Washam (“The Chelsea Nightingale”), vocal. In this segment, they performed BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ON THE ALAMO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / JUNE NIGHT (vocal Ronnie Washam) / ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ronnie) incomplete //.

Here, the songs are CHINATOWN (vocal Sam Parkins) / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Ronnie Washam) / FOUR OR FIVE TIMES (with ensemble commentary).  And in the name of accuracy, that’s someone else ordering “another glass of champagne.”  Drinking champagne and videoing do not mix.

I’ve edited these segments a bit, so here’s one anecdote that got cut.  At the end of this set, while the band is packing up, one of the patrons mechanically asks the band for “one more,” to which one of the musicians quietly says, “Three and a half hours is enough.” I agree with the tired, underpaid artists, but I wish I had another twenty hours of this band on video.  I treasure what did get captured.

May your happiness increase!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART ONE: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

Dali, THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

How long ago is eleven years?  From one perspective, it’s a huge distance: we can’t go back to the seconds that just elapsed no matter how we try.  But through technology, we travel backwards and make ourselves comfortable there: consider photographs and recordings. In the New York City of the recent past, wonderful things happened as a matter of course, and perhaps we took them for granted. The Cajun, a New Orleans restaurant and jazz club on Eighth Avenue between 17th and 18th Street in Manhattan, offered music seven nights a week and on Sunday afternoons. Supervised by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, it was more down-home than posh, but the regulars (and tourists who wandered in) got more than their chicken or pasta.


What they got was wonderful congenial jazz.  Here is almost seventy-five minutes of it, still delicious.  The musicians are Ronnie Washam, vocal; Alan Cary, banjo; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Hank Ross, piano; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone and MC; John Bucher, cornet.

I asked Dick Dreiwitz if he would write a few words about what you are going to see — an informal record of that rainy, warm Saturday night.

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

And these videos, which I shot with my less-sophisticated camera that night, and have resurrected from the stack of mini-DVDs in a bookcase.  The sound is clear and the sight lines, although restricted, are fine.  I apologize to the sweet singer Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” for rendering her invisible, but my memory is that she blanched at the idea of having a video camera aimed at her.

What you’ll notice immediately about this band of “substitutes” is its easy medium-tempo embrace of the music’s inherent lyricism, a swinging sweetness that is not always the case in bands wedded to this repertoire, who often aim for higher volume and quicker tempos. This version of the ROJB feels like people very fond of one another, taking a walk in late summer, aware that they can reach their happy destination without rushing.

Here’s the first segment, with AVALON (vocal RW) / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SEE SEE RIDER [C.C. RIDER]:

and more — THE LOVE NEST (vocal RW) / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ‘DEED I DO (RW) / JAZZ ME BLUES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (RW):

and a third helping — THE JAPANESE SANDMAN / Introducing the band / MY BUDDY (vocal RW) / BYE BYE BLUES (RW) / HAPPY BIRTHDAY (RW) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (RW):

I’ll say it again: this is a lyrical, gliding band, full of individualists devoted to the communal glories of this music.  I miss The Cajun and am honored to present these vivid musical recollections both to people who were there and those not able to make that scene.  And there are more sounds from this band to come.

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” (Part Three): EDDY DAVIS, SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, CONAL FOWKES, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV at THE CAJUN (JULY 5, 2006)

This is the final part of my documentation of a jazz evening at a vanished New York City club / restaurant, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and Herb Maslin — a night that featured “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” the energetic, playful small band led by Eddy Davis (banjo, vocals, originals).

Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel”

With Eddy, two of the regulars were on hand this night, slightly over eleven years ago: Scott Robinson (C-melody saxophone) and Conal Fowkes (piano, vocal). The other regulars would have been Debbie Kennedy (string bass) and Orange Kellin (clarinet) but for this night their places were taken by Dmitri Kolesnikov on bass and Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxophone.  Here is the earlier part of the evening, with Eddy’s invaluable commentary on his part in the scene.

SWING THAT MUSIC:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT? / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

This band was — without exaggeration — a doctoral seminar in ensemble playing and collective momentum.  It was an honor to be there, and a greater honor to be able to share these videos with you.

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” (Part Two): EDDY DAVIS, SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, BOB RINGWALD, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV at THE CAJUN (JULY 5, 2006)

The Cajun Restaurant, no longer extant but the vibrations and sights still exist here and in our memories.

Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel”

A little more than a week ago, I posted the first of a three-part series on this wonderful band, with videos from 2006 that I rediscovered.  I am taking the liberty of reprinting the text from that post here.  And the music from that first post is also here.  (For those impatient with prose — and some have told me this in ungentle terms — the new video is at the bottom of this posting.)

