Tag Archives: Tom Baker

MONK ROWE’S TREASURE CHEST

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

A the end of the preceding century, while many of us were standing at Tower Records, considering which CD to buy, Monk Rowe — musician and scholar — was busy doing good work in the land of jazz.

Monk is a modest fellow, so he will probably protest all this praise aimed at him and say, “It’s not me . . . it’s the Filius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College,” but he will have to put up with the adulation for the time being.  Monk’s ongoing gift to is a series of video interviews done with jazz artists and luminaries from 1995 on.  More than 300 interviews have been conducted, and they are appearing — almost daily — on the Archive’s YouTube channel.  Most of the interviews run an hour, which is a wonderful visit with people you and I haven’t had the opportunity for such sustained conversations with.

I confess that I have been slow in alerting JAZZ LIVES’ readers to this magic toybox, because I feared for the collective health.  The interviews are wonderfully informative in a low-key, friendly way — Rowe does not obsess over musicological details but is interested in letting the artist speak — and they are devilishly addictive.  I’ve lost hours in front of the computer because of them, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And the interview subjects often are people who have not been fussed over in public — at all or in such gratifying ways.  Here are a dozen names: Manny Albam, Eddie Bert, Bill Charlap, Benny Waters, Keith Ingham, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, Sherrie Maricle, Stanley Kay, Grover Mitchell, Rossano Sportiello, Ron Carter — and those interviews have been posted on YouTube in the past month.  Let that sink in.

Here’s Monk himself — in under two minutes — introducing the channel.  You can see how low-key and amiably focused he is.  He mentions the book that he co-authored, drawn from the interviews: I’ve written about it here.

Here are several interviews that will fascinate JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  prepare to be entranced, amused, moved, informed.

Monk talks to Tom Baker — someone we miss seriously — in 1997: it amuses me that this interview was recorded in a corner of the Hotel Athenaeum at Chautauqua, New York — the fabled home of Jazz at Chautauqua:

and the illustrious Marty Grosz in 1995:

Kenny Davern, Part One, in conversation with Dr. Michael Woods:

and Part Two:

and “just one more,” Nicki Parrott in 2010:

Set aside a few weeks: this is much more rewarding than several semesters deep in the Jazz Studies curriculum, I assure you.  And I haven’t even included Helen and Stanley Dance, Vi Redd, Ruth Brown, Jean Bach, Jerry Jerome, Chubby and Duffy Jackson, Ralph Sutton, Bob Wilber, Joe Wilder, Sweets Edison . . . . that you can do for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

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IN MEMORY OF TOM BAKER, WHO DID ALL THINGS WELL

I now have an opportunity to share with you some wonderful videos of the amazing musician Tom Baker (1952-2001) who lives on.

Below is a picture of our benefactor and generous friend, Enrico Borsetti, who took a video camera to the 2000 Ascona Jazz Festival and recorded treasures — some of which I have already posted, featuring Dan Barrett, Jeff Hamilton, Ray Sherman, Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Oglivie, John Smith, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes, and Rebecca Kilgore.

Another magnificent band, led by pianist / singer Keith Nichols, was called The Blue Rhythm Makers — and here on YouTube you can see two incarnations with different personnel.  The one I share today features the immensely talented and much-missed Tom Baker (trumpet, trombone, reeds, vocal, and more I am probably leaving out), my friend-heroes Matthias Seuffert, Martin Wheatley, Frans Sjostrom.

Here you can learn more / see more about Tom, who made the transition at 49.

Here’s Tom’s very touching reading of ANNIE LAURIE, which I think unforgettable, especially thinking of such a brilliant man who is no longer with us:

and a searing I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

and a radiant version of Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME:

Since I believe that “the dead” KNOW, I send tears and reverent admiration to Tom Baker.  And let us not forget the living, to whom I send gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

“NOT A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT”: IAN DATE, NIGEL DATE, BOB BARNARD, JONATHAN ZWARTZ / CHRIS O’DEA, STAN VALACOS, ANDREW DICKESON

To paraphrase Aquinas, to those who can hear, no explanation is necessary.

