Tag Archives: The Drawing Room

LEE KONITZ AT CLOSE RANGE: TED BROWN, BRAD LINDE, JUDY NIEMACK, MICHAEL KANAN, MURRAY WALL, JEFF BROWN (The Drawing Room, Brooklyn, December 6, 2015)

Others who knew him well have written with great eloquence about Lee Konitz, who moved into spirit a few days ago, having shared his gifts with us for 92 years. So I will simply share a video-recording of the one performance I was privileged to attend and record, and the story around it.  I am sharing this performance at the request of several of the participating musicians, to honor Lee Konitz as he was in life, moving from WHAT IS  THIS THING CALLED LOVE? into SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (a title given the line by string bassist Arnold Fishkind).

The performance took place on December 6, 2015, at a session celebrating Ted Brown, held at the Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s strudio in Brooklyn: the late Lee Konitz is far right, Brad Linde, tenor, in the center, Ted Brown, tenor, to the left, Judy Niemack, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.

Before I tell my tale, I am grateful to Brad Linde for writing about that night:

Birthday party performances with and for Ted Brown were perennial favorites for me to host at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn. Over the years, there has been a cast of characters from the Tristano School family and adjacent musicians that frequently play with Ted and myself.

This particular night I drove up from DC, returning Aaron Quinn, Miho Hazama, and Jon Irabagon to the city after a gig at the Kennedy Center. I picked up Ted’s cake and made it to the venue with less than the usual time to spare. Two big surprises awaited me. The first was that my tenor has suffered damage in transit and was leaking in the middle of the horn – a devastating discovery. The second was the improbable appearance of Lee Konitz in Brooklyn!

For years, I had dreamed of situating myself in a performance alongside Ted and Lee. And here the dream came true at the worst possible time for my Conn 10M. We started off with “All The Things You Are” and after my stuttering improvisation on a out-of-balance horn, Lee said to me “Nobody’s perfect,” and smiled.

Lena Bloch arrived and graciously loaned me her horn while she diligently worked to repair mine. The night became a family affair with Judy, Lena, Aaron, Murray, Joe Solomon, Jeff, Michael, Ted, and Lee playing familiar standards with unfamiliar results. Lee, at the time known for scatting as much or more than playing, was on fire, playing long choruses and revisiting the sinewy lines.

A big, fun night with heroes and friends. The sounds of surprise.

My perspective on the evening is possibly more humanly embarrassing than Brad’s leaking tenor saxophone.  I met Michael Kanan in 2010 through Joel Press, and Michael impressed me immediately as musician and person, so when I could I came to his gigs and often brought my video camera, about which he was both gracious and scrupulous.  I think it was through Michael that I met Ted Brown and Brad Linde, both of whom extended the same welcome to me.  Thus I attended a number of sessions at The Drawing Room, the upstairs studio on Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, that Michael and Stephanie Greig maintained.

When I heard of this December 2015 session in celebration of Ted, I immediately bought a ticket and came with my camera, as I had done before.  The studio was a long narrow room, and I took up the best position I could, a chair to the far right in the first row, set up my tripod, and waited for the music to begin.  As you can see on the video, the chairs in the front row were not far from the front line.  When Brad and Ted arrived, bringing Lee with them, the room was not wide enough to accommodate all the horn-players in one straight line, so Lee ended up sitting right in front of me.  Reluctantly and with hesitation, I might add. I chose the large photograph for this blogpost because his expression carries some of the same unspoken emotions.

Lee did not speak to me, but he was clearly discomfited to find someone he did not know seated almost at his elbow with an (admittedly small) camera aimed at him and the rest of the front line.  I did not hear precisely what he said to Brad, but motioning to me, his face turned away, I could see his face in a grimace of inquiry.  Other musicians have said of me, speaking to someone in the band whom they knew, “What [not who!] is that?” and I believe Lee asked Brad something similar, and I think Brad replied, “That’s Michael.  He’s OK.  I asked him to come here,” which mollified Lee so that he didn’t turn to me and tell me to leave, but whenever he did notice me, his facial expression was shocked and stern.  But he was a professional, with decades of blocking out nuisances, and the evening proceeded. I spent the evening in anxiety, waiting for him to decide he had had enough of my proximity, but perhaps he lost himself in the joy of playing and singing among friends.  You can see the results for yourself.  

All I can hope for myself is that Lee’s spirit forgives me interloper who was much too close and, without asking  permission or begging his pardon, gobbled up a piece of his art and has given it to the public.  And all I can hope for us is that we crate what we are meant to with such prolific energy, and that we, too, leave such a large hole in the universe when we move into spirit.