Late in 2005, I made my way to an unusual New York City jazz club, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin. Unusual for many reasons, some of which I won’t explicate here, but mostly because it offered traditional jazz bands nine times a week — seven evenings and two brunch performances.

Who was there?  I will leave someone out, so apologies in advance, but Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Vince Giordano, John Gill, Michael Bank, J. Walter Hawkes, Pete Martinez, Michael Hashim, Scott Robinson, Barbara Rosene, Danny Tobias, Steve Little, Bob Thompson, Barbara Dreiwitz, Dick Dreiwitz, Hank Ross, Craig Ventresco, Carol Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, Brad Shigeta, John Bucher, Sam Ulano, Stanley King, and Eddy Davis — banjoist, singer, composer.  More about Eddy and his wondrously singular little band, “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which was no hyperbole, in a moment.

Originally I brought my cassette recorder to tape some of the music, but I had a small epiphany: seeing that every grandparent I knew had a video camera to take to the kids’ school play, I thought, “If they can learn to do this, so can I,” and I bought my first: a Sony that used mini-DVDs, each of which ran about 30 minutes.  It was, I think, the most inconvenient camera I’ve ever owned.  For some reason that I can’t recall, I tended to let the discs run rather than starting and stopping.  They were, however, nearly untransferable, and they sat in small stacks in a bookcase.

This April, though, I tried to take a cyber-detour, and was able to transfer all the videos, perhaps forty hours or so, to my computer and thus to YouTube.  I sent some to the players and the response was not always enthusiastic, but Eddy Davis was thrilled to have his little band captured, even though it did not have all of its usual personnel.  Usually, WR and WR had Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Conal Fowkes, piano and vocal; Debbie Kennedy, string bass, in addition to Eddy. On this night, Michael Hashim replaced Orange; Dmitri Kolesnikov took Debbie’s place.  [Update to this posting: pianist / singer Bob Ringwald of California and father of Molly, sits in for this set.]

I find these videos thrilling: this band rocked exuberantly and apparently was a small jazz perpetual motion machine, a small group where the musicians smiled at each other all night long, and it wasn’t a show for the audience.  And there’s some of the most exciting ensemble interplay I’ve ever heard — to say nothing of the truly false “false endings.”

I’d asked Eddy to write something for this post, and he responded gloriously.

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

The songs are AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob.

It’s so lovely to be able to reach back into the past and find it’s not only accessible but glowing.  There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” (Part One): EDDY DAVIS, SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, CONAL FOWKES, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV at THE CAJUN (JULY 5, 2006)

Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel.”

Hallowed ground.

Late in 2005, I made my way to an unusual New York City jazz club, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin. Unusual for many reasons, some of which I won’t explicate here, but mostly because it offered traditional jazz bands nine times a week — seven evenings and two brunch performances.

Who was there?  I will leave someone out, so apologies in advance, but Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Vince Giordano, John Gill, Michael Bank, J. Walter Hawkes, Pete Martinez, Michael Hashim, Scott Robinson, Barbara Rosene, Danny Tobias, Steve Little, Bob Thompson, Barbara Dreiwitz, Dick Dreiwitz, Hank Ross, Craig Ventresco, Carol Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, Brad Shigeta, John Bucher, Sam Ulano, Stanley King, and Eddy Davis — banjoist, singer, composer.  More about Eddy and his wondrously singular little band, “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which was no hyperbole, in a moment.

Originally I brought my cassette recorder to tape some of the music, but I had a small epiphany: seeing that every grandparent I knew had a video camera to take to the kids’ school play, I thought, “If they can learn to do this, so can I,” and I bought my first: a Sony that used mini-DVDs, each of which ran about 30 minutes.  It was, I think, the most inconvenient camera I’ve ever owned.  For some reason that I can’t recall, I tended to let the discs run rather than starting and stopping.  They were, however, nearly untransferable, and they sat in small stacks in a bookcase.

This April, though, I tried to take a cyber-detour, and was able to transfer all the videos, perhaps forty hours or so, to my computer and thus to YouTube.  I sent some to the players and the response was not always enthusiastic, but Eddy Davis was thrilled to have his little band captured, even though it did not have all of its usual personnel.  Usually, WR and WR had Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Conal Fowkes, piano and vocal; Debbie Kennedy, string bass, in addition to Eddy. On this night, Michael Hashim replaced Orange; Dmitri Kolesnikov took Debbie’s place.