You might not recognize the musicians, and the song might be unfamiliar, but it is unmistakably Good Music, as Milt Hinton would have called it:

and then there’s the issued version, with useful visuals:

To reiterate the obvious (it goes with my job description) this is a new CD created by (electric) guitarist Ian Date and his brother Nigel, who plays acoustic guitar, string bassist Jonathan Zwartz, and the heroic Bob Barnard on trumpet. JUST MY LUCK was recorded in Sydney in March 2016, and it’s a delight.

I confess that even though I did not know Ian’s music well, when I saw that he and Nigel had recorded this with Bob, I entreated a copy.  Bob is one of my true idols: a gentle, witty man in person, and a truly melodic player — he carries on the great legacy of Bobby Hackett and others while making acrobatics seem both easy and plausible.  Although Bob is mildly older than I am, nothing that he plays has an iota of strain or effortful gracelessness.  And the three other players are brilliantly easeful as well: Ian compares them to four blokes sitting around playing cards.

The result is music that is truly conversational and collaborative — no competition, just a deep awareness that song and swing are the essential cosmic forces.  It’s beautifully recorded as well, and the songs are a pleasure.  I don’t know who came up with the title song — an obscurity from Broadway — but I wish more bands would play it.  And the others are all simultaneously deeply rewarding but not overplayed: MIS’RY AND THE BLUES / COCKTAILS FOR TWO / MAD ABOUT THE BOY / YOU’RE MY THRILL / MOON SONG / IT’S WONDERFUL / BY MYSELF / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL.

Incidentally, once I’d heard JUST MY LUCK, I looked up Ian’s recording career and found that he was on a dozen or more CDs with Dan Barrett and Tom Baker — CDs I’d treasured for years.  So, Ian, I apologize for not putting your name in cyber-lights sooner, and hope this little nosegay makes up for it slightly.

From a slightly earlier session, here’s DINETTE:

Here’s the somewhat quirky cover:

Don’t let the homegrown, slightly satiric cover fool you.  This CD is consistently delightful: I plan to keep a copy in my car to use as a Blindfold Test, should I have passengers who think themselves knowledgeable about the music, so that they can say, “Michael, WHO are those people?  Damn, they are superb!”  The overall ambiance of the disc is — sonically and spiritually — Mainstream — but it is so good that it is hard to describe.  The quintet plays the blues convincingly, ballads in emotive yet swinging ways.  At times, I thought of an imagined Herb Ellis session or another track from the 1939 Charlie Christian – Jerry Jerome – Pettiford session.  Nothing’s imitative: there’s no effort to Evoke An Era, but the end result is wonderfully reassuring, as if reminding us that such music can still be made, and made superbly in this century.  Incidentally, Ian and Nigel are sometimes advertised as “Gypsy jazz,” but what they’ve taken from that sometimes distorted genre is a deep feeling for melody, for lyricism, for swing — rather than having the fretboard burst into flames.  I think they remember that Django’s original inspirations were Louis, local melodies, and dance bands . . .

If anything, what I’ve written is a sedately restrained understatement.  The songs are DANCE HALL BEAT / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / POINCIANA / SEGMENT / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / DINETTE / THERE GOES MY HEART / MMF BLUES / A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, and Ian’s comrades are brother Nigel, guitar; Chris O’Dea, tenor saxophone; Stan Valacos, string bass; Andrew Dickeson, drums.  From the first rimshot to the last notes (an instrumental flourish that suggests late Louis) of SAILBOAT, I was delighted — and I’ve played it half-a-dozen times.

To purchase a copy of LET’S PLAY, visit here.

I suspect that this would be another good place to visit for those who would like copies of these CDs.  But here more modern folks can download JUST MY LUCK for a mere pittance.  What beautiful, warm, and vibrant music these fellows make.

And just because Ian can, and I can, here’s another sample of his talents:

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC TRAVELS WELL: ALVIN ALCORN IN AUSTRALIA WITH THE YARRA YARRA JAZZ BAND 1973

We take our personalities with us wherever we go. In the case of creative musicians, this is always a good thing, and a new double-disc set showcasing the fine New Orleans trumpeter Alvin Alcorn in concert with a nifty Australian jazz band is a very rewarding example of how well hot music keeps its essential self no matter how many miles from “the source” it is.  The set, from the Victorian Jazz Archive (VJAZZ 026), is subtitled “Rare Collectible Jazz From the Archive,” and that’s accurate.  By itself, the VJA is a fascinating place: read more here.

