Tag Archives: Thelonious Monk

WHAT DID THEY SOUND LIKE? (Toronto, September 1943)

This just in — corrections and additions from jazz scholars Mark Miller and Kris Bauwens.  It’s good to have wise friends!

Christine Manchisi, a very gracious Canadian antique dealer-entrepreneur, found an intriguing jazz artifact, a souvenir from a now-vanished night club, and then found me . . . and a match was made.  First, a little background.

Club Top Hat, “Toronto’s Night Spot,” Sunnyside, as photographed on Aug. 25, 1944: Club Top Hat, Sunnyside. View looking north from Lakeshore Blvd. Built as the The Pavilion restaurant, over time the building grew in size, evolving into Club Esquire (1936 – 1939) and then Club Top Hat (1939 – 1956). – Credit: Toronto Harbour Commissioners / Library and Archives Canada / PA-098571. MIKAN 3655526 (courtesy of the Vintage Toronto Facebook page).

In those days, not only did musicians sign their names, but they wrote the instrument they played: thus, Miff Mole, trombone; Shad Collins, trumpet; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Cozy Cole, drums; Pinie Caceres, piano.

It was Miff’s band, and after leaving Goodman, he had a brief Toronto residency in September 1943 (the usually impeccable John Chilton has it in August, but Mark Miller provided the dated newspaper advertisement below).  I believe that these men were either on leave from big bands (Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway) or from radio studio work.  I am guessing that the prospect of a few weeks or a month in Toronto with no one-nighters must have been greatly appealing.  A respite from reading charts and doing section work would have been like a vacation.

But let us imagine a little more.  I think that the talent booker for the Top Hat might have sent Miff a telegram (“a wire”) and asked if he’d like to bring a group there, offering a price, perhaps even suggesting accommodations.  The group has been identified as a sextet, but only five signatures are on the club paper we have here, which suggests that the string bassist (if there were one) was a local player.  What interests me more are the people Miff either called or ended up with — we can’t know — and there are logical threads here.  Miff would have known Shad, Cozy, and perhaps Hank from New York gigs or radio work — later, Cozy and Hank would show up at Eddie Condon’s concerts — and he might well have encountered Pinie Caceres through Pinie’s more famous brother, Ernie.  Or they might have spoken to each other at the bar at Julius’.  It’s a particularly intriguing lineup for those who immediately associate Miff with Wild Bill, Bobby, or Muggsy, Pee Wee, and the rest of the Commodore crew.

What tunes did Miff call?  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES?  I don’t dare assume, unless someone comes up with a review in a Toronto newspaper.  (Mark Miller wasn’t born yet.)  Where are the heirs of a Canadian Jerry Newman or Dean Benedetti for some lovely acetate discs?  And did Miff and company enjoy the boardwalk in daylight, or were they sleeping?  Or was part of their day sitting at a table and signing a hundred of these cards to be given to patrons as a souvenir of their evening-out-with-jazz-and-dinner?  The autographs are too tidy to be on-the-spot, the kind a musician would sign for an eager fan while having an autograph book pressed on him.  But they are lovely evidence.

Miff Mole, 1946, at Nick’s, New York City, by William P. Gottlieb.

And I now know that the Top Hat was a jazz mecca even before 1943.  Mark has told me that Coleman Hawkins appeared there with Don Byas and Monk!  Thanks to Kris Bauwens, we have delightful evidence of Fats Waller appearing there in 1942: the playing card comes from a Norwegian sailor who had wonderful memories of the card game:

Research, anyone?

May your happiness increase!

 

“KEEP SEARCHING”: EPHIE RESNICK, CONTINUED (August 1, 2020)

First, some music.  I’m told it speaks louder than words.  Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:

and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:

My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention.  Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me.  I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more.  It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.

I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops.  So I thought that was a great thing.  With Chas, we played almost every week.  We played clubs all over the country.  We did some festivals, and we did a record.  And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record.  I don’t have a copy.  Maybe I can ask him for one.  And that’s that.

I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor.  The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective.  It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.

I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too.  That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.

I studied with Lennie Tristano.  I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff.  He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students.  I never worked with him, but he played with us.  The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible.  Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself.  So you have to keep searching.  That was an important experience for me, I loved that.

The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin.  I worked a lot for Lester Lanin.  And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name.  Both of them were horrible people.  Just absolutely horrible.  But they worked a lot.  Meyer Davis, he was busy.  He worked two jobs every day.  So he bought an ambulance.  After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time.  I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting.  About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people.  He was very good.

One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody.  And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again.  So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes.  He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.

I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him.  He did two of those things — big, splashy things.  FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band.  I was on the one with the big band.  He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake.  Everything was perfection.  Absolute perfection.

In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith.  We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one.  He was crazy.  He was wonderful.