I find these videos thrilling: this band rocked exuberantly and apparently was a small jazz perpetual motion machine, a small group where the musicians smiled at each other all night long, and it wasn’t a show for the audience.  And there’s some of the most exciting ensemble interplay I’ve ever heard — to say nothing of the truly false “false endings.”

I’d asked Eddy to write something for this post, and he responded gloriously.

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

Here’s the first part of the evening.  Eddy announces the songs, some of them his originals and a few transformations — all listed in the descriptions below the videos.

Come with me to the glorious days of 2006, to a club that has been replaced by a faceless high-rise apartment building, which has none of the joyous energy of the band and the Cajun.  And enjoy the music, with no cover charge — yours for keeps.

Part One:

Part One, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

Part Two:

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” at The Ear Inn (June 5, 2011)

Last Sunday, June 5, 2011, was an unsual evening at that Soho mecca of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) in that a band that wasn’t The EarRegulars was playing. 

It was a reunion of sorts for an inspired hot band of individualists that hadn’t played regularly for some time.  In 2005-6, this band had a regular Wednesday-night gig at The Cajun (a now-departed home for jazz in Chelsea).  The quartet was led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, who called it WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHTYHM.  The title was more than accurate, and I miss those Wednesday nights.

Eddy’s compatriots were most often Scott Robinson on C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin on clarinet; Conal Fowkes or Debbie Kennedy on string bass.  Sitters-in were made welcome (an extraordinary visitor was cornetist Bob Barnard) — but this little quartet didn’t need anyone else.  It swung hard and played rhapsodic melodies, as well as exploring Eddy’s own compositions (they had a down-home feel but the harmonies were never predictable).

At the Ear, this band came together once again — Eddy, Scott, Orange (up from New Orleans), and Conal (catch him singing Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS) — as well as second-set guests Dan Block and Pete Anderson on saxophones. 

Eddy had grown a fine bushy beard since the last time I saw him, but nothing else had changed — not the riotous joy the musicians took in egging each other on, the deep feeling, the intuitive ensemble cohesiveness, the startling solos . . .

Here’s a tune that all the musicians in the house love to jam!  No, not really — it’s a fairly obscure Washboard Rhythm Kings specialty circa 1931 that I’ve only heard done by the heroic / illustrious Reynolds Brothers.  It has a wonderful title — Eddy tried explaining it to a curious audience member when the performance had ended, with only mild success — FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:

Time for something pretty, suggested by Pete Anderson — MEMORIES OF YOU:

And a finale to end all finales — what began as a moody, building WILD MAN BLUES (running ten minutes) and then segued into a hilarious-then-serious romp on FINE AND DANDY . . . reed rapture plus hot strings! 

If that isn’t ecstatic to you, perhaps we should compare definitions of ecstasy?

THE GOLDEN EAR(A) (Dec. 12, 2010)

I’ve heard live jazz in many settings here and abroad.  In New York City, I can think of the last Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, The Cajun, Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle, Gregory’s, The Cookery, Arthur’s Tavern, Smoke, Iridium, Jazz Standard, The Garage, Bradley’s, The Half Note, The Onliest Place, Banjo Jim’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Bourbon Street, Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, Fat Cat, and many more. 

With all due respect to these clubs that have provided lasting memories from the early Seventies onward, I can’t over-estimate the joyous resonance of the Sunday night sessions at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which have been going on for nearly three and a half years now.

The EarRegulars — co-led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Matt Munisteri, guitar — have offered serene / hot chamber jazz by a quartet staffed by a changing cast of characters . . . with expansion possibilities up to a dozen strolling players. 

But Sunday night, December 12, 2010, was a high point: two brass, two rhythm.  That combination might have been challenging with other players, but when the two others were Joel Forbes, bass, and Randy Reinhart, cornet, I knew great jazz was in store.  Joel and Matt are a wonderful team — as soloists and a wasteless, energetic but never noisy rhythm section.  Piano?  Drums?  Not missed.

Jon-Erik and Randy are pals (as you’ll hear) and although an evening featuring two other trumpeters — even though Randy plays cornet — might turn into a competitive display of ferocity, an old-time cutting contest, nothing of the sort happened here.  The two hornmen sounded for all the world like dear friends having a polite but involved conversation.  They soloed without interruption; their contrapuntal lines tumbled and soared; they created great hot ensembles, each one handing off the lead to the other.

Deep music and rollicking fun as well.

How about two tributes to the forever-young man from Davenport,  the dear boy Bix, compositions that have become hot jazz standards, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and JAZZ ME BLUES? 

