Tag Archives: the Ear Regulars

HAPPY NEW EAR! (Jan. 2, 2011)

One of the regular features of JAZZ LIVES is my reporting on what delights occurred at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on the preceding Sunday night.  Saying that I have a good time would be an understatement.   

But even I — expecting the finest kind of jazz synergy on a regular basis — was astonished by what happened on January 2, 2011.

The EarRegulars and their friends created extraordinary music last Sunday night as 2011 took hold.  I had the privilege of watching individual creative impulses coalesce into something larger, something casually magnificent — all only a few feet from my camera.      

If this seems overstatement, a kind of “witness to history” pronouncement appropriate only to breaking news, the music will explain my feelings.  I’m delighted to present some of the evening’s many highlights. 

The EarRegulars, for the first set, were a quartet of friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, bass; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar. 

They began with OH, BABY! — a song beloved of Jazz Age Chicagoans and of Eddie Condon and friends.  Because of the season, this performance was full of sly references to wintry / holiday tunes, causing Matt to say it should have been called OH, BROTHER!  But now that I am safe from FROSTY THE SNOWMAN for another eleven months, I didn’t mind.  See if you can catch all the in-and-out jokes.  And see if you can keep from laughing at the musical frolics:

Another good old good one, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, reminiscent of Bix as well, could easily have been the title for this posting.  Enjoy the conversational games played so well by these four brilliant improvisers:

To cool things off a bit, Jon-Erik asked John to choose one with a trombone lead, and John suggested the timeless “rhythm ballad” THESE FOOLISH THINGS, a performance full of quiet feeling:

Early on in the evening, there were intimations of a jam session to come.  I had spotted trombonist Emily Asher sitting at one table, then saxophonist Lisa Parrott, then trumpeter Bria Skonberg.  To my right appeared (like a belated holiday gift) the cornetist Dan Tobias, who was invited to join the festivities for a romping FROM MONDAY ON:

When the first set had ended, even more musicians came in, among them the ever-faithful Dan Block, clarinet at the ready.  I chatted with another clarinet wizard, Pete Martinez, about the Albert system, Johnny Windhurst, Eddie Condon in the 1950s, Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen of Swing, and TISHOMINGO BLUES.  Where else but at The Ear Inn?

Later, Howard Alden came in — first to listen — and I eventually noticed the broad back of someone I didn’t recognize, but when he began to play wire brushes on the paper-covered table, I knew that he knew: it was Chuck Redd!

(In the break, the actor James Gandolfini had come in, had a drink or two, and decided not to stay — a grave mistake.  When Jeremy Irons had visited The Ear Inn some years back, he had the good sense to stick around for The EarRegulars!)

The second set was masterfully orchestrated by Maestro Kellso, who invited these friends up one at a time.  It swelled into a thirteen-piece ensemble for AFTER YOU’VE GONE (which — if you’re keeping score — began with the last eight bars — more accurately, the last sixteen played double-time, says Jon-Erik).  And please note how each jam-session performance levitates itself on a flying carpet of Kellso-driven riffs, some from Basie, some from Louis, all in the grand tradition:

Then, a more moderate approach to WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM, an unlikely prospect for both players and audience.  In F, please:

Seeing the three trombones, Jon-Erik suggested TIGER RAG — an ecstatic romp presented here in two parts, because I couldn’t bear to lose even the final thirty-five seconds:

The last little bit (good to the last drop!):

Writing about this experience two days later, I don’t think that this music — simultaneously ecstatic and expert — needs much explication.  But more was going on at The Ear Inn than musicians stopping by to play a chorus or two. 

It was the creation of an inspired, mutually supportive community, nothing less. 

Jon-Erik, Matt, Victor Villar-Hauser (behind the bar but so much more than a mere pourer of libations), and the owners of The Ear Inn have all worked without calling attention to themselves to make 326 Spring Street on Sunday nights a remarkable place. 