I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims.  Buddy was mean.  Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten.  He exuded evilness, or something.  He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up.  He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up.  Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early?  Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.”  Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play.  The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational.  He could do anything.  He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks.  He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it.  So he was positively a genius of some sort.  Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people.  And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards.  It was fun.  Beautiful, easy.

I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk?  I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us.  He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special.  He was wonderful.  And it was Thelonious Monk.  And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me.  He was willing to hear.

Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger.  He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing.  Nobody played like him.  He was wonderful.

I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot. 

Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time.  ALL of the time.  But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill.  But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop.  He’d call it a lambchop.  He knew I was Jewish.  So I thought that was nice.  He was a funny man.  And for what he did, he was the best.  His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need.  He was wonderful in his own way of playing.  George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk.  Then he was a terrible person.

I went down to see Bunk Johnson.  I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot.  I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music.  He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places.  And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that.  Beautiful.  And there were crowds every night when he was there.  Dancers.  It was an exciting time.

I loved playing with Max Kaminsky.  I worked a lot with him, for years.  He was a simple player, but he kept the time.  His time was great.  I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records.  But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him.  His wife was wonderful.  I loved her.  I played with her a couple of times, with him.  She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.

I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE.  In the back there are signatures.  Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him.  And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen.  I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door.  I didn’t do that.

[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.]  Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with.  When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me.  They all were above me.  Every one of them was above me.

Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz  — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK.  (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)

Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.

Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world.  And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor.  In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’  He was a dentist.  And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’  When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”

I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him.  At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful.  I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:

I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.

May your happiness increase!

 

WARM SWINGING MODERNISM: “RAISE FOUR” and FRANK BASILE: FÉLIX LEMERLE, DAN WEISSELBERG, MIKE CAMACHO (Cafe Bohemia, November 15, 2019)


More pleasures from Cafe Bohemia — to no one’s surprise.

RAISE FOUR is a compact, adventurous yet melodic jazz group co-led by guitarist Félix Lemerle and string bassist Dan Y von Weisselberg, with drummer Doron Tirosh and pianist Iftah Kary. For their November 15 appearance, Mike Camacho played drums and Frank Basile was added on baritone saxophone.  (And when you see my videos, do not be alarmed: no member of the band suffers from chlorophyll excess.)

When I’d asked Félix about the group’s name, he told me, “RAISE FOUR is a Thelonious Monk composition, and it has to do with the augmented fourth of a chord (a typical sound of bebop music, also known as its enharmonic equivalent, the flatted fifth). As our repertoire focuses on original music and the compositions of bebop and hard bop composers from the 40s and 50s, it seemed like an appropriate title.”

Dan Y von Weisselberg, photograph by John Herr.

To my ears, many groups exploring harmonically sophisticated music affect a self-conscious angularity, tacitly declaring, “Hey, we’re modern!” — which sometimes feels like trying to hug someone with sharp elbows.  RAISE FOUR is not an aural candy bar, but its innovations welcome us in, inviting us to follow melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic twists and turns.  Underneath it all is a sustaining lyricism: hear the long lines Felix and Dan create, for one thing.  Whatever jazz-category-name you might append to their improvisations is not important: the result is far from the formulaic “hard bop.” RAISE FOUR balances elegant cool modernism and warm emotion.

Here are some highlights from that evening:

Harold Arlen’s THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME:

Félix’s DAHLKA (its subject portrayed in characteristic splendor below):

and now that you are no longer dazzled by ears and tail, here’s the music.  What happened at 6:40 I no longer remember, but it was clearly my fault:

Thad Jones’ LADY LUCK:

Elmo Hope’s MOE’S BLUFF:

Félix’s PACHA CHERI, named (with a twist) for someone much admired:

Duke Pearson’s MINOR LEAGUE, with Will Anderson, alto saxophone, and Tamir Hochman, tenor saxophone, added:

RAISE FOUR is a pleasure: follow them here.  I will — and not just on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

MODERNISM WITH DEEP ROOTS, AND A LOYAL BEAGLE, TOO: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS RANDY WESTON, KENNY DORHAM, JAKI BYARD, and JERRY NEWMAN (Dec. 14, 2018)

In the video interviews I have been doing with and of Dan Morgenstern (since March 2017) I have learned to be a better detective . . . when I arrive with a few names on a notebook page that Dan and I have agreed he wants to speak about, and he tells me a story about Perry Como and Cozy Cole (the evidence is here) I abandon the piece of paper and follow his lead.  On December 14 of last year, we’d decided to speak of Randy Weston, who had recently moved on, age 92, about Kenny Dorham, about Jaki Byard, and (as a little experiment) I asked him about Jerry Newman, musical archaeologist and recording engineer.

Even though we kept to the script, the videos have beautiful surprises in them, including an informal jam session with two tenor players and a pianist, a cash box with not much in it, a loyal beagle, and a leather trumpet case.  Enjoy the stories!