Written by Earl Hines, performed by Louis and Basie — some solid credentials for the song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

What followed was a highlight of the evening — a deep, rocking exploration of DALLAS BLUES.  They’re on the right track!

Honesty counts, and candor is a great virtue.  So IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, as Fats Waller told us:

Fidelity, even for a short period, is a great thing.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) is James P. Johnson’s wistful evocation of the desire for more than sixty minutes:

But everything in this life is mutable (root word: “muta”) and so THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I’m so grateful that such music is being created where I and others can see and hear it!

TUESDAYS WITH CHARLIE (CARANICAS)

Charlie Caranicas, trumpet / fluegelhorn player by night, lawyer by day, is an often under-acknowledged New York jazz hero.  He can lead a “Dixieland” ensemble with power and grace, then turn around and play Monk with subtlety and deep feeling.  Or he can create jazz that both enhances the melody but doesn’t scare away the uninitiated.  I first heard him perhaps five years ago with Kevin Dorn’s band at the Cajun, and have delighted in his playing ever since.

New Yorkers have new opportunities to hear Charlie in low-key, intimate surroundings at two restaurants. 

One of them, Pane e Vino, is in Brooklyn (www.panevinony.com).  It’s located at 174 Smith Street, thirty seconds away from the F train’s Bergen Street stop.  The music begins at 8:30 PM and goes until 11, more or less.  Charlie appears there with his own trio — a guitarist and bassist, the latter often the admirable Kelly Friesen.  The trio will be there on Tuesday, May 4th, and on May 18th. 

I visited Pane e Vino a few weeks ago and was impressed by its quiet atmosphere (the trio plays near a small collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas) and cozy darkness.  (The darkness defeated every camera that I had with me, but it lent the music a lovely intimacy.)  With Charlie that night were Kelly on bass and the very fine guitarist Mark McCarron.  The trio must have felt like honoring Benny Carter, because they began their first set with a walking WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW (Charlie played his solo into a red-and-white metal derby) that showed off McCarron’s subtle chording and Kelly’s fine flexible pulse.  After a version of DINAH that began medium-fast and then went into double-time, with Charlie bowing to Louis’s 1933 Copenhagen version, the trio returned to Carter with a yearning ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART, for which Charlie picked up his fluegelhorn, filling the room with his warm, cushiony sound.  A pulsing THESE FOOLISH THINGS made me think I had gone back in time to hear Harry Edison, George VanEps, and Ray Brown — names to conjure with!  Singer Lisa Hearns sat in for a trio of Basie-infused standards, APRIL IN PARIS, CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY. 

Wednesday morning beckoned with its chill finger, so I stayed for only the first set, but it was convincing jazz — relaxed but focused swing.  I was amused to see that Charlie’s derby doubled as a tip jar, and some of the listeners seemed to know what it was for. 

I haven’t been to Charlie’s New York City gig, but he’ll be at BOOM on Tuesday, May 11th.  It’s a restaurant / lounge in Soho, also with a trio, 8:30 until 11:30.  BOOM is at 152 Spring St., just east of West Broadway (www.boomsoho.com).  Charlie’s website is www.charliejazz.com, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you asked to be added to his email list.  He’s worth hearing!

OLD TIME MODERN, or HOT ECLECTICISM

I thought of “Old Time Modern” while watching a wonderful new concert DVD.  That title originally was from a Nat Pierce composition recorded for Vanguard in the Fifties, blending boppish harmonies with a Thirties Basie feel. 

Now it perfectly summons up the inspired pairing of Eddy Davis, banjo, vocals, and badinage, and Conal Fowkes, piano, vocals, and commentary.  This duo had a wonderful opportunity to appear in a Barcelona club for an extended run; they found a most hip Brazilian filmmaker, Arturo Querzoli, and the results are now available.

Most jazz videos (including mine) suffer from the demands of impromptu recording: poor lighting, people walking in front of the camera, extraneous noise.  Devoted types like Rae Ann Berry and myself grin and bear it and call the results “cinema verite.”  But how rewarding it is to see two completely relaxed musicians captured from every angle with beautiful sound in high-definition video.