The VJA has been quietly yet steadily releasing a series of compact discs of previously unheard or at least quite rare material — featuring Tom Baker, Fred Parkes, Ade Monsbourgh, Frank Traynor, Graeme and Roger Bell and other luminaries, as well as several CDs for “The Progressives”. Details — and sound samples — here.

ZZ 610 Alvin Alcorn

The newest release in the series is a double-disc package spotlighting New Orleans trumpeter / singer Alvin Alcorn and the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band in concert in 1973.  The selections are a comfortable mix of “good old good ones,” with several very fine impromptu vocals from Alvin and one from Kay Younger: THE SECOND LINE / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / TIPI-TIPI- TIN / EENY MEENY MINEY MO / SAY “SI SI” / BUGLE BOY MARCH / BOURBON STREET PARADE / THAT’S A-PLENTY / BEALE STREET BLUES / INDIANA / TIN ROOF BLUES / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / I CAN’T GET STARTED / HINDUSTAN / SOME OF THESE DAYS / FIDGETY FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / BILL BAILEY / ST. LOUIS BLUES / PANAMA / OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE – SAINTS.  Each disc is nearly seventy-seven minutes of music, and the sound is better than one hears on other concert recordings of this vintage.

The Yarra Yarras (a band formed in 1960) had fine credentials and connections with musicians as diverse as Don Ewell and Ken Colyer, and they bring a fine springy bounce to the sessions.  I did notice the rhythm section being slightly at sea on a few of the more unfamiliar songs, but this wasn’t enough to disturb my pleasure.

The real pleasure, for me, is in Alcorn.  I came to jazz from a “later” perspective, musically: Forties and Fifties Louis, Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton . . . so I often find “authentic” New Orleans trumpet playing — that I am expected to admire if not revere — a bit rough around the edges.  But Alcorn was obviously someone with great subtleties, even when playing the most familiar repertoire. The band rocks and powers along around and below him, and he creates tidy filigree — sounding more like Jonah Jones or Doc Cheatham than Kid Thomas. Everyone seems happy, and Alvin’s vocals are delightful.  I encourage you to investigate this set and its colleagues at the VJA site.

May your happiness increase!

“ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES,” 1999

When I saw that “jazze1947” had uncovered another video by the Swedish Jazz Kings from 1999 (at the Akersunds Jazz Festival) featuring Bent Persson, cornet; Tom Baker, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, soprano sax; Martin Litton, piano; Bo Juhlin, tuba; Olle Nyman, banjo, I was excited. But then I saw the title ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES and thought the video might be five minutes of slow-drag melancholy. 

Obviously I need to take a remedial semester in early Sidney Bechet and Clarence Williams, because both the song and the performance fly.  Not in tempo but in intensity.  This is particularly evident in Litton’s solo — two choruses of Hines-fireworks, in the second choruses by Bent and Tom, and the way Tomas flies around in the closing ensemble.  If ever a song seemed to have the wrong title, this is it:

In my country, we say, “Wow!”

SWEDISH JAZZ KINGS 1999 (Tom Baker, Bent Persson, Martin Litton, Joep Peeters, Tomas Ornberg, Olle Nyman, Bo Juhlin)!

 These videos by the Swedish Jazz Kings were recorded at the 1999 Akersunds Jazz Festival.  And they are, as they used to say, just my thing.  Thanks to “jazze1947” for posting them on YouTube: I became an instant subscriber!

That’s Bent Persson on trumpet or cornet; Tom Baker on trombone, tenor sax, and vocal; Tomas Ornberg and Joep Peeters on reeds; Martin Litton on piano; Olle Nyman, banjo and guitar; Bo Juhlin, tuba.  I could write a good deal about the passionate intensity of the soloists, their individualized reflections of Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and more – – – but I’d rather let my readers skip the analysis and jump in neck-deep into the music.  What music it is!