May your happiness increase!

THE SECOND PART: “AT 91, TED BROWN CONTINUES TO BREATHE MUSIC: TARDO HAMMER, PAUL GILL, RAY MACCHIAROLA, JEFF BROWN (75 Club, March 23, 2019)”

Ted at the 75 Club: photograph by Seth Kaplan.

You can find the first part of this rare and delicious performance here — eight songs created by the esteemed tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, with Tardo Hammer, piano; Ray Macchiarola, guitar; Paul Gill, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums — at the 75 Club (75 Murray Street, New York), on March 23.  Here’s the rest of the evening’s music, six selections.

But before you immerse yourself in the floating inquiring sounds created that night, just a word — perhaps tactless but necessary.  Ted is having some financial trouble and would welcome your assistance.  Click here to see what it’s all about.  “Every nickel helps a lot,” reminds the Shoe Shine Boy.

Now to music.  Ted’s repertoire his broad, his approach melodic, lyrical, quietly surprising.  But you knew that.  Or you will learn it now.

A classic Forties pop, famous even before Bird took to it, SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

For Lester and Basie, BROADWAY:

and more Lester and Basie, LESTER LEAPS IN:

The gorgeous Irving Berlin ballad, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Perhaps in honor of Ginger Rogers, her hair a crown of shampoo turned white, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT:

and Ted’s own JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, with no apologies to Dickens:

I bow to Mr. Brown, who creates such lasting beauties.

May your happiness increase!

AT 91, TED BROWN CONTINUES TO BREATHE MUSIC: TARDO HAMMER, PAUL GILL, RAY MACCHIAROLA, JEFF BROWN (75 Club, March 23, 2019)

One of the many pleasures of my jazz endeavor is that I have been able to shake hands with the Masters: Joe Wilder, Jim Dapogny, Bob Wilber, Marty Grosz, among others: people who have given us beauty and musical wisdom for decades.

Starting in January 2011, I have had the honor of hearing, meeting, and recording the lyrical and intense tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.  Here he is with Ethan Iverson, Putter Smith, and Hyland Harris, performing THESE FOOLISH THINGS in December 2012, when Ted was a mere 85, at the much-missed Drawing Room.

March 23, 2019: photograph by Seth Kaplan.

On March 23 of this year, I was able to be awestruck by Ted — at 91 — playing among friends at the 75 Club: Jeff Brown, drums, Paul Gill, string bass, Ray Macchiarola, guitar; Tardo Hammer, piano.  What music he and they make!  I could write about Ted’s connections to Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, and Lester Young, but I’d prefer — as does Ted — to let the music sing, muse, and soar for itself.  Here is a substantial helping of searching beauty with a swinging pulse . . . and more to come.

Bird’s blues, RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO,

I think Sigmund Romberg would approve of this LOVER, COME BACK TO ME.  Or if he didn’t, I certainly do:

Lennie Tristano’s musing line on OUT OF NOWHERE, 317 EAST 32nd STREET:

An energized THE SONG IS YOU:

A pensive STAR DUST, which Ted starts all by himself, gorgeously:

Sweet and tart, TANGERINE:

Ted’s own SMOG EYES, celebrating his first time in Los Angeles:

Asking the eternal question, with or without comma, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

Remarkable news: Ted is offering lessons via Skype.  Even those who don’t play tenor could all take a lesson from him.  You can find him here on Facebook.

This is also seriously relevant here.

And thanks to George Aprile and Gabriele Donati of the 75 Club, which is becoming one of my new homes: even R1 dropped in for cake and music, so you know it’s a place to visit.

May your happiness increase!

JON DE LUCIA OCTET and TED BROWN: “LIVE AT THE DRAWING ROOM” (October 22, 2016)

Although this CD is rather unobtrusive, no fuss or ornamentation, it captures a truly uplifting musical event, and I do not write those words lightly: music from tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, a mere 88 at the time of this gig, and a splendidly unified, inventive ensemble.

I’ve only known Jon De Lucia for a few years, but I trust his taste completely, and his performances always reward me.  Now, if I know that one of Jon’s groups is going to perform, I head to the gig with determination (and my camera). He asked me to write a few lines about this disc, and I was delighted to:

Some jazz listeners disdain “West Coast jazz,” “cool jazz,” or any music in the neighborhood of Lennie Tristano (not just East 32nd Street) as so cerebral that it’s barely defrosted. Jon De Lucia’s Octet shows how wrong that perception is: this music is warm, witty, embracing, not Rubik’s Cube scored for saxophones. Rather, the playful, tender spirit of Lester Young dances through everyone’s heart. This impassioned group swings, even when the players are intently looking at the score. For this gig, the Octet had a great spiritual asset in the gently fervent playing of Ted Brown, a Sage of melodic invention. Also, this session was recorded at one of New York City’s now-lost shrines, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s “The Drawing Room,” a sacred home for all kinds of music. I am grateful that Jon De Lucia has created this group: so delightful in whatever they play. You’ll hear it too.