First, some music — HI-FLY, from the famous Randy Weston date at the Five Spot (1959) with Randy, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Dorham, Wilbur Little, Roy Haynes, arrangements by Melba Liston:

Randy by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

I HAD THE CRAZIEST DREAM, also 1959, with Kenny Dorham, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes:

Kenny by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

Part Three (a postscript):

Jaki Byard, TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS:

Jaki by Dan, the first part:

Part Two:

Jerry Newman’s 1941 recording of Monk with Joe Guy:

A few words about Newman:

There will be more stories from Dan, I guarantee (to quote Justin Wilson).

May your happiness increase!

MORE DELIGHTS FROM THE 75 CLUB: GABRIELE DONATI, MICHAEL KANAN, DORON TIROSH (March 14, 2019)

Back by popular demand (the first beautiful performance by Gabriele Donati, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Doron Tirosh, drums — at the 75 Club,  located at 75 Murray Street — here).  Three masters of the music at a most convivial place.

 

 

 

Bobby Troup’s blues in C, which I knew from a Frankie Laine record, BABY, BABY, ALL THE TIME:

a little Monk, LET’S COOL ONE:

and the beautiful Rodgers and Hart classic, HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES?:

I hope you’ve met Messrs. Donati, Kanan, and Tirosh, as well as making the acquaintance of the lovely 75 Club.

May your happiness increase!

THREE BEAUTIES by JACOB ZIMMERMAN AND HIS PALS (LIVE!): FEATURING RAY SKJELBRED, MATT WEINER, D’VONNE LEWIS, COLE SCHUSTER, CHRISTIAN PINCOCK (KNKX Public Radio, January 3, 2019)

Illustration by Jesse Rimler

Last August, I did handsprings (a figure of speech) about the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals, MORE OF THAT; you can read my joyous words here.  The CD impressed me so that I did something — in complete seriousness — that I’ve never done in ten years of blogging, that is, I told readers that if they bought the CD and disliked it, I would buy it back from them and give them their money back.  I was and remain so convinced, and no one has contacted the JAZZ LIVES Customer Service Department.

For this intimate swing session — TV on the radio, perhaps? — Jacob plays alto and clarinet, aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone and valve-trombone.

To quote the Blessed Eddie Condon, “Too good to ignore.”  And Count Basie called the station to say only, “Yes.”

Thanks to KNKX Public Radio for this swing session, and especially for these three videos, which they offered to us on January 24.  And thanks some more!

SONG OF THE ISLANDS:

RADIATOR, in tribute to the eminent Mr. Skjelbred, poet and poet of the piano, based on his hero’s PIANO MAN — that would be Earl Hines — which was itself based on SHINE:

SCULPT-A-SPHERE, harmonically built on NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, Jacob’s fanciful idea of a collaboration between Monk and Pres:

This is glorious music — “Old Time Modern,” you might call it.  And if it needs explication, you might want to visit an ENT professional (first checking that she is an approved network provider.)  I also think that you might well want to investigate Jacob’s new CD here.  It’s pressed (if that archaic verb still applies) in an edition of 400; the price is $15, and the your-money-back offer still applies.

May your happiness increase!

IN AND OUT OF TRADITIONS: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (June 27, 2018)

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to see, hear, and sometimes record pianist-composer-inventer Joel Forrester in this summer of 2018, because he and Mary will be in France for much of the next year, from September onward.  If you take that as an undisguised suggestion to go to one of his gigs, none of us will mind.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Joel is a remarkable explorer: not only does he follow his own whimsies, giving himself over to them as they blossom in sonic air, but he also is curious about forms.  He casually said at this gig (last Wednesday night at JULES (65 St. Marks Place) that one composition came about, decades earlier, when he was deciding to be a bebop pianist or a stride one.  I think the two “styles” coexist nicely in him to this day.  Here’s some evidence.  And if “traditionally-minded” listeners can’t hear and enjoy his wholly loving heretical embraces, more’s the pity.  Or pities.

Joel is also full of various comedies, and some of them come out in wordplay.  So this tune, which makes me think of Chicago, 1933,  is called THE SPERM OF THE MOMENT.  Imagine that:

Celebrating a tender domestic return (as Joel explains), BACK IN BED:

NATURAL DISASTER, which happily does not live up to its title:

GONE TOMORROW, a meditation on the passage of time, which makes me think of 11:57 PM on my wristwatch:

SHELLEY GETS DOWN, complete with siren, in honor of singer Shelley Hirsch:

An entire tradition of improvised music passes through Joel while he is busily making it his own.  We’d be poorer without him.

May your happiness increase!

CINEMA FORRESTER: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (May 6, 2018)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades.  But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director.  Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen.  Soundtracks to our own imaginings.

Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways).  Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone.  JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff.  And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.

From May 6.  Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:

This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max.  I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:

Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:

Did you like Cinema Forrester?  More to come.  And come visit Joel at Jules.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTION OF THE ART: “CLASSIC BRUNSWICK AND COLUMBIA TEDDY WILSON SESSIONS 1934-1942” (Mosaic Records)

Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:

I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.

But I must start with a small odd anecdote.  Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it.  It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison.  I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.”  Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea.  Cue rueful laughter.

Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by  extension, the recordings in this box set.

Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries.  One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her.  The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string.  True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle.  But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable.  Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.

His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid.  But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero.  I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues.  And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.

Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography.  From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance.  There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.)  Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises.  I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.

He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps.  Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week.  In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered.  I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to.  I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art.  They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.

The music impresses and moves me on several levels.  One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic.  Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole.  There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical.  The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues.  The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part.  The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type.  Check the Mosaic discography.

In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another.  Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane.  The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.

The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions.  What more could one create within this form?  How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?

Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so.  But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.

I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear.  Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs.  When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations.  However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.

I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise.  Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards.  So I won’t belabor that point here.  If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do.  But I will leave that to others to argue.

I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over.  And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research.  And the photographs.  And the splendid transfers.  I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.

For more information, go here — either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available.  Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box?  Is it a good value?  I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds.  Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.

And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.

May your happiness increase!

JOYOUSLY CONNECTED: “BLOCK PARTY,” featuring DAN BLOCK, ROB BLOCK, NEAL CAINE, TADATAKA UNNO, AARON KIMMEL

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block is high on my list of heroes — lyrical, inventive, quirky, passionate, expert, warm.  I could go on, but it would just be prose.  Better than prose is his new CD, BLOCK PARTY: A SAINT LOUIS CONNECTION (Miles High Records) which features him on tenor saxophone and clarinet alongside his very talented brother Rob, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass; Tadataka Unno, piano; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  And the subtitle?  Dan, Rob, and Neal are from the Mound City.  And it’s even more of a family affair: Dan’s daughter Emma did the artwork and photography; cousin Joe Schwab (of Euclid Records) wrote the liner note.  If you want further evidence of the eminences involved here, Andy Farber and Mark Sherman produced the session; Bill Moss was involved in the mastering.

Dan does so many things well — no, splendidly — that it would be foolish to expect that a CD of his would be monochromatic, although listeners will not feel an artificial reaching after “innovation” from one track to another.  But he brings a deeply felt intelligence to his music; his range is wide.  Consider the song list: DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES (which I associate with Marty Grosz and British dance bands of the Thirties); NO, NO, NO (by the little-known songwriter Phil Springer, who wrote SANTA BABY and HOW LITTLE WE KNOW — read about Springer here); LIGHT BLUE and SMOKE SIGNAL (unhackneyed jazz classics by Monk and Gigi Gryce, respectively); WONDERFUL ONE (by Ferde Grofe, 1922); CHANGES (Walter Donaldson, both associated with Paul Whiteman, the latter with Bix and Bing); BY THE FIRESIDE (a gorgeous Ray Noble melody); OPTION CLICK (Block’s own response to modern technology); THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND (associated with Bix and Tram); IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS (lovely Harold Arlen).

The song list might seem homage to Dan’s many working associations, from Twenties recreations to free-blowing contemporary jazz, but all of the performances are at heart  melodic, curiously inquiring of the music, treating the originals with love but not as museum pieces.  Dan’s spacious imagination does not pop compositions into stylistic cubbyholes (“This goes in the Hank Mobley section; this goes in the Harmony Records file”): the music is animated by affection and ease.

Although I’ve heard and admired Rob Block in person several times in New York, this is a wonderful re-introduction to his lyrical, swinging selves.  Like brother Dan, he is technically fluent, yet his phrases breathe and his solos have logical shapes.  He plays the guitar; it doesn’t play him.  Listen to the fraternal joy on WONDERFUL ONE, for one example.  The members of the rhythm section are spectacularly good in duo and trio and as soloists: I found myself listening to several tracks a second and third time to savor what they were doing, memorably uplifting.

As a player, Dan is . . . what superlatives do I write here?  He respects melodies but also adores surprises; he never plays a predictable phrase but takes us on his journeys — which are quietly thrilling.  I’ve known him as clarinetist, saxophonist, even trumpeter, pianist, and singer, for almost fifteen years now, and a Dan Block performance is something I cherish.  The casual but expert arrangements on this CD are also great gifts to us.  No piece goes predictably from ensemble to solos to ensemble; each performance contains splendid little landscapes, as solos give way to duets.  The result is often elegant but never slick.  I’ve been playing and replaying this disc, always with delight.  I would even suggest that listeners begin at the end, with the touching duet for the brothers Block on IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS.  Obviously the title is true.