And what musicians they are!  I know that some people get pale and anxious when they even hear the word “banjo” in a sentence, and I can hardly blame them.  Badly played, the banjo can provide hours of painful listening experiences.  Many banjo players seem to have modeled their approaches on power tools, giving their instruments a metallic twang.  Not Eddy Davis.  His approach is subtle but his rhythm propulsive, and although he doesn’t look the part of a Thirties romantic hero, he has a deep sentimental streak.  Eddy writes his own appealing tunes and digs out those you’d forgotten or never heard.  Where Eddy looks much like a small-town pharmacist with a decided FDR image, Conal could pass as a multi-lingual European statesman.  A diplomat, perhaps, or even the head of a large bank.  But beneath that sedate exterior there is a fine, stomping Jelly Roll Morton – Joe Sullivan – Fats Waller pianist, a singer both hilarious and tender, and a wonderful accompanist to Eddy.  In fact, one of the great pleasures of this duo is watching two fine soloists who are also splendid accompanists.  This duo isn’t a cutting contest; it’s a friendly conversation, with one egging the other on. 

By the way, I first saw (and met) Conal and Eddy sometime in 2005 when Eddy’s multi-named small group (eventually called WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM) had the Wednesday-night spot at the now-vanished Cajun.  Most nights, Debbie Kennedy was on string bass and occasional vocal; Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin were the hot winds, and the group rocked as few others I’ve ever heard have done.  If you weren’t sitting near me to hear this group, you definitely need this DVD.  And if you were at one of the front tables, you won’t need any convincing.

And (for me) the best part — including the musical intimacy, the beautiful recording, the fine camerawork — is the amazingly broad repertoire.  Most groups limit themselves: the Fowkes-Davis collective is happy playing Morton, Ory, Oliver, Eubie Blake, Morton, Ellington, Henderson — but these musicians have a deep streak of sentiment, so you’ll also hear I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY, LA VIE EN ROSE (with a tender reading of the original French lyrics by Conal), and MY FOOLISH HEART, crooned in a near-whisper by Eddy.

And here’s some brilliant musical and visual evidence from the DVD:

Here are WILD MAN BLUES and MEMORIES OF YOU:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES and DINAH:

SNAKE RAG and I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY:

Henderson’s THE STAMPEDE:

ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE and MY FOOLISH HEART, surely a surprising pair:

LA VIE EN ROSE and HANG OUT THE STARS IN INDIANA:

Finally, there’s CRY ME A RIVER:

Now. that’s a generous helping of music for free.  But there’s more!  The DVD includes a dozen selections (some of them lengthy medleys) and one bonus track with an appearance by A Famous Mystery Guest.  You can find out how to buy this at www.davisfowkes.com (a little Barelona bird told me that the price is $20.00 plus shipping, certainly cheaper than the round-trip flight).  It’s a consistent pleasure.

BARBARA ROSENE at IRIDIUM, February 17, 2009: SWEET, HOT, and SOULFUL!

barbara-rosene-2003-cd1I first heard Barbara Rosene sing on a compact disc — the 2003 Stomp Off “Ev’rything’s Made For Love,” which I’d obtained serendipitously.  Bob Rusch of Cadence thought I would take pleasure in this music, and (as is often the case) he was splendidly correct. I loved the sounds — plural, not singular — of Barbara’s pure, clear voice, tenderly exploring the layers of feeling in a ballad, being naughty on a double-entendre Twenties song, or simply swinging her way exultantly through one of those unashamedly happy songs that used to be the fashion.  Although Barbara often sang obscure songs, she was more than an archivist delighting in artistic esoterica.

Some singers sing at the song, or, worse, they present it at a distance with ironic quotation marks around it.  Barbara immerses herself in the emotions of the lyrics and the melody, uniting herself with the song.  Although some of her material was peripherally connected to girl singers who chose to present themselves as Twenties Lolitas (little girls lispiing through the lyrics), Barbara is serious when her material is, riotous when the song calls for it.

In October 2004, I was in the audience for a late-night jam session at the Cajun, where Barbara, at someone’s request, got up and sang a touching FOOLS RUSH IN.  Later, I introduced myself to her as the Phantom Reviewer, and was delighted by her genuineness.  She and Kevin Dorn are close friends, so I began to see Barbara sing more often in a variety of places — from an Episcopal church in Hicksville, New York to an uptown club whose name I forget to the now-eradicated Jacques-Imo’s.

All of this is prelude to what the Beloved and I enjoyed last night: Barbara and her New Yorkers appearing at Iridium for two sets — an engagement I hope will be repeated soon and often.  She always surrounds herself with the best musicians, and the band last night was choice: Kevin on drums, Conal Fowkes on piano, Doug Largent on bass, Michael Hashim on alto and tenor, Matt Szemela on violin, and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet.