It’s that rare spot where jazz musicians know they will be allowed and encouraged to play their own music with their peers.  Those of us who value such an unusual occurrence come to the Ear as if on a pilgrimage  — and the musicians feel the same way.  (In the audience but not playing were Chuck Wilson, Barbara Dreiwitz, and many others.)

And there’s more. 

In our time, where texting offers itself as equal to experience, the creation of such a community is both beautiful and special.  The sense of separateness that underlies much of our daily life disappears while the music is playing. 

Here we are!” say the musicians.  “Come with us!”  The smiles of the players and the observers light the dark room.  And a singular cohesiveness blossoms, a solace we seek all through our waking hours without knowing it.

As the new year begins, may we all embody our work as beautifully as these musicians do.  May we  all wear our accomplishments with such easy grace.   

And while writing these words, I felt for a moment, “I have witnessed something that will never come again,” but who knows?  There’s always next Sunday at The Ear Inn, which is hopeful and uplifting. 

Eight o’clock (really seven-thirty or earlier if you like sitting). 

You come, too. 

Bring your appreciative self and something for the tip jar.  The EarRegulars will supply the joy.

A DOWNTOWN PILGRIMAGE (May 30, 2010)

My Sunday-night trips downtown to the Ear Inn (in Soho, Greenwich Village, New York City, 326 Spring Street) are really spiritual pilgrimages in search of the right sounds to heal any of the non-musical affronts of the preceding week.  These quests let me watch artists at play, hear them improvise delightfully, to feel joy — things not to be taken lightly in this world.

Fortunately for me, the trip to The Ear is less arduous than the one Chaucer’s pilgrims had to undertake: they didn’t have the benefit of the C or the number 1 train.   

The healers I went to see last Sunday night (May 30) weren’t Doc Cooke and his 14 Doctors of Syncopation.  They were The Ear Regulars (or the EarRegulars — scholars differ on this): Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, also sax; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass.  Later on in the evening other swing gurus joined: Dan Block, clarinet; Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; and newcomer (from County Mohan, Ireland — although he’s been here for ten years), Tony Steele, bass.  

They began the evening with the most encouraging welcome: LINGER AWHILE:

And then, a slow-rocking SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

LINGER AWHILE made me think of the precious 1943 recording by Dicky Wells; SOMETIMES reminded me greatly of all the Keynote Records sessions — Danny’s lyrical motions and subtle (almost invisible) bandleading, his riffs and encouragements, always create the best small-band-Swing.

A tender but gutty CREOLE LOVE CALL followed:

Please notice James Chirillo’s wonderfully dissonant surprises [Charles Ives meets Teddy Bunn meets Herb Ellis]; Chuck Wilson’s speaking melodic style, Murray Wall’s lovely pulsing beat and singing solos.

Dinner for the band and conversation amongst everyone followed; then it was time for the second set.

A deliciously slow-motion EXACTLY LIKE YOU led off (proof that almost all great melodies can benefit from being played slowly):

An eager BEALE STREET BLUES:

A two-part version of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ brought Pat back with his cello, alongside Tony Steele on bass:

And the riffing conclusion with Pat O’Leary’s cello commentaries:

LOVE ME!:

OR LEAVE ME!:

And the evening closed with a brisk, brief, speedy CHINA BOY — the original band plus Dan Block:

Feeling lost?  Downtrodden?  Does your clothing suddenly seem heavy on your shoulders?  A trek to ask the Sage for guidance won’t be necessary.  Come to the Ear Inn or any of the other jazz spots I’ve been featuring.  I predict an immediate emotional uplift in a few hours.

“OH, SISTER! AIN’T THAT HOT?” (The Ear Inn, May 23, 2010)

Befire we begin our almost-weekly celebration of high incendiary art in the West Village (that’s The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street in New York City, Sunday 8-11 PM), a little history.