If you know Dan’s work, you will find this disc exceedingly rewarding; if he’s new to you, I guarantee you will have found a new hero.  BLOCK PARTY can be found here and here (with sound samples).

May your happiness increase!

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART TWO (June 6, 2017)

Here is the first set of the Microscopic Septet’s performance at the Astor Room on June 6.

What follows might seem self-indulgent (the reference is back to me, not the band) but here is what I wrote for that first post.  I don’t think the Micros are as widely admired as they should be, and although Milton’s “Fit audience, though few,” still is true to me, I’d like to extend the circle of admirers just a little . . . through words as well as videos.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

Now, here is the second set (I’d moved back several feet, so all the players should appear in the video as they do in life).

CAT TOYS:

DARK BLUE:

LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

PANNONICA:

LITTLE BOBBY:

STAR TURN:

WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD:

WHEN IT’S  GETTING DARK:

I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, with vocal chorus by Dave Sewelson:

Rushing time away is never a good thing, but I hope the Micros visit New York again — soon — if not sooner.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL: “WINDY CITY SWING” (JON DOYLE, JAMEY CUMMINS, DAN WALTON, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH and JOSHUA HOAG)

Hal Smith is someone whose music I’ve admired long before I was able to meet him and hear the magic he works from a front-row seat.  Dogs bark; cats meow; Hal swings, and I’ve never known him to fail.  Better than CPR.

Put it another way: I’ve had a driver’s license for decades, and am thus less comfortable in the passenger seat.  When I hear a performance with Hal at the drums, I can relax — the same way I do when Jo or Sidney or Wettling or Tough is in control: I know everything’s going to be all right.

A new CD with Hal is always a pleasure; the debut recording of a new Hal Smith band is an event, one to be celebrated.  SWING CENTRAL lives up to its title, and there’s more at work here than a) a quintet playing a swing repertoire and b) that the musicians all live in the Central time zone.

Those musicians — exuberant and focused at the same time are, besides Hal — Jonathan Doyle on clarinet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass, and appearing on one track, Joshua Hoag, also on bass.

What makes this clarinet-plus rhythm group different and thus a treasure is vividly apparent from the first notes of the first track.  For one thing, SWING CENTRAL is aware that there is music not played by Benny Goodman.  Heresy to some, I know, and I treasure my Goodman records as much as anyone, but this band and this disc go another way. And that way is the endearingly individualistic way mapped out by Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, and Charlie Christian.  SWING CENTRAL is a hot band, but not an exhibitionistic one: on this CD or in performance, you won’t hear a ten-minute version of SEVEN COME ELEVEN that’s capped with a drum solo.  Hearing the disc again, I thought, “This band is playing for the music, not for the audience,” which is a beautiful and rare thing.  And the musicians know the records, but have absorbed them into their cell memory, so that they can play themselves, which is the only way to honor the innovators.  “Feelin’ the spirit,” as they used to say.

 

Now that you’ve gotten over the pleasant shock of the remarkable cover art by JP Ardee Navarro, hear and see the band in performance (Austin’s Central Market, 2016) for yourself:

LITTLE GIRL:

and Jon Doyle’s charming sweet original, HELLO, FISHIES:

Hal asked me if I would write something for this CD, and I was honored.  Here’s what I came up with: easy to tell the truth, and easy to express happiness in words.  (And in case what I’ve written seems to favor Jon Doyle and the leader, I will say only that I’d like to hear a CD led by Dan Walton, Jamey, or Steve.)

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS

A true story. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk were in a taxi, discussing “the beat”. Monk favored surprising shifts but Dizzy disagreed. “What would you do if your heart beat irregular? The steady beat is the principle of life.” My cardiologist would agree: healthy, happy organisms swing from the inside out. Hal Smith’s Swing Central is not only a wondrous cohesive group, inspired by the music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace, and friends, but it affirms joyous principles. From Austin, Texas, comes healing jazz.

Leader Hal tells how this band came to be:

I’ve known Jon Doyle since 2009. The first time I heard him warming up on clarinet, quoting Pres’ solo from “I Want A Little Girl,” the seed was planted for this band. Steve Pikal and I worked together in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 2010. Steve’s outgoing personality and propulsive bass playing is always a positive influence. Dan Walton introduced me to the Western Swing scene in Texas. We played together with Jason Roberts’ band and later with Dan’s own Jump Swing Imperials. He understands that “less is more” and it shows. Jamey Cummins has been in Austin for some time, and is finally receiving the attention he deserves. He plays wonderful Freddie Green-like time and inventive, highly rhythmic solos.

We decided not to pursue the familiar Goodman-based clarinet-and-rhythm repertoire but rather to explore the more introverted music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace. Jon Doyle took to the idea like a bat takes to the Congress Ave. Bridge. When we began, the musicians lived in the Central Time zone, so the band name suggested itself. (However, we are not going to add “Pacific” when a couple of our musicians have relocated to the West Coast!)