Here’s what Jon had to say:

Saxophonist Jon De Lucia met the great tenorist Ted Brown in 2014, and got to play with him soon after. He was and is struck by the pure lyricism and honesty in his improvising. One of the original students of forward thinking pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940s, Brown, along with Lee Konitz, is among the last of this great school of players. Later, when De Lucia discovered some of Jimmy Giuffre’s original scores from the Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre session of 1959, which Brown and Konitz both participated in, he knew he wanted to put a band together to play this music with Ted.

Thus the Jon De Lucia Octet was formed. A five saxophone and rhythm lineup with unique arrangements by the great clarinetist/saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre. The original charts featured Lee Konitz on every track, and the first step in 2016 was to put a session together reuniting Brown and Konitz on these tunes. An open rehearsal was held at the City College of New York, Lee took the lead and played beautifully while Ted took over the late Warne Marsh’s part. This then led to the concert you have here before you.

De Lucia steps into Lee’s shoes, while the features have been reworked to focus on Brown, including new arrangements of his tunes by De Lucia and daughter Anita Brown. The rest of the band includes a formidable set of young saxophonists, including John Ludlow, who incidentally was a protege of the late Hal McCusick, who also played on the original recording session of Lee Konitz meets Jimmy Giuffre, and plays the alto saxophone, now inherited, used in the session. Jay Rattman and Marc Schwartz round out the tenors, and Andrew Hadro, who can be heard to great effect on “Venus De Milo,” plays the baritone. In the rhythm section, Ray Gallon, one of NYC’s most swinging veterans on the piano, Aidan O’Donnell on the bass and the other legend in the room, the great Steve Little on the drums. Little was in Duke Ellington’s band in 1968, recording on the now classic Strayhorn tribute …and His Mother Called Him Bill, before going on to record all of the original Sesame Street music and much more as a studio musician.

The show was sold out at Brooklyn’s now defunct Drawing Room, operated by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig. Along with the music previously mentioned, De Lucia had recently acquired some of the original parts from Gerry Mulligan’s Songbook session, which featured Konitz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Allen Eager in another great sax section recording, this time arranged by Bill Holman. Here the band plays “Sextet,” and “Venus De Milo” from that session. Brown, here making the band a Nonet, plays beautifully and takes part in every tune, reading parts even when not soloing. Not included in this CD is an extended take of Konitz’s “Cork n’ Bib” and Giuffre’s piece for three clarinets, “Sheepherders.” Possible bonus releases down the line!

Since this concert, the Octet has taken on a life of its own, covering the repertoire of the original Dave Brubeck Octet, more of the Mulligan material, Alec Wilder, and increasingly De Lucia’s own material. De Lucia continues searching for rare and underperformed material, rehearsing regularly in NYC and performing less regularly. 

Earlier in this post, I wrote about my nearly-obsessive desire to bring my camera to gigs, and this session was no exception.  However, I must preface the video below with a caveat: imperfect sight lines and even more imperfect sound.  The CD was recorded by the superb pianist Tony Melone — someone I didn’t know as a wonderful live-recording engineer, and the sound he obtained makes me embarrassed to post this . . . but I hope it acts as an inducement for people to hear more, in delightfully clear sound:

If you gravitate towards expert warm ensemble playing, soloing in the spirit of Lester, a mixture of romping swing and tender introspection, you will applaud this CD as I do.

You can buy it here, with digital downloads available in the usual places.

May your happiness increase!

THE MASTER’S ART: TED BROWN AT NINETY (December 2, 2017): AARON QUINN, KRIS MONSON, DERIC DICKENS

This post isn’t just a celebration of durability, steadfast endurance, and longevity.  Those are all virtues we love, but in the case of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, who turned ninety in early December 2017, what we cheer is his wondrous commitment to creating beauty: not at top speed, not in a shout, but as if he were whispering tender secrets into our ears.

