Tag Archives: The Ink Spots

A GENEROUS TRIO: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CONAL FOWKES (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth

These three wonderful musicians offer a groovy synergy: more than three selves in inspired combinations.  I refer to the singer Dawn Lambeth, brassman Marc Caparone, pianist Conal Fowkes — who performed as the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Conal Fowkes

Here are two delicious performances.

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters related to one Louis.

The first features Dawn singing RIDE, TENDERFOOT, RIDE (Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer) — she has secret Western leanings, as anyone who’s heard her sing DON’T FENCE ME IN knows. This one’s fun, lyrical, and swinging, with no saddle sores:

Dawn makes no secret of her delight in hearing the Fellows play duets, so Marc and Conal explore the Ink Spots’ I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE — with passion and ease:

I recorded a good deal by this trio, and also a duet recital by Dawn and Conal.  You’ll hear and see more: to me this is the very peak of casual hot / sweet improvisation.

May your happiness increase!

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ANOTHER MINT JULEP, PLEASE!

mjjb-dosn-cd-cover

A new CD, DURHAM ON SATURDAY NIGHT, by the Mint Julep Jazz Band, featuring the excellent singer Laura Windley, is a honey.

The MJJB is a small hot group — well-versed in playing for dancers, so they set swinging tempos and stick to them.  Their ensemble work is beautifully precise without being stiff, and they really understand the subtle mysteries of swing rhythm.  And the solos are just fine: not only can these young folks energetically pretend that 1941 isn’t really gone, but they can launch their own inventive solos time after time.

One of their main inspirations is youthful Ella Fitzgerald and the small group out of Chick Webb’s band — The Savoy Eight — and they evoke that sound perfectly without turning out pale note-for-note copies of the records.  I heard evocations of Sandy Williams and Sidney Bechet, but also Al Grey and Howard McGhee.

The repertory also looks with affection at the Ellington small groups and Victor band, the Kirby Sextet, the Ink Spots, the Basie band of the same period (I really welcome hearing JIVE AT FIVE, and the MJJB swings it the best way.)

They also find rather obscure pop tunes — which work!: GET IT SOUTHERN STYLE, ONE GIRL AND TWO BOYS, and there’s a nifty original, MIAMI BOULEVARD.

The excellent young musicians on this disc are Lucian Cobb, trombone; Laura Windley, vocals and glockenspiel; Aaron Hill, alto saxophone / clarinet; Keenan McKenzie, tenor saxophone / clarinet; Jared Worford, guitar; Jim Ketch, trumpet; Jason Foureman, string bass; Aaron Tucker, drums.  They aren’t restricted to the world of 1937, but there are no excursions into Sonny Rollins on a Swing chart, if you know what I mean.

Those boys rock,” the folks at the Savoy would have said.

Laura Windley is a special pleasure.  Many youthful singers in the “swing dance” scene have memorized the gestures of their idols — listening to the records so many times that they can mimic those Vocalions — and they, women and men, dress beautifully.  But as singers they lack their own personalities.  All gown, no voice.

Laura’s got her own sweet style with a serious rhythmic underpinning: if she were handed a song she’d never heard before, she could do it convincingly without echoing anyone else.  Her rich voice reminded me of young Ella — that hopeful, wistful, asking-for-love quality — but she can turn corners at a fast tempo, as she proves on the CD’s closer, the band’s romping version of Lil Armstrong’s HARLEM ON SATURDAY NIGHT.

Here’s a small sample from a band-within-a-band:

Laura Windley (vocals), Lucian Cobb (trombone), Aaron Hill (tenor sax), Keenan McKenzie (sitting in on soprano sax), Aaron Tucker (drums), J.C. Martin (guitar), Peter Kimosh (bass).

What you will hear on the CD will convince you that — like Swing itself — the Mint Julep Jazz Band is here to stay.  And that is very reassuring news.

Visit them, hear more from their CD (it’s also available on iTunes and CD Baby), and follow them here.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN COMMERCE MEETS ART, NICELY

How did the Chrysler Corporation enter my college classroom?  It was an unexpected visit, because I teach English, not business, and it happened after the class meeting was over.  But the automative corporation was chaperoned by the Ink Spots, so I feel good about it.