This was the easiest recording session I have ever done, and several other band members agreed. I think you’ll hear what a good time we had.

This quietly thrilling band reminds me not only of the three inspiring clarinet playing individualists, but of the possibilities of music that gently breaks down the barriers some listeners and journalists build, cubicles labeled “schools” and “styles.” Swing Central takes familiar songs and make them fresh and dewy; Jon’s compositions and reinventions are witty beyond their titles. And these players – happy rovers in the land of Medium Tempo, great ensemble players as well as inspiring soloists — go for themselves rather than copying.

About the repertoire. Listeners will hear the chord structures of SUGAR, MY GAL SAL, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and LADY BE GOOD reinvigorated. An answer key is available at the end of your workbook, but no peeking until you’ve handed in your finished pages.

BIG AL evokes Mr. Capone, who would have tipped Swing Central generously to keep playing his favorite song. Hal explains BATS ON A BRIDGE as “a real Austin phenomenon, and five of the six musicians here have deep roots in Texas’ weirdest city. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/cab-intro. HI, FISHIES comes from a sweet cross-species story. Ask Jon when you meet him on a gig. REPEATER PENCIL is for Lester, and for this band: artists who honor the innovators by being innovative themselves.

LONG-DISTANCE MAN owes its title to a Pres-and-Chace story recalled by Larry Kart: “[Chace] also told a very ‘Frank’ story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (‘I’m shy,’ he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as ‘long-distance man.’ Probably a meeting of kindred souls.”

SHEIK OF AIRBNB is named thus because Jamey stayed in an AirBnB directly below the studio where the session was recorded. I MUST HAVE THAT MAN is from the band’s live gig at Central Market in Austin on Aug. 28, 2016. Josh Hoag (now with Asleep at the Wheel) filled in for Steve. The band decided that they must share this track with us: a lovely gift. When you are enjoying SUNDAY, don’t be surprised when the track fades out. Do not adjust your set. Hal explains, “Alex Hall’s reliable recording equipment may have been affected by a sun spot, or maybe one of Doyle’s blue notes. But we liked the overall feel so much — particularly Jon’s playing — that we decided to keep as much as possible and fade before the sudden ending.”

Sir John Davies, a Renaissance poet, wrote ORCHESTRA, his conception of a cosmos vibrating in symphonic harmony. If we are very fortunate, the world might vibrate as does Hal Smith’s Swing Central – tender, relaxed, urgent. We have a long way to go, but it’s a noble aspiration.

Here is the link to hear samples, purchase an actual disc, or a download.  Hal and SWING CENTRAL will be appearing at the Bix Festival on the first weekend of August in Davenport, Iowa. . . so you can have the mutual pleasure of buying CDs from the band there, also.  And here is the place to find out about all things Smith — the swinging ones, of course.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL FORRESTER FIVE at THE SHRINE (June 29, 2017): JOEL FORRESTER, MICHAEL IRWIN, MICHI FUJI, DAVE HOFSTRA, MATTHEW GARRITY

This post isn’t about painting or poetry, but about music that — in its own ways — enacts what those other arts do.

I SAW THE FIGURE FIVE IN GOLD, painting by Charles Demuth, in tribute to William Carlos Williams’ poem

I’m referring to the music created by the Joel Forrester Five at the Shrine in New York City on June 29, 2017.  The Five is Joel, piano and compositions; Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matthew Garrity, drums.  I encourage you to enter in to the world of the Five, the bubbling of their collective imaginations.

DON’T ASK ME NOW:

SOME THINGS DON’T WORK OUT (a grieving masterpiece):

AFTER YOU, JOEL:

YOUR MOVE:

ABOUT FRANCOISE:

WITHOUT HER:

SILENT NIGHT BLUES:

FLIP-FLOP:

If you missed this afternoon concert, do not fret; you can see and hear the Five on July 24 for another uptown gig.  And an hour with the Five can be more (ful)filling than longer gigs with other ensembles.

I’ll let Joel explain it all in jocular style:

Monday July 24th is special!  My new quintet, the JOEL FORRESTER FIVE, will play a ONE-HOUR gig, 6-7 pm, in a Central Harlem bar. …You say: we did that LAST week.  Well, yes, we did; but this is a DIFFERENT bar. It’s call SILVANA (not to be confused with a 50s make of tv), 300 W.116th St. at Frederick Douglass Blvd. Take the C train to 116th.  I just like playing with these folk in ANY circumstances: Mike Irwin on trumpet and Michi Fuji on violin. And SILVANA is a jolly joint. [I recall that a close friend who’s an animator became himself quite animated when a Forrester band last played SILVANA, two years in arrears.]

May your happiness increase!