Ted’s birthday party took place at that shrine for music, the Drawing Room (aimed straight at the grail by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig) on December 2, 2017.  In this video — a touching exploration of THESE FOOLISH THINGS — Ted is lovingly accompanied by Aaron Quinn, guitar; Kris Monson, string bass; Deric Dickens, drums.  Also in the course of the evening Jeff Brown took over the drum throne and the gracious organizer of the party — someone we’re all indebted to, tenor saxophonist Brad Linde — played alongside Ted as well.  But this one, delicate, curious, and touching, is all Ted’s.  You could say that he navigates by the stars of Lester and Lennie, but his internal compass has long ago been his own.

And, afterwards, there was cake.  Of course!

Blessings on Ted Brown, a sweet inspiration.  And gratitude that lasts longer than twenty-four hours.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan

This is the first part of a sextet of delicious performances by Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, recorded on January 8, 2018, at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn.

Neal Miner

In that first segment of this impromptu session, these three lyrical friends performed  YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (which is how one gets to Jay Street-MetroTech, among other possibilities), and I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO.  Now, for the patient faithful, this intuitive, subtle trio plays Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Greg Ruggiero

Neal’s BLUES OKURA.  Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips:

And an exceedingly tender IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, honoring Arlen’s intent — and I hear Harburg’s lyrics all the way through:

then the classic LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Wonderful reassuring music to be sure.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, for this casual affecting interlude.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

OVER THE ROUGH ROAD TO THE STARS: ROBERTA PIKET and LENA BLOCH at THE DRAWING ROOM (May 20, 2017)

Here are two of my favorite explorers, captured in a marvelous series of duets.   My title may seem a touch fanciful: the only climb a session at The Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s serene studio, necessitates, is a few flights of stairs. But the music created the night of May 20, 2017, by Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone, and Roberta Piket, piano, makes me think of limitless vistas full of stars.  Listen and I think you will agree.

LENNIE’S PENNIES (Tristano’s minor-key improvisation on PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, first recorded with Konitz and Warne in 1952):

Lena’s ruminative composition, SHORTER NIGHTS:

Tristano’s line on the classic song — theoretically requested by drunks, but the drunks no longer know it.  You do, even when you are sober:

Improvsations on a lovely Fifties ballad, NEVER LET ME GO:

and, to close the recital, an explosively energized HOT HOUSE:

What beauty and what quiet courage.

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN AT 89: SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL

Through the kindness of pianist Michael Kanan, I’ve been introduced to the music of people I might not otherwise have met.  One of them is the soft-spoken and gently lyrical tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.

ted-party

And because of the inventive and much younger saxophonist Brad Linde, there have been celebrations of Ted’s birth: I’ve been at number 85, 88, and the most recent one, Ted’s 89th, on December 3, 2016.  The celebrants pictured above are Brad and Ted, Aaron Quinn, guitar; Frank Canino, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums. Other musicians in the house were Stephanie Greig, Nick Lyons, Jon De Lucia, Caroline Davis, and Elijah Shiffer — as well as some whom I haven’t met yet.

There was cake (also courtesy of Brad).

ted-cake

But more importantly, there was music.  Cake is eaten; music lasts.  And the approving shade of Lester Young was in the room.

LESTER LEAPS IN:

POUND CAKE:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / FEATHER BED:

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Bless Ted Brown and his friends for making such beauty so generously available.

May your happiness increase!

“I RESEMBLE YOU”: The JON DE LUCIA OCTET FEATURING TED BROWN (October 22, 2016)

jon-de-luciated-brown-giuffre-concert-flyer

Thanks for the memory!  This delightful original by Jon De Lucia is based on the harmonies of a familiar song (hunt: the two titles are similar).  The Octet for this performance is Jon, alto saxophone, alto clarinet; John Ludlow, alto; Marc Schwartz, tenor; Jay Rattman, tenor, clarinet; Andrew Hadro, baritone, bass clarinet; Ted Brown, tenor saxophone; Ray Gallon, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.

Yes, the Ted Brown!  And the Steve Little!

This is from Jon’s presentation of arrangements by Jimmy Giuffre, Ted, and himself, performed at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York) on October 22, 2016.

The view on my video is something one can (or must?) adjust to; the sound is decent.  BUT Jon and Co. will be releasing some of the music performed on this glorious evening on an actual compact disc — and I suppose downloads.  I’ll let you know more as I find out the details.

For the moment, don’t forget to resemble.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY WITHOUT BORDERS, 1959

When I find the current news or someone’s smallness of spirit irksome or depressing, I try to turn my concentration to one evidence of Beauty close at hand.  From where I sit, a pear tree’s leaves and branches wave in front of my window.  At the right time, pink striations of sunset, glowing and ever-changing, are in that same window.  Or I can cast my mind back to Beauty, once witnessed, never elusive: this Colorado rainbow, for instance:

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014.

