Tag Archives: Tom McDermott


You know the ancient joke, where someone asks, “Do you want a book for your birthday?” and the response is, politely, “No, thank you, I already have a book”? Had you asked me, “Would you like a CD with ten songs, none of them known to you, in a genre that you aren’t familiar with, performed by a group with only three musicians people you know (or know of)?” it would have been very easy to pretend to be busy cleaning up the kitchen and ignore the question.

But oh! would I have deprived myself of immense pleasures because of suspicious narrow provincialism.

The evidence is here: Charlie Halloran‘s new CD, devoted to music that isn’t officially “jazz” but that swings irresistibly down new paths.  Charlie’s summary is worth quoting in its entirety: Excited to release my new album of Caribbean music! Recorded straight to 78 rpm acetate disc, 1950s era biguines to liven up a cocktail party. Bottoms up!

And here you can enjoy the rhythms and sounds of this CD.

Charlie Halloran, 2017. Photograph by Jeffrey Dupuis.

I knew Charlie as a splendid trombonist and bandleader — this is his first CD as a leader.  So, without even hearing this CD, I wanted a copy because I have faith in Charlie as an intuitively gratifying creator of music.  And when I learned that the music had been recorded to 78 rpm acetate discs at Twerk Thomson’s studio, I knew it would be special.  (Here is the lowdown on Mr. T.)  The disc turns out to be a wonderfully rewarding travelogue and time machine: taking me places both musical and emotional that are very pleasing: hotel bar in the Caribbean, say, seventy years ago, as one of the people commenting on the disc has said.

I don’t know anything about the vernacular music of Martinique; I don’t know the names of the dances the songs inspire; I’ve never had a Planter’s Punch, and I certainly don’t even want to type the song list — so I hereby disqualify myself from any pseudo-informed comment.  But I assure you I’ve been wiggling in my computer chair, and if I had someone who was interested in wiggling on a more lavish scale, I wouldn’t be typing now, as this frolicsome music plays.  And I will say that someone interested in the multi-cultural roots of New Orleans music will find much to notice, study, and love here.

This post is shorter than usual not because of a lack of enthusiasm — no, quite the reverse! — but because I’d rather people hear the music than spend time reading my words.

Aside from Charlie (trampagne — his preferred spelling — and instigator), the musicians are Tomas Majcherski, clarinet; Zayd Sifri, percussion; Pete Olynciw, string bass; Doug Garrison and Robin Rappuzi, drums; Tom McDermott and Shaye Cohn, piano; Max Bein-Kahn, guitar; Todd Burdick, banjo.

It’s a wonderful disc, full of pleasures.  And for me, who sometimes feels hemmed in by similar repertoire, it is refreshing and inspiring.

May your happiness increase!


Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

The ebullient woman shining her light in the photograph, Banu Gibson, is a superb singer who doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a singer.

If you have no idea of what she sounds like, here, take a taste:

Banu, Bucky, and Berlin — endearing adult music, no tricks.

I think Banu is undervalued because she is so powerfully distracting as an entertainer, and this is a compliment.  We hear the wicked comic ad-libs, we see the flashing eyes, we admire the dance steps, we are entranced by the Show she puts on (that, too, is a good thing) but I think we don’t always hear her fine voice as we should — her warm timbre, her dramatic expression, her phrasing, her intuitive good taste, her swing.


But with her new CD, we have a chance to hear her, deeply.  That CD, BY MYSELF, is delightfully swinging, at times poignant.  The song list is a perceptive assortment of songs that haven’t been overdone: BY MYSELF / MEET ME WHERE THEY PLAY THE BLUES / ILL WIND / THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES – MOONRAY / WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN / YOU LET ME DOWN / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / THEY SAY / STOP THE SUN, STOP THE MOON (MY MAN’S GONE) / MY BUDDY / NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS / OH! LOOK AT ME NOW / DAYTON, OHIO – 1903 / OUR LOVE ROLLS ON / LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.  And Banu’s wonderfully empathic band is Larry Scala, guitar; Ed Wise, string bass; Rex Gregory, tenor sax and clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano on DAYTON and OUR LOVE.

Banu is a great connoisseur of songs, with a wide range of under-exposed great ones, as opposed to the two dozen that many singers favor.  I’ve only heard her in performance a few times, but when she announces the next song, I always think, “Wow!  How splendid!  She knows that one!” rather than thinking, “Not another MY FUNNY VALENTINE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD, please, please.”

Song-scholars will notice that a number of these songs have sad lyrics, but this is not a mopey or maudlin disc.  Every performance has its own sweet motion, an engaging bounce, as the musicians explore the great veldt of Medium Tempo.