Here’s APEX BLUES.  Sometimes long performances become wearisome, but I think six-and-a-half minutes of this wasn’t enough:

MANDY LEE BLUES:

Here’s KNEE DROPS (which I assume refers to a dance move — but, more importantly, refers to Louis and Earl in 1928):

And the theme song of our century, MONEY BLUES (with the verse as only Bent can do it):

and something tender: a duet on STARDUST by Tom Baker (now on tenor — in a Webster vein) with Martin Litton:

Thanks to jazz scholar Bill Haessler from Australia, I now know that the next song is “What Makes Me Love You So?”:

Here’s a lovely OLD FASHIONED LOVE, which is regrettably incomplete (just when Tom is singing so beautifully):

And a concert-ending performance of PAPA DIP (thanks to Bill Lowden for telling me this!):

Thanks to the musicians, the promoter, the videographer, “jazze1947,” and more.  Wow!

OH, DIDN’T THEY RAMBLE!

I spent a few glorious hours last night (Sunday, May 24) at the Ear Inn — absorbing the sounds in two long sets by New Orleanian Evan Christopher (clarinet), Scott Robinson (trumpet, C-melody saxophone, and tenora), Matt Munisteri (guitar), and Danton Boller (bass) — the EarRegulars minus co-leader Jon-Erik Kellso, who was working his plunger mute at the Breda Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

Candor compels me to say when I walked into the Ear, I found it noisy and crowded — as expected on the Sunday of a four-day weekend.  Finding no place to sit at first, I even entertained the cowardly thought of turning tail and heading back uptown.  But when I saw friendly faces — Jim and Grace Balantic, whose amiable presence I’ve missed for some time, Doug Pomeroy, jazz acupuncturist Marcia Salter, Conal and Vlatka Fowkes — I calmed myself and prepared to stay.

However, throughout the evening I kept noting the newest weird phenomena: photographers who have not yet figured out how to shoot without flash, thus exploding bursts of light a foot from the musicians.  Even more odd, I counted many young male faux-hipsters who now sport hats with tiny brims, rendering their skulls unnaturally huge.  Will no one tell them?  In my day, being Cool didn’t automatically mean looking Goofy.  But I digress.

The Ear Inn, incidentally, never turns into a monastic sanctuary — commerce, food, and drink are part of the cheerful drama of the evening . . . so one of the two hard-working waitresses was forever imploring the bartender (not Victor, alas for us), I need two Boddingtons, one Stella, two vodkas, one grapefruit tequila with salt!” In earnest near-shouts.

A word about the musicians.  Evan is one of the finest clarinet players I will ever hear: his command of that recalcitrant instrument from chalumeau to Davern-like high notes is astonishing, and he has a fat woody New Orleans tone, rapturous in the lower register, moving to an Ed Hall ferocity when he presses the octave key.  He is a fierce player in intensity and sometimes in volume, but he can murmur tenderly when he cares to.  And, although he is fluent — ripping through many-noted phrases — he doesn’t doodle or noodle aimlessly, as so many clarinetists do, filling up every space with superfluous rococco whimsies.

Scott Robinson, wearing his OUTER SPACE shirt, made by his multi-talented wife, Sharon, was in fine form: doubling trumpet and C-melody saxophone in the space of a performance, playing three choruses on the trumpet and then — without pause — going straight to the saxophone, magically.  Few payers (Benny Carter, Tom Baker, Smon Stribling) have managed to double brass and reeds; none of them have made it seem as effortless as Scott does.  And the tenora . . . a truly obscure Catalonian double-reed instrument that he had brought to the Ear on May 10 — which has an oboe’s insistent tone and timbre — is gradually becoming a Robinson friend.

Matt Munisteri was in fine form, even though the Ear gig was the second or third of the day (a concert for the Sidney Bechet Society in the early afternoon, then a 1:30 jam session with Evan in honor of Frankie Manning); he burned throughout the performance, with his humming-along-to-his-solos particularly endearing.