The lovely thing about Barbara’s Iridium gig was that the room was packed with quietly appreciative people, many of whom knew each other, so it was like a reunion — or a party in someone’s large living room.  The Beloved and I sat at a table with the cheerful Joe and Carla Samolduski, the people responsible for Barbara’s appearances at “Cabaret Night” at the Hicksville church.  All that was missing was the basket of potato chips in front of us.

The music began with a positively rambunctious THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  When the gleeful dust had settled, Barbara chatted with the audience about her song choices.  She believes in what she sings: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON is not just a series of words for her.  Matt Szemela added his sweet countrified violin to the ensemble, a wonderful bonus.  Acknowledging her debt to Annette Hanshaw, Barbara began a deeply serious (although rhythmically mobile) version of AM I BLUE.  Jon-Erik growled ominously behind her, and Michael Hashim explored the low register of his horn, reminding me of Ben Webster at his Fifties best.  The mood brightened dramatically when Barbara offered a chipper rendition of LOVABLE AND SWEET, composed by Oscar Levant, rhyming “nice man” and “iceman” for naughty reasons.  DEEP NIGHT, which Barbara dedicated to her late father, who loved the song, was a sultry tango.  Barbara is a gracious and generous leader, so she gave the band a chance to romp on I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, which featured a patented Hashim stop-time chorus and two jammed ensemble choruses, the first quiet, the second shouting.  A delicate IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER followed; during Michael’s solo, Barbara sat on the piano bench next to Conal, her eyes closed, rocking happily to the beat.  A brisk IT HAD TO BE YOU came next: Barbara sang the familiar lyrics as if the song was new, and Conal provided a rocking minimalist solo (Basie without the cliches), supported in high style by Doug and Kevin.

Readers familiar with this blog might be asking themselves, “Where was Flip all this time?”  “Struggling to get out of my pocket,” would be the answer.  Flip was thrilled to be at Iridium (it was his first time) and he wanted to get close to the stage, but I kept on trying to quiet him down.  People had the audacity to be sitting in front of us and their heads were in the way; Flip wriggled and jumped so vigorously that I thought the waitstaff were going to ask us to leave.

When it was clear that Barbara’s set was more than half over, I took Flip out of my pocket and aimed him at the stage — thinking that the Iridium staff would hardly eject us so close to the end.  (I was right.)  The result is that you are now able to see and hear some of what Barbara and her New Yorkers did so beautifully last night.

Here’s Irving Berlin’s melancholy SAY IT ISN’T SO, a fully realized dramatic performance without a hint of “acting”:

Barbara featured the band on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, which offers wonderful hot solos and ensemble joys.  I especially love the trades between Doug and Kevin at the end, reminiscent of the playful jazz conversations Milt Hinton and Jo Jones had so memorably:

And something even more special: Barbara’s ukulele feature.  Faithful readers will know of my recent (and continuing) ukulele obsession — I’m still finding my way around the fingerboard.  But I was thrilled when Barbara unsheathed a soprano ukulele and put on her own one-woman show.  It’s not that she’s the East Coast version of Lyle Ritz (or at least not yet) but she encapsulates another world in her performance of KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW — as if we were sitting on the porch with her and she decided it was time for a little music.  It’s charming!  And her whistling is both casual and accomplished:

Finally, a rocking version of MY BLACKBIRDS ARE BLUEBIRDS NOW — one of several songs that exploited this avian metaphor.  I feel sorry for the poor blackbirds, who got a bad reputation as emblems of bad luck.  All because of that one flying terrorist who pecked off the housemaid’s nose, if I remember correctly?  Bluebirds are fine, of course — but the blackbirds swung.  Here’s Barbara and her New Yorkers:

Barbara says that she is trying to keep this music alive without turning into the guardian of a time capsule.  That’s a tall order, but she is doing it heroically every time she sings, and she did it splendidly last night.  I hope these homegrown video clips convey something of her special gifts.  She is The Real Thing.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO PRAISE

My title is a slight distortion of a Willard Robison song that Mildred Bailey did beautifully, and it’s also a statement of philosophy for this blog.  But I’m not going back into the Dear Departed Past, to quote Dave Frishberg, only back to last year — December 30, 2008, to be precise. 

applause

In a December post, WAY DOWN YONDER ON CARMINE STREET, I urged my New York readers to come hear the singer Ronnie Washam (she’s Veronica on her return address labels) and her Friends at the Greenwich Village Bistro for a debut gig.  I made it to 1 and 1/2 sets that night.  And they were worth writing about. 