Although a handful of songs on this disc are associated with other singers — Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Holiday — BY MYSELF is not in a tribute to any of those great foremothers, nor is there any ill-starred attempt to recapture those recorded performances.  If Rex and Larry happen to sound a little like Pres and Charlie Christian on these sides, that is a wonderful side-effect, but no one’s been asked to pretend it’s 1937 and John Hammond is in the studio.  Everyone swings gently — the shared goal, with no artificial ingredients.

The disc is not narrow in its conception, either.  Banu and the band approach each song as a separate dramatic playlet with its own mood, tempo, and feeling. It’s one of those rare and delicious discs where the emotions are not only intense but fully realized.  I could not listen to it all in one sitting — not because it bored me, but because I felt full of sensations after a few tracks, and few CDs are so quietly arresting.  Each song is treated tenderly and attentively, and although I suspect the underlying theme of this disc is deeper than “Hey, I haven’t made a CD in a few years and here are some songs I like,” we’re not whacked over the head with one emotion.  Rather, it’s as if Banu wanted us to consider the whole spectrum of intimate personal relationships.  She and her band have deep true stories to tell, but you have to figure out what they are, performance by performance.

Incidentally, I am snobbish, narrow, hard to please (ask people who have heard me discuss what I do and don’t like) but I fell in love with this disc in the first twenty or so seconds of BY MYSELF, which is a rubato duet between Banu and Larry Scala.  (When is the world going to wake up about Scala?  Come ON, now! But I digress.)  Her diction is remarkable; her solo swing a model, and her voice is rich and full of feeling.  Her sweet vibrato is so warm: there’s nothing mechanical in her delivery and her superb phrasing: the second variation on the theme is never a clone of the first.  (Hear her variations on “He made a toy of romance!” in MOONRAY: nothing that a lesser artist could do or what have envisioned.)  By the way, the Gregory-Scala-Wise swing machine (with two interludes from McDermott) is perfectly lyrical and swinging — Basie plus Lester with Basie taking a smoke break in the hall, or perhaps Skeeter Best / Oscar Pettiford / Lucky Thompson if you prefer.  On many singer-plus-band sessions, the disparity between one and the other is sharp, so the listener waits through the instrumental interlude for the Singer to come back, or vice versa.  Here, every note seems right, and the result is very affecting.

In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops — and I would hear this music from other cars’ radios when we were at red lights.  But until this happens, I commend this splendidly-recorded disc to you: the emotional density of a great volume of short stories combined with the elation of a book of coupons to your favorite ice-cream shoppe.  BY MYSELF — after many listenings — seems a series of gems.  You can buy it here.  You will rejoice.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN THAT”! (on January 15 – 16, 2016)

It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January.  But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter.  I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Here’s the Facebook event page.  And the Festival’s website.

Details?  How about a schedule of artists and times.  (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)

FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)

7:20 – Bumper Jacksons

8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner

10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson

11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders

SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)

7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years

8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet

10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band

with special guest Oran Etkin

11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers

with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn

That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber.  And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing.  New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.

If you need more evidence, here are videos of the artists above.

Here‘s the way to buy tickets.  It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.

The place?  The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.

And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase!



Pianist / composer McDermott and singer / reed wizard Nealand released a new duo — with friends — CD in 2015.  It should be well-known for its imaginative reach, its willingness to experiment without being self-conscious.  When I first began to listen to it, I thought, “Wow, that’s alive!  And that’s unusual,” both compliments.  I also realized that it was dense music — each track a small composed world of sounds and feelings — unlike many CDs now produced which nestle nicely in the listener’s hand.  So it’s taken me some time to write this, because one doesn’t absorb CITY OF TIMBRES all at once.  Any CD that begins with a brief, haunting interlude for piano and overdubbed wordless vocals is surely not going to be more-of-the-same . . . but for those easily scared-off, it soon modulates into a wonderfully idiomatic duet on MOANIN’ LOW . . . Hoagy’s NEW ORLEANS with French lyrics, a musing solo piano etude in 3/4, Aurora’s contemporary opus, MEMORY MADE AND MISTOOK, choro, blues, a nod to Bechet’s Haitian recordings, and more.  It can’t be summarized easily, but the overall result is an engaging mixture of soaring reed eloquence, wry and compelling singing, rollicking or pensive piano . . . all combined in sharp, savory, unpredictable ways.  And those web-searchers who want their music in quarter-teaspoon “sound samples” might search in vain.  Buy the disc / take a risk!

Here are Tom’s comments on the music, from his website.

My CD with Aurora Nealand, “City of Timbres” will be out this week, and I am thrilled. As promised in the liner notes, here is info on each of the songs. Thanks for reading and listening!