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART ONE (June 6, 2017)

The Microscopic Septet’s most recent CD.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

MANHATTAN MOONRISE:

LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

WE SEE:

MIGRAINE BLUES:

TWELVE ANGRY BIRDS:

BRILLIANT CORNERS:

HANG IT ON A LINE:

Thrilling, no?  Also lyrical, pensive, multi-textured, raw, hilarious, moving . . . you can fill in your own praises.

A second set of videos will follow.

May your happiness increase!

THE THIRD SET: MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

I now have another regular Saturday-afternoon gig to go to, which for me is no small thing.  Every Saturday afternoon from noon to after 3:30 (the music begins at 12:30) I’ve been at Cafe Loup, 105 West Thirteenth Street, near Sixth Avenue, to get a good seat for the solo piano recital of Joel Forrester, one of the most consistently imaginative — often playfully so — artists I have ever heard and witnessed in person.  What I offer here is the last set (only four performances) of Joel’s offering of May 27, 2017.  And here are videos and commentary about the first two sets.  And for those of you who are unfamiliar with Joel’s work, this should remedy that deficiency easily.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Joel’s compositions, his approach to standard material — all of his music is as far from formulaic as one could imagine.  He knows the tradition, and it’s not simply “the jazz tradition,” “the bebop tradition,” or “the jazz piano tradition,” and the breadth of his knowledge and his affection for all kinds of melodic music, subtle and powerful, bubbles through every performance.  So here are four more:

His original, SERENADE, in honor of a now-defunct club of the same name:

Another original, I WONDER, that begins as if the ghost of Tatum had beguined into the room for a few minutes, then transforms into a swirling dance:

A respectfully quirky reading of Monk’s WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

and finally, the Beatles’ YESTERDAY, the soundtrack of my early teens:

Gigs do not last forever, as we all know.  If you’re in the vicinity of Cafe Loup on a Saturday afternoon and you don’t get a chance to witness what Joel is doing, you’re missing the Acme Fast Freight, to quote Mildred Bailey.  That’s an unsubtle admonition or is it a solicitation? — but true nevertheless.

May your happiness increase!

THE SECOND SET: MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Here is the first set (and what I wrote about Joel) of that glorious afternoon.

And now, as the night follows the day or some equivalent, is the second.  Joel at his poetic unpredictable best.  Each piece feels like a short story, and the whimsical titles add to the effect.

BUNNY BOY (a Blues Frolick for the Afternoon):

NIGHT AND DAY (for Mr. Porter of Peru, Iowa, a rendition that seems built from the rhythmic surge up to the spare melody):

MILDEW LIZA (as explained by the composer, also an adept Joycean):

AMAZING GRACE:

TWICE AROUND:

ON MARY’S BIRTHDAY (Joel’s most recent composition as of that afternoon, a rhythmic celebration of his wife’s natal day):

A beautifully somber reading of GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Having heard several performances of Joel’s INDUSTRIAL ARTS, excerpts and improvisations on sections of this piece, which he has been known to perform for eight hours, I asked him to write something about it, because the piece so stands out — in its incantatory splendor — in what I think of as his oeuvre.  Joel writes: I’ve been improvising on it since l974, my first year in New York. When I’m feeling emotionally generous, I give my wife Mary co-composer credit: the music has its genesis in our weekly Saturday mornings at Washington Square Church. I’d improvise at the piano while watching her dance; she feels time in a deeper way than any dancer I’ve ever seen. This would go on for several hours (we were quite young). Then we’d wax ‘n’ buff the floor. The music grew, its interlocking rhythms calling out weird overtones I would learn to embrace if never truly to corral. In its entirety, INDUSTRIAL ARTS occupies 8 hours. I’ve only played it straight-through once: at The Kitchen in l977. I’ve always striven to play a precis of the tune on my solo gigs, borrowing ideas from the 8 one-hour sections. At least 11 times, over the years, I’ve either been warned, fired, or not asked back…all on account of this one, highly-repetitive tune. The most humorous instance of this took place in 1980 at a Bowery art bar called Sebossek’s. I was only five minutes into INDUSTRIAL ARTS when the Israeli cook burst out of the kitchen with blood in her eyes and a sizzling pan in her hand. What she wanted to do was to show me that she had burned herself, thanks to my music. But, of course, what I saw was a furious woman holding a frying pan. For my sins, I admit that I cowered under the piano. …Over the last five years, all that has changed—who can tell me why? Have listeners become inured to repetitive music, if presented in different forms from mine? Short attention spans promoting selective deafness? In any case, a 10- or 15-minute version of INDUSTRIAL ARTS has become part of my standard repertoire; and I seem to be getting away with it. And longer “concert” versions are sometimes called for. Who knew?