Young Danton Boller, quiet and unassuming, seemed to play his string bass without amplification, but swung heroically, reminding me at points of Milt Hinton or George Duvivier — his melodies ringing, his time flawless, his spaces just right.  One could transcribe a Boller solo for horns and it would be mightily compelling.  He is someone to watch, if you haven’t caught him yet — on CD, he is a delightful presence on the Kellso-Christopher-Munisteri CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES (Arbors).

The band began with a nearly slow AT SUNDOWN (perhaps in honor of the still light-blue evening sky?) which did that pretty tune honor, and then, perhaps in honor of togetherness to come, romped — and I don’t use that word lightly — through TOGETHER (“We strolled the lane to-geth-er,” etc.) in suggesting a modern version of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, with Scott riffing behind Evan, the two horns creating a rocking counterpoint.  A blistering THEM THERE EYES followed, with Evan and Scott swapping the lead in their opening choruses (this quartet showed it knew the value of old-time ensemble playing, something that some musicians have unwisely jettisoned in favor of long solo passages).  Evan, who has a comedic touch, then discussed the business of making requests of the band.  He laid out three conditions: the band had to know the song; the band had to be interested in playing the song; the band would be most knowledgeable and willing to play the request if some financial support was forthcoming.  A man sitting at the bar asked for the very unusual Bing Crosby JUNE IN JANUARY (1934) which Evan taught the band in a matter of moments, and the band learned it in performance, with its final choruses recalling the glories of Soprano Summit in years gone by.

At the end, Evan said, “That was a SPECIAL request!” — and some member of the quartet, primed to do so, asked, “Why was it SPECIAL, Evan?” to which he said, full-throttle, “Because it was PAID FOR!”  Making himself clear, you understand.

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET followed, beginning with hints of Johnny Hodges, then moving into Louis-territory, with Evan and Scott using the Master’s passionate phrasing and high notes in their solos.  And something unexpected had taken place: perhaps because this jazz oasis is called the Ear, the noisy audience had gradually changed into a room (mostly) full of listeners, who had caught the group’s drift.  Of course, there were still people who talked through each song and then clapped enthusiastically at the end because everyone around them was doing so — but I could sense more people were paying attention, always a reassuring spectacle.  And the set ended with a joyous JUNE NIGHT — with laugh-out-loud trades between the two horns, and a jovial unbuttoned vocal by Evan (a little Fats, a little Louis Prima) which surprised everyone.  Then the musicians retired to the back room to eat some well-deserved food.

Emboldened by the idea of JUNE IN JANUARY, before the second set started, I approached Evan with an appropriate portion of currency unsubtly displayed, and asked him, “Excuse me, Evan, would that buy me some SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE?”  Evan took in the bill, said, “SWEAT-HOGS ON PARADE?  OK?!”  And that’s how the set began, the band rounding the corners in wonderful style, Scott even beginning his trumpet solo with a nod to LOVE IN BLOOM, Matt playing a chorus of ringing chords, the band inventing one riff after another to close.  Scott, brave fellow that he is, took up the tenora for a feature on THE NEARNESS OF YOU — which had plaintive urgency as you could hear him getting more comfortable with his new horn.  (At the end of the night, when I talked with him about the tenora, he said, “I know it has a pretty sound, but I haven’t quite found it yet.”  He will, I know.)

HINDUSTAN was a highlight of the BLUE ROOF BLUES CD, with the nifty idea of shifting from the key of C to the key of Eb for alternating choruses, something I’ve never heard another band do, raising the temperature considerably; this performance ended with a serious of ecstatic, hilarious, and knowing phrase-tradings, with quotes from I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT, PAGILACCI, leading up to an urgent, pushing counterpoint, mixing long melodic lines with fervent improvisations, savoring the many textures of the quartet.  A waltz-time NEW ORLEANS cooled things down, beginning with a duet for clarinet and guitar that sounded like back-porch music for a warm night.  A riotous THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE took us back to Noone, to Soprano Summit, with Scott’s rocking solo pleasing Evan so much that he was clapping along with it.  Finally, a down-home MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR mixed operatic fervor and hymnlike unison playing, ending with the band getting softer and softer, as if they were walking slowly into the distance.

It was lovely music, fulfilling and fulfilled, and it has filled my thoughts a day later.  You should have been there!