1) Aleman Remixeada. This piece began its life as a slow habanera -”Tango Aleman”- on the CD, “The Crave,” and a souped-up disklavier version was used on the same disc as a hidden track. I took this disklavier version to Aurora and she enthusiastically agreed to sing a new melody I wrote on top, very slow-moving as a counterweight to the frenzied piano. The result is spooky. Written originally for my good friend Gabriela Aleman, it translates in Spanish and Portuguese as “Remixed German”!

2) Moanin’ Low. A minor jazz standard that’s been done by Billie Holiday and others. This piece perfectly shows off the duality of Aurora’s vocals: whispery soft one minute and howling like a banshee, or Ethel Merman, or perhaps both, the next. We get to play lots of fun rhythmic games too; the slow stride feel gives us plenty of space for that.

3) Make Me a Pallet on the Floor. Also called “Atlanta Blues,” this is one of two New Orleans standard on the disc. I do my best James Booker 8-to-the-bar impersonation, and Aurora puts some Pres Hall clarinet on top of it. And sings with that verve of hers.

4) La Nouvelle Orleans. I had recorded this as a duet with singer Sarah Quintana, and done nothing with it. Pulled it off the shelf, added a little accordion dust from Aurora and voila! A little side trip to the other side of the water, and a different take on the great Hoagy Carmichael.

5) Casa Denise. Aurora and I both have the Brazilian choro bug. This is one of my originals, first recorded on the “Choro do Norte” CD with six players from New Orleans and Rio, then reprised on my Van Dyke Parks McD best-of compilation, “Bamboula.” Michael Skinkus, used elsewhere for Cuban spice, plays the Brazilian pandeiro here.

6) A Valsa Entre Quartos. Another original, and the only piano solo here. Originally called “iPhone Waltz,” since I recorded and transmitted it that way initially, it begins in C minor and ends in C# Minor. ”Waltz in Two Keys” or “Bitonal Waltz” were too dry for potential titles. So I came up with the metaphor, “A Waltz Between Rooms.” Then it occurred to me that this could qualify as a Valsa Brasileira, a Brazilian Waltz, so I sent it to my friend and Brazilian music scholar Alexandre Dias who pronounced it indeed a Valsa Brasileira, but not a choro valsa: an MPB valsa a la Chico Buarque or Tom Jobim. I’ll take it.

This title was created around the time my mother passed; and as I think of passing as moving from one space to another, I think my Mom may have helped me with this—I’m not good with metaphors!

7) Memory Made and Mistook. We follow my only solo with Aurora’s only solo: an original sonic extravaganza that builds from a vocal-with-accordion riff to a huge pop/rock climax. She had this in her recorded-but-not-released bag of tracks and I’m really happy to have it here.

8) Picture in a Frame. A Tom Waits tune from his fantastic CD, “Mule Variations.” That disc’s combination of savagery followed by beautiful sentimentality has made a big impact on me. Aurora in whispery mode mainly; she was going to add accordion but had to hit the road so I filled the void with a synthesized pad and things worked out fine.

9) Tropical Mood. Also known as Tropical Moon, (and we spell it both ways on the album), this is a driving instrumental from Sidney Bechet’s early jazz-caribbean fusion LP “Haitian Moods.” Michael Skinkus on several instruments here.

10) Opulence. A French waltz that Aurora and I recorded initially on my cd “New Orleans Duets.” It has the multi- thematic form I love in choros, rags, marches, musettes: AABBACCA or some variation thereof.

11) La Ultima Noche Que Pase Contigo. A song I first heard when the Jesuits played it for me circa 1974. A Cuban tune made famous by a Mexican bolero group, Los Panchos, with Eydie Gorme. I haven’t sung on disc since the LP era; this is the Spanish vocal debut for both Aurora and I.

12) Four Hands are Louder Than Two. Aurora laid down the piano choruses, then I went to work with cowbell, toy piano, cinquillo vs tresillo, boat whistle and a lot of synthesizer. Deep fun for me.

13) Mississippi Dreamboat. Track 12 ends with a boat whistle, and here the boat comes in. It was Aurora’s idea for me to play the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata as accompaniment. Fender Rhodes added for the solo.

14) Visions of Saint Lucia. This is my first attempt at writing a French West Indies tune, in this case a mazurk, the Creolized mazurka. Once again, I like the ambiguity of the title; I put it out there to help me get to that part of the world quicker.

20 seconds after the final notes, there’s a snippet from a 1944 private 78 my Mom recorded: a few seconds of a piano reduction of the Grieg Piano Concerto. So the album begins with the habanera, the root rhythm of New Orleans music, and ends with my mom, the root rhythm of moi.

I hope this helps! Take care, McD

Details about ordering CITY OF TIMBRES or Tom’s other recordings, here.

May your happiness increase!


The appealing singer Kitt Lough has the right idea.