The title I’ve chosen for this blog refers back to a spirited song first made famous in jazz circles through a 1928 recording by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.  Later, Eddie Condon, who had an ear for good, nearly forgotten songs, brought it back through a 1940 Commodore recording that featured Pee Wee Russell and Fats Waller (transparently incognito as “Maurice,” his son’s given name).  Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern resuscitated it once more in performances as Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.  Marty Grosz loves the song and has performed it at Chautauqua and with Frank Chace.  But it’s far from a part of the standard “traditional” repertoire, so I was delighted to hear the Ear Regulars begin their first set last Sunday, May 23, with it.

But here’s the history.  I searched for a copy of the sheet music online (wanting, among other things, to see how the cover artist handled this exuberant there) — with no success.  But the YouTube channel of “victrolaman” turned up something even better, perhaps more authentic: the 1923 Edison recording with vocal by Vernon Dalhart.  Some of the lyrics are slightly hard to follow, but the general idea is quite clear — a song celebrating just how good the music is!

History class concluded; everyone gets an A; have a wonderful summer!

Back to the present or at least the recent past.  Most ad hoc groups begin their first set of the night with something familiar, not too complicated — perhaps SUNDAY — but The Ear Regulars are more ambitious.  So even I, with nearly three years’ happy experience of watching them in action, can’t predict what Jon-Erik or Matt is going to pull out of their imaginary song-files.  I was thrilled to hear them launch into this song.  By the second chorus, this band was in overdrive or turbo-charged or whatever automotive metaphor might appeal:

And the answer to the title’s somewhat rhetorical question was, of course, “Yes!”

For contrast, the Regulars proceeded to make the very familiar ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET seem new and lively:

Harking back to the Thirties (to Billie and Lester, perhaps even to James P. Johnson), they then explored IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

They were taking their time, thankfully, so here’s the conclusion:

One of the band’s friends, the most gifted guitarist Julian Lage, came in at the start, and the Ear Regulars are very well-schooled jazz hosts, so they invited Julian to join the fun, which he did on a slow, rocking WABASH BLUES.  Please pay special attention to the ringing dissonances with which Matt begins his solo: he has an IMAGINATION, he does:

And here’s the second part, just as groovy, beginning with Jon-Erik’s plunger-muted magic:

They decided to finish the set with STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, a tune “all the musicians love to jam,” here in two parts:

And the conclusion:

I couldn’t stay for the second set, but was very pleased to have been there for this musicale.  Everyone was individually inspired, and inspired by their colleagues on the stand.  

If I haven’t gone on at length about Kellso’s intensity, Scott’s ability to play any instrument marvelously and his urging playing, Matt’s wise risk-taking, Neil’s lovely sound and solid tempo, Julian’s delving and swooping melody lines . . . it’s because I think all of that should be evident to anyone watching one of the performances above.

BUILDING CASTLES IN THE EAR (May 16, 2010)

Some people think that jazz performances are primarily strings of solos, and this is occasionally true.  But one of the deep pleasures of listening to this music is in the three-dimensional shapes that performances can take.  This kind of immediate, impromptu architectural construction can happen at a jam session, where the players don’t know each other well, or it can be the happy collective invention of a working band. 

In either case, while a listener is absorbing the movement from one chorus to the next, it’s easy to visualize a jazz cathedral being built.  Everything adds to the larger structure: notes and lines aren’t there solely for their own evanescent purposes, but they also function as parts of something far larger that is getting created before our ears and eyes.