My readers know well the healing power of Beauty through music.  So I invite you to click on the video below and simply listen — without research, without preconceptions, without judgment . . . as if you trusted me to feed you something delicious after I’d asked you to close your eyes:

Gorgeous, understated, melodic, persuasive, no?  (If it doesn’t play in your country, there are multiple postings of this music: I picked the one that didn’t start with a high-volume advertisement.)

I come to this recording late, but gratefully — thanks to saxophone master and general inspiration Jon De Lucia, who put on a concert of some of these arrangements last Sunday at the Drawing Room.  Because of him, I purchased the CD and listened to it this morning.

Why do I present this music in such a sideways fashion?  Of course, I’d like to share what pleases me and what I believe will please my readers — hence the hours I spend on JAZZ LIVES.

But I also have an ideological purpose.  Some divide this art that we love by erecting boundaries.  THIS is the music I will listen to.  THIS is the music I shy away from.  And they apply tests, rather like someone trying to find out whether the soil is acid or alkaline.  “Is this OUR KIND OF MUSIC?”  “Is it “too modern?” “Is it tainted by . . . Swing . . . ?”

Everyone’s entitled to preferences.  I don’t trust the taste of someone who says, “I like everything!” whether it’s music, literature, food — without some discernment, a person seems blind to subtleties.  But I think sadly of people who would turn away from this music, Konitz and Giuffre, because they weren’t Papa Joe and Omer Simeon.  They deprive themselves of the possibility that some Beauty — even if initially strange or alien — could enrich them for under four minutes.

So be courageous.  Listen.  Open ears, open heart, close prejudices, knock down barriers.  Leave the Venn diagrams of PURE and IMPURE to others.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE LASTS: YAALA BALLIN and ARI ROLAND (2015)

Songwriters have always done well with the sudden romantic infatuation, the blinding green flash “across a crowded room.”  “And all at once I owned the earth and sky.”  But love that lasts when such mind-altering experiences have grown familiar is much more rarely a subject.  Oh, there’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, but MAGGIE is no longer around to appreciate the encomium; there’s THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, but that couple is also apparently fairly sedentary.

THEN I'LL BE TIRED OF YOU

The song that I think of with great affection is the 1934 THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Yip Harburg.  I heard it first in a rather irreverent version by Fats Waller (when the song was new) and later by Vic Dickenson and Joe Thomas — instrumental but deeply fervent.  The simple melody is memorable (Joe delighted in those repeated notes) yet for me what makes it complete is Harburg’s witty conceit: rather than attempt to revitalize “I will always love you,” he turns it on its head in the conditional: “I’ll weary of you when these improbable events happen, but not a second before.” High fidelity, and long-playing, too.

YAALA

Here’s a deliciously intimate version by the fine young singer Yaala Ballin and string bassist Ari Roland, recorded in December 2015 at The Drawing Room (video by the very gifted Neal Miner):

Even better than this video is the news that Yaala and Ari will be singing and playing on Sunday, June 19, at the pastoral hour of 3:30, at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn — right near a subway!)  Here are the details of that event.  And later on that same June 19, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz (the FEATHERY quartet) will be creating and improvising . . . from 7 PM on.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN’S BIRTHDAY, TWICE (December 1 and 6, 2015)

Photograph by Hiroi

Photograph by Hiroi

The lyrical — understated but eloquent — tenor saxophonist Ted Brown turns 88 today.  This Sunday, December 6, 2015, there will be a musical birthday party at The Drawing Room — 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York, beginning at 7 PM, organized by Ted’s friend and colleague, tenorist Brad Linde. Details  — including a map — here.

The rhythm section, happily, will be Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.  If this weren’t enough, I am told there will also be cake.

Here are Ted and Michael in 2011 — singing sweetly and sadly on PRISONER OF LOVE:

Here are Ted, Brad, Michael, Murray, and Taro Okamoto in 2012, celebrating Ted’s eighty-fifth birthday with a romping BROADWAY:

An occasion you shouldn’t miss.

May your happiness increase!

STRENGTH, POISE, FEELING: ROBERTA PIKET, “EMANATION”

In a world where we are asked to pretend that the hologram is human, pianist / composer Roberta Piket’s music is so refreshing for its integrity and honesty. I feel that she approaches her music with that most winning openness: “Let me see what can come of it,” and the results are elating.  She has power but she isn’t angry at the keyboard or at us.  Rather, hers is a singular balance between toughness and gentleness: her music peers into the darkness without getting downtrodden and brings back light from surprising angles.