INDUSTRIAL ARTS:

YOUR LITTLE DOG (exceedingly tender, my new favorite):

ANYTHING GOES (its opening measures truncated because of videographer-error, but there’s still enough Romp left to see by):

As I write these words, Joel has a steady Saturday afternoon gig (12:30 to 3:30) at Cafe Loup (135 West 13th Street at Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City) and June is an extraordinarily rich month for Forrester-sightings, so check them out http://joelforrester.com/calendar/.

May your happiness increase!

MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO, PART ONE (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

As I’ve written recently, here, pianist-composer Joel Forrester creates music — tender, sensuous, surprising — always rewarding, never pre-cooked.  I’ve been delighting in his recorded work for a decade now, but haven’t stirred myself to see him perform in a long time.  But I did just that last Saturday, May 27, 2017, at his solo recital (12:30 – 3:30) at Cafe Loup , 105 W 13th St, New York (very close to the #1 train), (212) 255-4746. (And at the risk of sounding like a Yelp review, service — thank you, Byron! — was solicitous, and the food was fresh and nicely presented.)

The musical experiences Joel offered that afternoon were, to me, deeper than simple music.  It felt as if he was a repertory company: each performance seemed its own small world — balancing on its own axis — and then gave way to the next.  A gritty blues was followed by a romantic lament, then a rollicking saunter through an unknown landscape, then a dance from a traveling carnival . . . as you will hear for yourself.

Joel is always balancing strong rhythms and subtle melodies, creating his own shapes and changing those created by others.  The range of his inspirations is amazingly broad: in the course of the afternoon’s recital for an admiring audience, he evoked and improvised on the blues and boogie woogie, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Meade Lux Lewis, James Joyce, hymns, the Beatles, and Sam Cooke.

STAGGER JOEL (his variations on an ancient folk blues with a similar name):

GG’S BLUES (paying affectionate tribute to Gershwin’s RHAPSODY):

IN THE RING (a bubbling dance):

BILLIE’S SOLITUDE (for Lady Day and Duke):

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY (FOR THE MOMENT) (musing on Parisian weather):

CARAVAN (Juan Tizol reminding us that the journey, not the destination, matters):

WHITE BLUES (a title explained by Joel, as prelude):

SKIRMISH (with variant titles explained by the composer):

YOU SEND ME (Forrester meets Sam Cooke):

BACK IN BED (implicitly a paean to domestic bliss):

FATE (half-heard melodies care of Meade Lux Lewis):

There’s more to come from this afternoon at Cafe Loup, and more from Joel in his many guises, all restorative.  He has many and various gigs: visit here.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Three: March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music.  But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere.  I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.

For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).

But before you leap in, a small caveat.  Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder.  Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters.  The first five videos are here.

More friends and heroes.  Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):

Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:

More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:

Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.”  And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE RIVER THAT IS TIME: DAN BLOCK’S TRANSFORMATIONALISTS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2016)

I think of Dan Block as the main character in a Ray Bradbury story.  Friendly but mysterious, he comes to a small town in the Midwest and puts up a banner advertising his TRANSFORMATIONALISTS: “Time Is But The Stream We Go Fishing In / Come With Us!”  A middle-school trombonist hesitantly approaches the Magical Transormationalist, falls under the spell of the music, and when the band leaves town, she goes with them, entranced, on to glories yet undiscovered.

finshing-thoreau

When Dan has led his “Harlem in the Thirties Updated” group at Fat Cat and other venues, I’ve not counted the audience members to see if anyone went missing.  But we were certainly entranced and remain so.

A version of Dan’s magic troupe performed a brief set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party in September 2016: Dan, alto saxophone / arrangements; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  The repertoire came from famous bands (Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter) and was written by Mary Lou Williams, Carter, and others — but it sounded fresh, rather than being a distillation of famous records.

The opener, associated with Chick Webb, HARLEM CONGO:

Mary Lou Williams’ composition (I believe Puddin’ Head was trumpeter Edgar Battle):

another Mary Lou creation:

Something for and from Benny Carter:

And, finally, an early version of climate change from the 1934 Henderson band:

Inventive and wholly satisfying.  Another version of the Block Transformationalists will be playing at Smalls on West Tenth Street on February 3, 2017, with the group that performed this music at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Mark your perpetual calendars, please.

May your happiness increase!

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

surrender1

Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

MONK FOR CHRISTMAS

The eBay seller (Louie’s Juke Joint) is offering this holiday gift for a substantial price . . . for those who like their Christmas music a la Thelonious.  He never recorded it but decided to keep it in the family, but it has been recorded after his death.

A MERRIER CHRISTMAS Monk

Here’s the link.

And here are two appropriately playful versions of this toylike but quirkily memorable song, the first by Alexander von Schlippenbach, the second by Ryan Burns:

Whatever you celebrate, may it be merry and merrier — which is a seasonal way of saying . . .

May your happiness increase!