This happened all through the night at last Sunday’s session at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) by the Ear Regulars, who were (in the first set) Matt Munisteri (guitar) , Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Greg Cohen (bass).  For the second set, they were joined, off and on, by Dan Block (tenor), Alex Norris (trumpet), and Adrian Cunningham (clarinet).  To my ears, everyone played brilliantly — but a good deal of the credit for the lovely architectural shapes goes to Jon-Erik, who has quietly taken on the mantle of his and my hero, Ruby Braff — not only as a peerless player, but as a wondrous sensitive on-the-bandstand subtle orchestrator, making performances shapely and varied.  Pete Martinez was in burning form — his tone and attack on his Albert system clarinet is one of the marvels of the age.  Greg Cohen created one eloquent solo after another (no one has told him that the string bass is supposed to be less than orchestrally grand!) and providing fine support.  Matt Munisteri, once again, came through as one of the hardest-working men in music: never letting up, never coasting, either in rhythm or in fluid, tumbling lines.   

I’ve included a number of performances that particularly struck me as having an architectural glory.  See if you don’t agree!

Early on in the first set, they took on the pretty pop song (circa 1935) that everyone associates with Fats Waller, although he didn’t compose it.  (Later, Ruby Braff took it on, most deliciously.)  Its title is properly optimistic: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Then, a tongue-twisting novelty number identified firmly with Louis — who gave up on the lyrics early on in the performance.  I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS (“and you oughta see me do my stuff”):

And the concluding section:

Returning to Louis’s Hot Seven, here’s WILLIE THE WEEPER (whose lyrics describe the dream that Willie — he was a chimney sweeper — had.  I think Willie was under the influence of some illegal but highly uplifting substances, but since the Ear Regulars don’t favor us with a vocal chorus, you’ll have to investigate the text on your own).  Non-guitarists like myself might find Matt’s playing on this track unusual, but (as Jon-Erik pointed out) he’d broken a string and soldiered on heroically anyway.  Nothing stops our heroes!

In the second set, Dan Block brought his tenor sax, and they launched into a rollicking MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, complete with flourishes:

And (with trumpeter Alex Norris — he of the full, round tone — added) I’M CONFESSIN’, full of feeling:

If the Landmarks Commission only knew what beautiful structures were being erected on Sunday nights . . . !

MOTHER’S NIGHT AT THE EAR INN (May 9, 2010)

Does Mother’s Day come to a halt at 6 PM?  Obviously not at The Ear Inn, the last place I’d expect to find observance of such synthetic “holidays.” 

The Ear Regulars showed up last Sunday night fully prepared to do honor to dear old Mom.  Co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri were there with bassist Pat O’Leary and a new face — Ohio trombonist Jim Masters, who’s done time in the Buddy Rich band and (more serenely, I’d wager) in the Widespread Jazz Orchestra alongside such New York stalwarts as Michael Hashim and Jordan Sandke.  Jim played beautifully, suggesting a modern combination of Urbie Green and Vic Dickenson, a lovely mixture. 

To the music:

The holiday brought up the idea that the members of the ensemble had once been newborns, thus suggesting I FOUND A NEW BABY.  (What the subliminal connection to other songs played that night, I NEVER KNEW, and JUST LIKE THAT, might be, I leave to readers):

Later, the much-hoped for second-set jam session developed: Chris Flory sat in for Matt, and Dan Block unsheathed his mighty alto saxophone for a sweet IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

And they continued with PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

Mother’s Night at The Ear concluded with a sweet paean to pastoral life by Jon-Erik, Matt, Jim, and Pat: LAZY RIVER:

As Louis would say, “Oh, mama!”

P.S.  I was seated at the bar between two fascinating individuals: to my right, the jazz photographer John Rogers, whose work you’ve seen in a variety of places (http://johnrogersnyc.com/about.html) .  To my left, a visitor from the UK — boppish trumpeter by night / sociology professor by day John Macnicol.  An entertaining pair to sit between!  And deep in The Ear, banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis held court at the bar, grinning and listening intently.   

And they (unlike some of our younger colleagues) didn’t feel it necessary to talk over the music . . . or to talk through it and then yelp “Woohoo” at the end of a performance they had heard little of.  Alas.  The music prevails, of course.

THE SECOND SET (THE EAR INN, April 25, 2010)

I have had a great deal of pleasure listening to jazz in many places, but the second set at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in New York City) on a Sunday night when The Ear Regulars are playing is a true oasis.  