Her playing is original without being self-consciously “innovative,” and it isn’t a catalogue of familiar gestures, audience-pleasing bobs and weaves . . . there is nothing formulaic in her art.  Honoring her and our Ancestors, she pays them the best tribute, which is to sound like herself.

Her art — deep and subtle — is wonderfully on display on her new solo CD, which is (happily for us) her second solo exploration, EMANATION.

Roberta-Piket-Emanation-Cover-300x268Roberta’s chosen repertoire is for the most part recognizable — not an ego-display of one “original” after another) but she isn’t trapped by the Past.  Her evocations of Monk, Romberg, Gillespie, Arthur Schwartz, Kern, McPartland, and Hancock are both reassuring and playfully lit from within. One could play this CD for someone who “doesn’t like jazz” without causing trauma, but it is galaxies away from Easy Listening Piano For People Who Aren’t Listening.

Her two originals, the wistful SAYING GOODBYE and the sweetly curious EMANATION, are full of feeling — novellas of sound.  The CD closes with her variations on a Chopin theme . . . both a loving bow to the source and a gentle statement of her own identities.  The CD — beautifully recorded, with wonderful notes by the eminent Richie Beirach — is a fifty-minute journey into other worlds, both nearby and tantalizingly far-off.

Visit here for sound samples and ordering information and here to learn more about Roberta, her music, and upcoming gigs.

Because I know my audience is honest and trustworthy, I offer a boon for those who check out the CD and Roberta’s site (I’ll know!): music from a divine duo concert by Roberta and Lena Bloch, from February of this year, at The Drawing Room — here.  Gorgeous searching music from two modern masters.  (Learn more about Lena here.  Music and musicians like Roberta and Lena give me hope.

May your happiness increase!

“A HEAVEN ON EARTH TO SHARE”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI / MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (February 8, 2015)

What follows captures one of those magic times when the song, the title, the performance, and the performers can all be described in the same phrase.

SO RARE

The song, to many of us, is associated forever with Jimmy Dorsey — his last hit –but it was a pop hit in 1937.

SO RARE 45

The simple melody line has made it adaptable to all kinds of improvisers: there is an airshot by the Benny Goodman trio when it was new, and later performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Mose Allison, Anthony Braxton, and the duo of Jimmie Rowles and Joe Pass.

But I submit that the version that is now forever in my mind and heart is this one, created by Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan on February 8 of this year at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, in Brooklyn.

Gabrielle introduces it in a touching, light-hearted way (while Michael plays gorgeously behind her) and then transforms the song.  No longer simply a piece of nostalgia, it becomes the most warm expression of happy praise and exultant joy from one lover to another.  Love never ages:

Isn’t that marvelous?  The dark beauty of Gabrielle’s voice, moving from the casually spoken to the eloquently full-throated, and the moving subtleties Michael always creates.  And that steady sweet patient tempo.

I offer another masterpiece from that evening — and there were many — here.

I propose that music like this — delicate, haunting, elegant, deep — is indeed so rare.

And I send thanks to Gabrielle’s parents.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE CREST OF A THRILL: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI and MICHAEL KANAN CREATE BEAUTY (February 8, 2015)

What follows is so much more than a formulaic visit to the Great American Songbook by a singer and a pianist.  What Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan offer us here is nothing short of miraculous.

I think of the eloquent reedman, now gone, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, who — when confronted by music that was deeply heartfelt and expert without artifice — would hit himself in mid-chest and say, “Gets you right in the gizzard, doesn’t it?” And he spoke with great conviction about musicians who knew the sacred wisdom of “taking their time,” of letting beauty unfold at its own pace.

Sam never got to hear Gabrielle and Michael, but I sense his approving spirit.

The music here is so emotionally deep without play-acting (“Look how much drama we can wring out of this old song!”) and it is both intense and leisurely, because they know that the slow growth of real feeling cannot be hurried.

They offer a rich quiet mixture of delicacy and intensity; they create a wondrous synergy, inspiring one another.

The song is STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, music by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli (both jazz improvisers who you’ll find on many recordings from the Twenties to the Sixties), lyrics by Mitchell Parish.  It’s a sweet ballad, but Gabrielle and Michael keep the tempo moving, even though it feels like a thoughtful rubato throughout.

