Tag Archives: The Famous Ear

REASONS TO CELEBRATE at THE FAMOUS EAR (June 19, 2011)

Being alive is cause for celebration.

And being someplace where beauty is being created is even more reason to feel joy.  Last Sunday, June 19, 2011, was a happy time at The Famous Ear (The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) for many reasons.  The EarRegulars knew it was Father’s Day and played one song — you’ll hear it here — to celebrate our Papas (whimsically, mind you).

The EarRegulars that night were co-founders Matt Munisteri (guitar); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); Pete Martinez (clarinet); Jon Burr (bass) — with a visit from Andy Stein, often playing his violin with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, but here toting his tenor saxophone for the first set (a surprise!) and his baritone for the second.   

The EarRegulars are not a group of antiquarians, “playing old records live.”  Nay, nay.  But they do honor their creative parents all the time: their jazz Dads and Moms — with great love, in the best way . . . by making something new and fresh and striking out of their own experiences.  Every Sunday at The Famous Ear is a kind of spiritual Father’s Day, because Louis and Bix, Roy and Ruby, Eddie and Django, and a hundred others are remembered and cherished in the solos, the ensembles, the tempos, the swing.

And there was another reason to celebrate: the EarRegulars marked a run of steady gigs — four years of glorious Sunday evening sessions — that June 19.  Was it their fourth birthday or their fourth anniversary?  I can’t tell (someone will surely write in to explain which it was) but it was a sweet occasion, especially in a world where a “steady gig” is usually measured in shorter timespans.

Here are some soul-uplifting performances from that night:

A lilting, sweet SLEEPY TIME GAL that had the pleasure of staying at home with the Beloved in every note:

For Jimmie Noone and all the jam sessions that followed him, a profoundly swinging statement of mutual knowledge, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

From that certainty, a troubling question: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And a cheerful THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Then (a request from JAZZ LIVES), that romantic entreaty — LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

A groovy I COVER THE WATERFRONT, suggesting that the waterfront in question was Danish, circa 1933:

For Fathers everywhere (or forefathers?): I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS, with an utterly unexpected vocal chorus by Herr Stein:

Jon Burr, brave explorer, led everyone into a deep IT HAD TO BE YOU:

And there was HAPPY BIRTHDAY (TO US)* — but since that song is only eight bars long, which is rather like a soliloquy of ten words, Matt led the EarRegulars into adding an I GOT RHTYHM bridge, for variety — I thought of Lester Young’s BLUE LESTER, but there was nothing seriously historical in the air, just jubilation, well-deserved:

May the EarRegulars and The Famous Ear prosper and continue to spread joy!

*I called this version on YouTube LET’S GET HAPPY, in honor of the 1938 Commodore recording featuring Bobby Hackett and Leo Watson, a stunning combination.

THE EARREGULARS AT “THE FAMOUS EAR” (June 12, 2011)

I had a minor jazz-history epiphany last Sunday at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) early in the second set, when past and present coincided.

The Ear Inn, for those who have never been there, isn’t a huge space (it is New York real estate) but everyone gets comfortable. 

The second set at the Ear began with that Sunday’s edition of the EarRegulars: charter members and co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri on trumpet and guitar, respectively; Greg Cohen on string bass; Michael Blake (a risk-embracer who loves Lester Young) on tenor saxophone. 

Here, they embark on RIFFTIDE, a variation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes that began with Coleman Hawkins and ended up in the hands of Thelonious Monk as HACKENSACK:

For good reasons, musicians often come to the Ear — not only to sit in, but to enjoy the sounds.  Last Sunday the musicians were bassist Jon Burr and singer Lynn Stein, reed master Dan Block, then (slightly later) tenorist Nick Hempton and drummer Dan Aran (toting a snare drum).  The observant Nan Irwin was there, also, keeping everyone reasonably honest. 

Michael Blake thought aloud about a great tune whose title he couldn’t quite remember — one of those riffy Basie things connected (like so many jazz classics) to trains — and Jon-Erik or Matt remembered it, 9:20 SPECIAL.  They invited Dan Block to join them, and the two tenors had much pleasing interplay:

Then, Jon-Erik invited Nick and Dan to join in, and what marvels ensued!

The first was a long, swaying WABASH BLUES — with Jon-Erik using both his metal mute and an empty beer glass to make growling, hallooing, far-away Cootie Williams musings.  That interlude (Beery or Hoppy?) lasted only a minute, but it was remarkable and remains so now.  And the ensemble swelled and reinvented itself throughout:

And that nifty swing tune of Edgar Sampson’s, beloved by stride pianists and bands, by James P. and Billie, Lester and Dick Wellstood, a masterpiece of quiet optimism, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

For a finale — JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE — where Jon-Erik, for a moment, becomes a hilarious three-man Basie trombone section:

At some point during those final three performances, I looked at the bandstand, saw the musicians and their instruments — trumpet, guitar, bass, drum, and three tenor saxophones jammed in (my choice of words is no accident) shoulder to shoulder, having a good time.  

I thought, “Where have I seen this before?”  And — as my UK friends might say — the penny dropped. 

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

Some will know the story of that Fifty-Second Street paradise.  A small club with a low ceiling, it had been host to a variety of bands in the middle Thirties but — with no air-conditioning — had always closed in the summer.  John Hammond, always full of ideas, paid for the installation of an air-conditioning system so that his favorite band, led by one Bill Basie from New Jersey, could play there in the summer.  The Basieties had to play softly at first, but it’s clear from the radio airshots that exist — not enough for my taste! — that they had a wonderful time and made irreplaceable music.

Here’s a photo essay from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University(photographs from the Frank Driggs Collection) of that musical splendor.  Look for Herschel Evans, short-lived and insufficiently-photographed:

http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb/famousDoor.htm

Yes, the physical resemblance between The Famous Door and The Ear Inn is not exact, but the two places share the same ebullient spirit, with brilliant musicians improvising at the peak of their powers in a small space. 

Henceforth, I dub 326 Spring Street THE FAMOUS EAR.  It well deserves the new name!

And to finish the thought: the EarRegulars continue to swing as beautifully and as joyously as the 1938 Basie band.  No doubt about it!

P.S.  If you’re reading this in real time (however you wish to define it) you might want to know that The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary of steady Sunday-night gigs at The Famous Ear this Sunday, June 19, 2011.  Gifts, please!  (I meant their gifts — not that people have to show up with trinkets, although trinkets might be pleasant, too.)

P.P.S.  On June 12, I was able to savor Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan, creating music with delicacy and strength — then I drove from Brooklyn to Soho to capture these five performances, hilariously creative.  This, to me, says only one thing:  JAZZ (emphatic pause) LIVES (exultant exclamation point)!