After their set break, the musicians are content, relaxed.  Their tempos rock; their music is stirring.  And there are usually some sterling additions, surprise guests who bring their horns and their talents.

Last Sunday, April 25, 2010, the Ear Regulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Harry Allen, and Neal Miner.  “Some band!” as Charlotte would say. 

They played a stellar set, which I captured in a post here, logically called THE FIRST SET (https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/the-first-set-the-ear-inn-april-25-2010/).

Even better, some official Ear Pals came in: Andy Farber with his tenor sax; Danny Tobias and his cornet; Chris Flory (without a guitar but ready to borrow Matt’s), and Jim Whitney (ditto for Neal’s bass). 

In another world, the combination of two tenors, two trumpets, and a rhythm section might have stirred up competition.  But not here.  High notes and long solos aren’t the rule at these sessions; no, they are much more like a group of friends having a good time. 

The original quartet started off the second set with a leisurely saunter through a Ben Webster line (a composition twice removed?), DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?  In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that Ben is supposed to have substituted another verb in the title.  CALL is based on the chords of IN A MELLOTONE, which is based on ROSE ROOM.  The source of ROSE ROOM is yet untraced:

Beginning with Neal, here’s the second part:

Continuing the Ellington-out-of-Riff mood, Jon-Erik called for THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’, a Johnny Hodges version of I GOT RHYTHM — and invited Andy and Danny to the bandstand:

Here’s the rocking last chorus:

Jon-Erik passed the scepter to Danny, who called one of his favorite songs, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

Keeping the amorous subtext going, someone (was it Chris Flory, now ready to play Matt’s guitar?) suggested COMES LOVE, a favorite of Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber’s.  Jim Whitney had taken over on bass for Neal:

Here’s the conclusion:

Finally, the group (with Chris on guitar but Neal back on bass) romped through LINGER AWHILE, a song that makes me think of a Dicky Wells record with Lester Young, Bill Coleman, Ellis Larkins, Freddie Green, Al Hall, and Jo Jones on board:

I couldn’t linger for too long, but I can’t wait until next Sunday.  You come, too!

THE FIRST SET (THE EAR INN, April 25, 2010)

It was just another extraordinary Sunday night at The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street.  The Ear Regulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Harry Allen, and Neal Miner — embodied all the jazz anyone could ever want in about an hour.  Bix and Louis floated by; King Oliver looked in the doorway; Don Byas and Count Basie sat a spell; Billie, Lester, and Ben made themselves to home. 

And in the corporeal audience, New York Times jazz critic Nate Chinen and his wife Ashley sat close to the band, Nate taking notes and feeling the rhythms, Ashley smiling. 

Many bands play ROYAL GARDEN BLUES fast and faster; the Ear Regulars looked back to the easy stroll of a Basie small group.  The first few seconds of the video are disconcertingly blurry, but they improve and the music is always in sharp focus:

SOME OF THESE DAYS is a finger-waggling song — “You know, you do that one more time and I’m gone!”  This band doesn’t have it in its collective heart to be threatening, but they certainly had fun with this melody:

Then it was time for a pretty song of romantic jubilation, at “rhythm ballad” tempo, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES is too interesting a song (especially with its dramatic verse) to be consigned to oblivion, so the Ear Regulars make a point of bringing it out regularly:

What would life be like without a beautiful ballad by Harry Allen?  Here. his choice was the ruminative, sad SEPTEMBER SONG:

Showing us once again that “the material is immaterial,” the Ear Regulars launched into one of the oldest “songs to blow on,” TEA FOR TWO, with delicious results:

The music was wonderful — you couldn’t miss it — but just as delightful was that Nate, bless his heart, wrote it up for the Times in a way that showed that it does mean a thing . . . and he felt the swing.  Here ‘t’is:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/arts/music/27kellso.html