Please note the absolutely reverent attention given to the nuances of melody that Michael brings to his somberly hopeful exposition of the theme — a completely satisfying musical offering in itself.  Then Gabrielle’s quietly hopeful song — with Michael playing the most sensitive intuitive accompaniment (and I see “accompaniment” here as a lovely friendship, with the two of them sweetly climbing those stairs as the lyrics suggest).

Gabrielle’s voice in itself is a rare thing, but what she does with and within it is simply incomparable:

This performance took place on Sunday, February 8, 2015 — at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn (easily reached by a half-dozen subway lines).  When I have brought myself and my camera to a place where such music is created in front of my eyes, I do not simply feel rewarded; I feel uplifted.  And grateful beyond my power to express here.

I also think this performance should remind people who dearly love music that it is being created right now, all around us.  It exists in human form: people with voices and instruments, inventing beauty on the spot. The music is large, vividly alive, and energized — in ways that earbuds cannot contain.  Even this video is a shadow on the cave wall — encapsulating the experience but not a complete equivalent for it.

My words are more than “Go and hear some live music,” although that is also my intent.  To be in a place where actual people are creating something like this in public is an experience more inspiring than clicking the icon to download the track . . . but many people seem to have forgotten this.  Honor the music by joining the creators, while it and they still thrive.

May your happiness increase!

CONSIDER YOURSELF INVITED, or WARMING TRENDS IN BROOKLYN (February 8 and 15, 2015)

If you’re reading this in the tri-state area on February 4, the view from your window might be cheerless, the prime ornament being snow heaped up in unappealing mounds.  As I write this, the thermometer is struggling to rise up out of the twenties.  You can’t hear it, but I am sighing.

But there are two events coming soon to a Brooklyn oasis that will make me and a small group of the faithful forget about winter.  The oasis is THE DRAWING ROOM, a beautiful secular shrine to music created by pianist Michael Kanan and string bassist Stephanie Greig, and you can find it at 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, New York.  It’s accessible from nearly every major subway line, and the price of admission is a mere ten dollars.  This Sunday night, from 7 to 10 PM, the wonderful singer Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael will be making beautiful music.  I know.  I speak from experience:

I watched my video of this 2012 performance again, to make sure I wasn’t simply remembering the experience through a sweet nostalgic haze, and once again I had to brush tears away.  This performance of BILL is the musical equivalent of watching a flower open in slow motion, for Gabrielle and Michael so wisely and sweetly capture the doubleness of the song — a mildly comic undercurrent, the teasing way one can gently list the faults of the person one loves, because both that person and you know the deep accepting love underneath, and the embracing tenderness.  Michael and Gabrielle fully inhabit those emotions and make them come to rich life in front of us, in sounds and words.

I expect some of this magic will happen again this coming Sunday, so I will don appropriate winter garb to make it to Brooklyn.

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  Sign on.  Join in.  The music will reward you.

And, one week later, February 15, pianist Roberta Piket and tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch will be making brave beautiful music at the Drawing Room.  I hope to be there, too.

May your happiness increase!

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

GET MELLOW, YOU DOGS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, MURRAY WALL, WARREN VACHÉ, MENNO DAAMS, SHANNON BARNETT, HARVEY TIBBS at THE EAR INN (October 6, 2013)

I was too exhilarated on the evening of October 6, 2013, to put my feelings into words.  The music played at The Ear Inn — the second set of one of the EarRegulars’ Sunday-night revival meetings in swing — was extraordinary.

The EarRegulars on their own are a splendid group — led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and featuring guitarist Matt Munisteri — with an extensive coterie of gifted friends who send us creative gifts Sunday after Sunday.  This Sunday the quartet began with John Allred, trombone, and Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The guests were a brassy bunch (with the exception of string bassist Murray Wall): Warren Vaché (imported from New Jersey) and Menno Daams (from the Netherlands), cornets; Shannon Barnett (from Australia) and Harvey Tibbs (from uptown), trombones.

The second set was a glorious yet expert conversation — friendly musical dialogues at the highest level.  Yes, the solo playing was brilliant, but the easy mastery of the common language (riffs, backgrounds) was just as thrilling.

The first selection here was suggested by an elegant woman from Edinburgh whose name eluded me (I hope she reads this blog so I may identify her properly).  Her jazz credentials are perfect, for she asked for Herschel Evans’ line for the Basie band of 1937-9, DOGGIN’ AROUND.  A sextet of brilliant players assembled: from the left, Warren, Menno, Jon-Erik, John (in the front line); Murray and Matt in the rear:

And as if four horns weren’t enough, how about a few trombones for IN A MELLOTONE?  Warren left for New Jersey after dramatically taking some bills out of his pocket, stuffing them into Phillup DeBucket and announcing loudly, “Tip the band, you cheap _____!” and vanishing into the night.