Ronnie’s Friends — not just an idle band title — are Sam Parkins, also known as Leroy Parkins, Albert-system clarinetist, scholar, record producer, raconteur, and writer; Pete Sokolow, pianist-singer, honoring Earl Hines and Fats Waller, and bassist Dave Winograd. 

When I got down to the Bistro (just south of the IFC theatre and around the corner — 13 Carmine Street), this little band was already strolling through S’WONDERFUL.  They proceeded to honor George and Ira Gershwin in a fond and musically articulate set.  The songs ranged from the tender (EMBRACEABLE YOU and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY) to the affectionately satiric (THEY ALL LAUGHED, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT), the rueful (BUT NOT FOR ME), and the riotous (Sokolow’s tribute to “my hero,” Thomas Waller, in a piano-vocal I GOT RHTYHM that summoned up Fats’s band version of 1935 hilariously and effectively.

Ronnie was in wonderful form and fine voice.  I hadn’t heard her since the Cajun closed in 2006, when she was “The Chelsea Nightingale,” positioned off to the side of the bandstand as an accessory to Bob Thompson’s Red Onion Jazz Band.  Thompson, even then, was a solid drummer with a well-earned grasp of jazz history, but he called the songs Ronnie sang, and it was a pleasure to see her sing others at the Bistro.  I knew her then as someone who loved the melody and understood the words; with this more relaxed combo, I heard her as a far freer improviser, someone whose second choruses were developments of what she had sung in her first exposition of the theme.  Her time remains excellent; her diction is splendid.  But it’s her feeling that sets her apart from a thousand other singers trying to comvince us that they own the Great American Songbook.  Like Bing, Ronnie makes it seem easy: listening to her, one might think, “Oh, I  could do that!”  But that would be an error.  And she had an easy give-and-take with the band, being content to be one of them rather than the Star. 

The band — all three of them — was very pleasing as well.  The piano wasn’t perfect, but Sokolow covered every inch of it, graciously playing the right chords, delicately voiced, behind Ronnie and the other two players.  Dave Winograd sat on a high stool, his bass at an angle over his shoulder, impressing us all with his huge tone and fine notes.  Sam Parkins has all the Goodman facility anyone would want, but he isn’t the twenty-first century’s Peanuts Hucko: he uses those flurries to create his own sound-pictures, with lovely excursions into the horn’s lower register. 

Sam is also a not-quite-dormant showman and vaudevillian, so one high point of the evening was his rapid-fire delivery of I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS.  Who among us remembers all of those tongue-twisting lyrics?  Sam remembers them and puts them over, exuberantly.  It was a joy to watch and hear him, occasionally finishing his sixteen bars and deciding to hand the baton to another player, hollering, “Somebody else!”  It worked. 

The second set moved beyond Gershwin to a naughty MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, a tender TIME ON MY HANDS, a funny CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU (a Waller-Razaf collaboration with an irresistible melody and irresistibly silly lyrics), a fervent ME MINUS YOU (in honor of Connee Boswell, one of Ronnie’s — and my — heroines), and a moving AM I BLUE, complete with the rarely-heard verse, where Ronnie showed just how compelling her understated delivery is.

I sat next to my friends Marianne Mangan and Bob Levin, and the three of us were beaming.  Others in the Bistro seemed to know just how good the music was, and the tip jar was filled with bills.  I hope this quartet has a new steady gig.  The ambiance, in itself, was worth seeking out, as if a group of talented friends was playing for their own enjoyment in someone’s living room, caring for the music above all.   

A postscript: Sam Parkins has been writing his musical and intellectual autobiography (he gave me some chapters from it when we were both regulars at the Cajun) and it’s wonderfully addictive.  You can find excerpts from it on his MySpace page:   http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=201966595.  He was there (I was just re-reading his piece on the death of Ellington bassist Junior Raglin) and he can write.  A rare combination indeed.

MY JAZZ MADELEINE (October 20-21, 2004)

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Yesterday, I was sifting through one of the mountains of papers I carefully cultivate in my apartment.  Unlike orchids, superfluous papers flourish even when neglected.  Horticulturists take note!  I found a large envelope on which I’d written details of a jam session at the now-vanished Chelsea jazz club, The Cajun, on October 20, 2004.  Marcel Proust tidying the kitchen counter, if you will.

October 20, 2004 was a Wednesday, and Wednesdays were given over to Eddy Davis’s compact, surprising ensemble. “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which had as its core clarinetist Orange Kellin, multi-instrumentalist and interstellar denizen Scott Robinson, Eddy on banjo, vocals, and original compositions, and Debbie Kennedy on bass.  You could always find WQXR-FM broadcaster Lloyd Moss, happily attentive at a table right in front of the band.