I have an especially nice group of students in an Honors class twice a week early in the morning.  And I’ve had conversations with some of them after class — the subjects being literature and music.  At some point I must have said something about my deep immersion in “older” music and thought nothing of it. 

Last week, one of my very personable, insightful students said, “Professor, I heard the Ink Spots perform WHISPERING GRASS on a Chrysler commercial, and I wanted to hear more of them.  I have to look them up on YouTube — I heard a cover of THE GYPSY by Frank Sinatra . . . ” 

I was astonished and delighted, and told the young man about my Facebook friend Austin Casey, who has a page devoted to the Ink Spots and Bill Kenny — http://www.facebook.com/#!/Mr.InkSpot — and a YouTube channel that’s pointed in the same direction.  One sweet bit of evidence is this:

If a major American corporation is using beautiful music to sell its cars, I feel more kindly towards them: one more young person now knows about the Ink Spots.  (And, being a hopeless improver, I told him about the Spirits of Rhythm on YouTube: perhaps he’ll come back in April and happily tell me about Leo Watson.  Youth wants to know!)

GRATITUDE IN 4/4 (Part Three): GRAND DOMINION JAZZ BAND at the 2011 SAN DIEGO THANKSGIVING DIXIELAND JAZZ FESTIVAL (thanks to Rae Ann Berry)

More wonderful music from the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival, proving that gratitude is a year-round phenomenon.

Here are eight gratifying performances by the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, recorded on November 24-25, 2011, and made available for JAZZ LIVES through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, whose handiwork can be seen in two places (if you don’t encounter her at a concert, gig, or jazz party): her up-to-date list of hot jazz gigs in the area on www.sfraeann.com and her YouTube channel here.

Grand Dominion is led by pianist Bob Pelland, and features our friend Clint Baker — the wonderfully fulfilling multi-instrumentalist — here on trumpet, with Jeff Hamilton on drums giving the band just the right kind of relaxed drive from his kit.  The other worthies are Mike Fay, string bass; Jim Armstrong, trombone and vocals; Gerry Green, reeds; Bill Dixon, banjo.

ALL THE GIRLS GO CRAZY ‘BOUT THE WAY I WALK had a less genteel title in its first incarnation, but this will do:

Still down in New Orleans, here’s the GRAVIER STREET BLUES, with Clint in a fine Mutt Carey mood:

ST. PHILIP STREET BREAKDOWN — recalling George Lewis — features Gerry Green and the rhythm section:

PANAMA (not “PANAMA RAG”) by William H. Tyers, gets a fine rocking treatment here, all of its strains treated respectfully and with heat:

WILD MAN BLUES reminds me of Red Allen’s 1957 version in its steady intensity — and that’s the highest compliment I can pay:

The New Orleanians — wherever they found themselves on the planet — liked to offer swinging versions of “pop tunes” for dancing, and INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL lends itself delightfully to this treatment, with fine solos after the sweet vocal:

Recalling the 1940 Decca session that paired Louis and Bechet, here’s a gutty PERDIDO STREET BLUES, with beautiful drumming from Jeff:

Asking the perennially nagging question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (and the answer is “Of course we do!):

Thanks to Paul Daspit and these glorious musicians.  More to come!

BOBBY HACKETT, IMMORTAL

Seen up close, Bobby Hackett appeared to be one of us.  A diminutive man, neatly dressed, he spoke quietly, in a deep voice.  With Whitney Balliett, he chain-smoked, drank black coffee, and ate peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches.  Many other people we know have performed all or some combination of those acts.  I was close enough to him to exchange a few sentences; to have him borrow my Flair pen (this was 1972) to autograph my copy of COAST CONCERT. I wasn’t blinded by radiance; I sensed no otherworldly aura in the man.

But when Hackett began to play, it was clear that he existed on another realm, far beyond the ordinary.  And this lovely impression remains.  Consider his ethereal playing on this 1950 or 1951 recording — billed as the Ink Spots, it’s a feature for singer Bill Kenny:

I know that “immortal” is a cliche of advertising.  But it seems to me that someone who played — no, plays music as delicate and resonant as that, so precise yet so deep in feeling, has never died and will never leave us.  How could we thank Bobby Hackett sufficiently?

