Tag Archives: the Rhythmakers

CONTRITION OR VENGEANCE? RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB at CAFE BOHEMIA (Nov. 22, 2019)

I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough.  Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed.  It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis.  Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)

Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know.  I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)

Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it.  Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:

That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here.  And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)

May your happiness increase!

“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!

SPICY DELICIOUS MUSIC: THE DORO WAT JAZZ BAND

Doro Wat is the national Ethiopian dish, a spicy chicken stew.  I recall eating it in Oakland, California.  Exhibit A:

but there’s also Exhibit B, 49 minutes and 52 seconds of spicy music:

and the back cover:

You need read no more.  Listen!

The band is slightly more than a year old, and it’s a wonder: T Werk Thomson, string bass; John Rodli, guitar; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal.  The beautiful recording was done by John Dixon at the Spotted Cat; the singular typography is by SEEK1 and TOPMOB!.

And the repertoire — which tells an educated listener how wise and deep this hot band is: JUBILESTA / OH, PETER / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / JAMAICA SHOUT / POTATO HEAD BLUES / TIGHT LIKE THIS /  BUGLE CALL RAG / RUMBA NEGRO (Latin) / RUMBA NEGRO (Swing) / IF I WERE YOU / SAN / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  Just to point out the forbears, how about Ellington, Red Allen, the Rhythmakers, Bennie Moten, Teddy Wilson, James P., Mister Jelly Lord, Louis.  And there’s a delightful freedom in their homages: this music comes from the heart, not from someone’s imposed notion of what “trad” or “New Orleans jazz” is.  It’s free-flowing and glorious.

Here’s T Werk’s own narrative about the birth of a band, verbatim from Facebook:

February 23 at 10:51am ·
About one year ago I got a call from John Rodli asking me if I wanted to play a gig with him at Three Muses on Friday night. I said something along the lines of “Duh, Idiot. Totally down.” Being Rodli, he didn’t book anybody for the gig and asked me to just throw something together last minute. That first gig had Ben Polcer, James Evans, Rodli, and myself on it. After that gig we immediately realized that we had something totally killer going on here. Once we locked down a weekly gig at Three Muses is when this band really took shape. We were able to add two of the most bad ass musicians I know to fill out the band’s lineup. Charlie Halloran and David Boeddinghaus (🛥🏠). With that killer lineup already rolling we had to add Tom Fischer on reeds as well because we’re all totally insane. After playing for a few months we realized that it was time to make a CD. In November we booked off two days to make a record not realizing that we would only need the first 3 hours and 8 minutes of the first day to record the whole thing. As a musician, going into a studio and coming out three hours later with a killer product is one of the best feelings you can have. That being said, we now have our first record available for purchase! A huge shout out goes to John A Dixon for absolutely CRUSHING the art work. Seek 1 & Top MOB for slaying the lettering and Sophie Lee Lowry and the staff at Three Muses for letting us have Three Muses as our homebase week after week. Keep an eye out for a CD release party coming up really soon. Until then you can purchase digital downloads of the album from band camp or through the Louisiana Music Factory later on today. Of course we will also have this CD for sale tonight at Three Muses from 9-12.
I’ve never been so proud to have my name on a record as I am with this one. Polcer, James, Charlie, 🛥🏠, Fischer and Rodli are the best musicians to work with and we get to do it every week. LET’S DO SHOTS!!

I’d say it a little differently: this recording makes me bounce with happiness.  The rhythm section is a thing of joy, and the soloists know how to speak in their own voices and to join as a choir — the goal of having a deeply melodic satisfying good time.  I keep getting stuck on the first track, that growly piece of Thirties Ellingtonia, JUBILESTA.  But I keep on playing this disc.  And you’ll notice I’m not explicating the music: if I had to do that, I’d despair of my audience.  You’ll hear just how fine DORO WAT is very quickly.  It’s restorative music that I’d like everyone to hear.

And from another angle: I was on a wobbly barstool at The Ear Inn last week, talking with my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, and I said, “You know, THIS is a Golden Age right now.”  DORO WAT is very convincing proof.  Thank you, kind wild creators.

May your happiness increase!

KATIE AND FRIENDS PLAY FATS AND FRIENDS! (KATIE CAVERA, CHRIS CALABRESE, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA): Hot Jazz Jubilee, August 30, 2014)

FATS 1939 Howard Theatre Shep Allen Scurlock Studio

Fats Waller created joy.

In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.

Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail!  all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.

This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.

Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.

What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.

THAT RHYTHM MAN:

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):

FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):

UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:

LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):

ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):

BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:

Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.

We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.

Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here  is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here  is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).

And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest.  She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!

“A SINGABLE HAPPY FEELING”: CLINT BAKER’S CAFE BORRONE ALL STARS (May 16, 2014)

The Friday-night Hot Spot of Rhythm isn’t Boston’s Savoy Cafe on Mass. Avenue, nor is it the Savoy Ballroom uptown: it’s Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California, on Friday nights from 7:30 to 10 PM, when Clint Baker and the Cafe Borrone All Stars arrange themselves on plain wooden chairs and swing out.

On May 16, 2014, the All Stars were Clint, trombone and vocal; Robert Young, soprano and alto sax and vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo and National guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Jazz detectives will hear evocations of Dicky Wells, the Rhythmakers, Fred Astaire, Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Red Allen, Rex Stewart, the Apex Club Orchestra, and much more. But this music is — blessedly — taking place in 2014, created on the spot by musicians who revere the old records enough to refrain from copying them. The result is simply uplifting.

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

I’M NOT ROUGH:

JELLY ROLL:

RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

SISTER KATE:

MONTMARTRE:

MARGIE:

SEE SEE RIDER:

SWEET SUE:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

I assure you that my videos can’t capture all the joy of hearing this band at close range, live, creating as they go. I waited a long time before making the southerly trek to Cafe Borrone. Don’t let this happen to you. . .

Thanks to Jeffrey Frey and his very pleasant people for making Cafe Borrone a nice place to visit, to hear music, to eat and drink and socialize.

May your happiness increase!