My involvement in this story began in mid-September 2004, when I went to Jazz at Chautauqua for the first time, a rapturous weekend.  There, I met Becky Kilgore in person, although we already knew about each other. Either she or trombonist Dan Barrett invited me to come along for their upcoming East Coast gig at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey.  A version of their then new group, BED, would make a rare Eastern appearance.  B and D (that’s Becky and Dan) had been able to make the trip, but E (that’s Eddie Erickson, on guitar, banjo, ballads, and comedy) had commitments in California and couldn’t.  The “silent J,” bassist Joel Forbes would be there, and the Erickson-gap would be filled by the endearing pianist Rossano Sportiello.

Here the story becomes more autobiographical.  I had spent Wednesday with a small group of amiable but somewhat untrained moving men who lugged my belongings up the stairs to my new apartment.  They were sweet-natured, funny, and hard-working.  And from this experience I gleaned one piece of irreplaceable vaudeville:

Mover 1, holding up one end of my piano, “Henry, are you ready, for God’s sake?”

Mover 2, getting into position at the other end: “Man, I was born ready!”

But what was supposed to take four hours took nine.  It was physically exhausting for them, psychically draining for me.  A reasonable man would have taken to his bed (amidst the neatly-labeled cardboard boxes) with a Scotch or two, but in the short scuffle between Prudence and Hedonism inside my brain, Prudence didn’t have a chance.

Thus, I found myself in the New Jersey train station, with Dan, Becky, Rossano, and the ever-ebullient Shirley Scott, who seemed to personally know every jazz musician in a ten-state area.  Shirley had brought the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, which we did, collectively and hilariously.

I don’t recall much about the Shanghai Jazz gig except that the club seemed to be an odd place for BED. They played and sang gloriously, but the patrons focused on the excellent food, loudly praising their spicy noodles.  When BED finished their second set, we left, and after some adventures in the cold and dark on the train platform, were on our way back to New York.  Shirley called ahead and found that the Cajun was still open; Eddy and his musicians were eager to meet up with BED.

When we arrived, Eddy’s group was on the stand, with Orange, Scott, Pete Martinez on clarinet, and Conal Fowkes (a sterling pianist) on bass.  Dan took out his cornet and they played an easy “Somebody Loves Me,” one of those let’s-see-where-we’re-at opening tunes musicians like (another one is “Sunday”).  Everyone wanted Becky to sing, and she offered a lightly swinging “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” and Barbara Rosene, sitting in the audience and enjoying it all, was asked to follow, and offered a wistful “Fools Rush In.”  At some point, Dan switched back to trombone, and the band tried out the rare “I Had Somebody Else,” the familiar “St. James Infirmary” and a charging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with Pete Martinez ripping through splendid Ed Hall whoops and runs.

I was ecstatic, and the players were having a great deal of fun as well.  Rossano picked up Dan’s trombone for a multi-clarinet “Somebody Stole My Gal.”  Although Rossano says that he doesn’t play the instrument well, he sounds like a homespun Sandy Williams.  Scott Robinson and Dan both took cornet solos on “A Melody From The Sky,” Dan led the group through “A Monday Date,” and things concluded with a riotous “Dinah,” Debbie Kennedy taking over the bass.  Trimphantly and joyously, Dan sounded much like 1933 Louis in Copenhagen.

The Cajun session came to an end, but the story doesn’t: Shirley called the fine guitarist Joe Cohn, and everyone took over his midtown  apartment.  What I remember now is a series of brilliant flashes: sitting on Joe’s low couch with a tiny glass of demonic grappa in hand, listening to Becky sing “These Foolish Things” with deep tenderness, Rossano playing his own version of Teddy Wilson behind her — a time machine trip back to 1938.  Joe taking out his trumpet (he played it with real style), he and Dan duetting on a line of his father’s (that’s Al Cohn); Joe playing violin for us.  I sat, silently beaming.

The session broke up around 2:30 in the morning, and I made my way to Penn Station — conveniently missing the last LIRR train, so I waited in the nearly-deserted, cavernous station for another two hours.  Fast forward to a blissful man walking home at 6 in the morning, not believing his own good fortune.

I didn’t have my camera with me, and the minidisc recorder I’ve written about here was not yet an indispendsable part of my luggage — but the envelope reminded me of this intensely happy time.  And, even better, all of the players and singers I’ve celebrated here are alive and well.  May they be well, happy, and prosperous!  And thanks to Arlene Lichterman and Herb Maslin: you know who you are!