Menno, Jon-Erik, Shannon, John, Harvey, Murray, and Matt rocked not only The Ear Inn but probably the entire five-borough area.

Mellowly!

Before this set at The Ear Inn, I had been at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn) to experience the beauty of Abigail Riccards singing and Michael at the piano.  The very moving evidence is here.

An amazing evening.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET MAGIC: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (October 6, 2013)

Singer Abigail Riccards and pianist Michael Kanan are a special pair. Their gently fresh approach to great songs is revelatory: they proceed wisely and tenderly.  I find myself thinking, “Have I ever truly heard that song before?  I know STARDUST, but have I ever heard it so completely realized?”  They enhance rather than distort; they embody Ezra Pound’s artistic manifesto for Modernism — MAKE IT NEW — without dishonoring the original intent of the music or words.

What Abigail and Michael create springs from gracious courage: the sweet bravery of souls leaping into the unknown and enacting beauty for us.  Magic without tricks.  Although Abigail sounds as if she is just offering the words and notes, as casual as a note left on the refrigerator door, she is a cunning subtle actress, whose speaking delivery carries great feeling and meaning in every phrase.  Michael Kanan lights our path in every way: the most gracious of men, at the keyboard and otherwise.

I was fortunate enough to witness their tender shape-changing on October 6 at Michael’s new studio, The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  Here is the first set.  One marvel unfolds after another.

As an aside — ordinarily I edit out some of the conversation between songs.  In this case, since Abigail is devilishly witty — a splendid improvising comedienne, too — I have left everything as my camera recorded it.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

WHERE OR WHEN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

STARDUST:

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN:

BLUE SKIES:

WHAT’LL I DO?

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

LUCKY TO BE ME:

We are the lucky ones, because we live where such beauty flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

RICH AND SPACIOUS: “POUND CAKE”: KIRK KNUFFKE, TED BROWN, JOHN HEBERT, MATT WILSON

One of the pleasures of the year just ended was meeting and hearing cornetist Kirk Knuffke for the first time.  This happened at a December 2012 concert for tenor saxophonist Ted Brown’s eighty-fifth birthday, but the pleasure of Kirk’s music has continued long after the concert ended — through his recording session with Ted, issued as POUND CAKE on Steeplechase Records.

POUND CAKE Kirk KnuffkeOn this CD, Kirk and Ted are joined by two other subtly eloquent players, string bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson.  It is a spare but richly resonant quartet of equally musical voices in deep conversation. A number of the compositions are Ted’s — BLIMEY, DIG IT, JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN’, FEATHER BED, JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, but they are heard afresh. Tristano’s LENNIES, two of Kirk’s originals, SWIVEL and ARRIVE, sit neatly next to the classic GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? and the Lester Young blues which gives this CD its name (“pound cake,” in Lester’s slang, was your girlfriend).

It’s hard to describe the music, except to say that it dramatizes in sweet ways the continuum of improvised music of the last hundred years: at times I thought of Lester Young’s Keynote quartet with Sidney Catlett, then the early Mulligan quartet, all the way up to Ornette and Don Cherry.  Seamless, personal, and flowing.

Good-natured music without being trivial or jokey: listening to the title track, I thought that these four players had managed to summon up Lester’s ebullience and sadness — parallel and simultaneous — without smudging either expression.  I had already known how lyrical Ted was and is, but encountering the other players on this CD is a real pleasure.  Matt Wilson now belongs to the expanding category of “modern” drummers who make beautiful sounds, who are incapable of being tedious or formulaic.  Every touch of the stick or brush brings joy.  John Hebert is both a powerful eloquent soloist and an old-fashioned string bassist in the great tradition who, like a swing Atlas, can hold the globe on his shoulders.  But Kirk . . .ah, Mr.Knuffke!  I have admired cornet players all my life: Bobby Hackett and Ruby Braff first — sweet sound-painters.  Kirk eschews the broad strokes that some other brass players love in favor of a sweet apparent indirection that is (whisper this) always on target.  His notes seem like the dots in an impressionist painting; the listener wonders, “What does he have in mind?  Where is he going?” and then, two minutes later, we hear that the sly Mr. Knuffke has created an entire world of sound for us while appearing to be simply ambling.

Here’s a sample of Kirk, Ted, Matt, and bassist Chris Lightcap from that wonderfully illuminating concert in December 2012:

DIG IT.  I do; you will.

May your happiness increase.