And thank you, Austin Casey, for inviting me into Hackett’s world once again by pointing me to a recording I had not heard.  Music of the spheres.

“SUNDAY, BY THE POOL, IN LOS ANGELES”: DAN LEVINSON, MOLLY RYAN, MARK SHANE, KATIE CAVERA, RALF REYNOLDS, REBECCA ZOE LEIGH (Sept. 5, 2011)

Certain phrases evoke an instantaneous positive reaction: “on the beach in Maui,” “No school today,” “Friday after work,” “hand in hand in the park.”  You can certainly invent those that make for happy vibrations.

A new one to add to my personal lexicon is “Sunday, by the pool, in Los Angeles.”  It needs some clarification: I don’t swim well and Los Angeles is not the California city closest to my heart . . . but when these words connect with the Sweet and Hot Music Festival (as they did in September 2011), what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as far as I am concerned.  And the measure of this swing session is that even with the bright light, the early hour, and the wind gusts, the music was sweetly triumphant.  The participants were Dan Levinson, his phrasing so easy and comfortable on clarinet and tenor sax; Mark Shane, a pianist who has a real problem in that he finds it impossible not to swing; the tenderly compelling singer (and solid rhythm guitarist) Molly Ryan; the invaluable Katie Cavera on guitar.  (Scientific studies, for what it’s worth, say that “multi-tasking” is a sham, that we can’t do more than one thing at once well: I would like to say, “Science, meet Katie Cavera.”)  And then some guests — one an Eminence, one a Newcomer, showed up and made us even happier.

Myabe because the sun was out, they began with SHINE:

Poolside, unfortunately, is not the best place for a singer with a microphone — the Weather Channel could explain the prevalence of gusty winds.  But Molly Ryan, who is a resilient performer used to transcending larger obstacles than this, absolutely triumphed with a heartbreaking rendition of the Ink Spots’ hit, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  Molly cares!  And her swinging empathy comes through in every note — a performance that was one of the highlights of Sweet and Hot 2011 for me.  No, it’s not a 1938 Vocalion or Victor — it’s happening now:

And here comes the Eminence — not His Holiness, but the Prince of the Washboard, the Sultan of Hot, Mister Ralf Reynolds, to join in the fun.  I don’t know if Ralf is essentially an optimist, but he spreads joy copiously — so he suggested WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (rather than GLOOMY SUNDAY):

Then Dan invited a young woman up from the crowd and asked her to sing something.  She really can and does — I introduce you to Miss Rebecca Zoe Leigh, having a good time with BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?  (She knows the verse: extra credit on the final):

The sky is dark and stormy: I wish we were back at poolside right now.  And if that’s not possible, I’ll immerse myself in these delightful performances.

OFFENSIVE YET ENTHRALLING

Courtesy of Hans Koert’s “Keep Swinging” blog, here is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “TIN PAN ALLEY CATS.”  It offers a buffet of demeaning racial stereotypes and is thus not available on American DVD collections.  It is shocking that such caricatures could be shown in public in America so late in our history, although not terribly surprising.

But after I got through being offended, I was amused — subversively tickled.  And I don’t know: does it denigrate or slyly celebrate Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, African-American night life and religious fervor, two sides of the same coin?  Add in sideswipes at Al Jolson, blackface, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and Fats’s own 1942 “By the Light of the Si;very Moon” for good measure.  Then there’s the idea that jazz leads straight to Hell.

This cartoon was surely Caucasian Middle America’s idea of Blackness — exuberant, uncontrolled, foolish, Godless.  But joyous, too.  And we note that so much of the cartoon’s seven-plus minutes are given over to a tut-tut and tsk-tsk depiction of Hot and Naughty . . . . with much less attention paid to old-time-religion.  I doubt that James Baldwin had ever seen this, but doesn’t it noisily depict the conflict between Sacred and Profane that emerges again in his story “Sonny’s Blues”?

As Kevin Dorn once pointed out to me, the Bad Night Life portrayed in the Fallen World segment of “It’s A Wonderful Life” still seems reasonably appealing, even when you consider the charms of Goodness, friends, family, and Donna Reed.

One never knows, DO ONE?