“I just try to make the song the star, because it really is about what came out of the writer. I’m just the delivery girl, so I try to find the meaning and sentiment in a song and convey that. For me it’s short story-telling; I just happen to be singing it.”


In our era of self-absorption in 4/4, it’s delightful to find someone who understands singing so well and then turns around and converts artistic theory into refreshing practice. She is nicely old-fashioned in that she doesn’t obliterate the melody with improvisations; she loves the songs she sings.  Her voice in itself is a pleasure: rich and warm with a conversational directness.

And since musicians are known by the company they keep, Kitt has a full folder of explicit recommendations from New Orleans players who look forward to working and recording with her: Tim Laughlin, Connie Jones, David Jellema, Larry Scala, Kris Tokarski, Ed Wise, Tom McDermott, and more.

Here is Kitt’s Facebook page.

A BLOSSOM FELL, her second CD, is a modern version of the great swinging tradition, where singer and band graciously honor each other.  She has a wonderful band: Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Larry Sieberth, piano; Jim Markway, string bass; Todd Duke, guitar; Herman LeBeaux, drums.

And she’s chosen great lilting songs: BEYOND THE SEA / DREAMER’S HOLIDAY / YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / SWAY / IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY / NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT / TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT / A BLOSSOM FELL / AM I BLUE / TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE / DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME.  Her intelligently chosen repertoire says that she’s done her singer’s homework — but she is no copycat in thrall to her earbuds.

I swore I could not sit through another version of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, but I delighted in Kitt’s sensitive intelligent reading of the lyrics; her DREAMER’S HOLIDAY is a wonderfully lighter-than-air invitation; A BLOSSOM FELL is poignant without being maudlin.

I urge my readers to look out for Kitt Lough and her CD, A BLOSSOM FELL. You can purchase the disc and hear samples from it here — or if you like your music in downloadable form, it’s available at the usual places.

Do be sure to investigate what she is up to: Kitt is natural and a natural. The music she creates is very easy to listen to but it is never featureless, dull, or “smooth.”

Here’s a video of Kitt with pianist Kris Tokarski and bassist Ed Wise, wringing every drop of possible music — in a swinging light-hearted way — from ONE NOTE SAMBA:

May your happiness increase!


Tom McDermott isn’t (by Marvel Comics’ definition) a superhero.  No cereal box features him.  He is merely a pianist of great renown — those of you who have cable television know him from TREME; those of you who have CD players know him from those little silver discs — and this coming Thursday, August 8, he will do what we know to be physically impossible . . . he will bring New Orleans to Berkeley, California with an 8 PM solo piano gig at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, a local institution.

Here’s Tom rolling through and around Professor John’s TIPITINA:

And he sounds just as good from the back in black and white:

Swing, stride, funk, blues, boogie woogie, rocking music!  The Beloved and I will be there, riding the waves that Tom so generously creates. (Tom and I have mutual friends — cornetist Connie Jones and drummer Hal Smith — so we should get on fine.)

Here’s Tom’s Facebook page.  Here’s the Freight and Salvage homepage, and here’s Tom’s website.

May your happiness increase!



In the past few years, I’ve heard a good deal about the singer Meschiya Lake from friends in New York and England, and been able to enjoy her debut CD — you can hear her music here.

A new documentary by filmmaker Tao Norager, TRUE FAMILY, is a superb evocation of this compelling musician, the changing face of New Orleans, and a group of young people utterly in tune with the deepest improvising impulses.  I urge you to visit here.  You’ll see why I am so captivated by the film.  It’s not a stodgy documentary that opens with a serious voice-over giving a history lesson.  Now is it an amateurish exercise with a hand-held camera.

Rather, Tao has gotten to the heart of things with passion and directness — while staying out of the way.  The result is warm yet unsentimental, with surprising mobility: in one scene, Meschiya Lake is eating cookies and milk at home; then she is getting ready for a gig in Berlin.  Anything is possible, TRUE FAMILY reminds us.

True Family

Watching the film, one feels transported to delightful scenes — as Meschiya and her families of musicians create remarkable art on the streets of New Orleans, visiting clubs where dancers cavort in total harmony with the band.  And Tao is a truly mobile filmmaker: we ride alongside Meschiya on her way home as she points out history and local geography.

But the film isn’t just an adoring portrait of one singer, one group of young musicians who are living fully connected to the music.  Subtly and quietly, it makes us aware of the lives of improvising artists — their history, their life in the present moment.  And the film is full of glorious music, as Meschiya and friends — hot jazz nomads, blues troubadours, spiritual guides and chroniclers  — move from site to site.  You’ll see amazing impromptu swing-dancing contests and tap-dancing buskers (frankly amazing “tap kids”) on Bourbon Street.

On one level, the documentary is an instant trip to the heart of New Orleans — but it gets beneath the surface of that brightly-colored city to show us artists honest about their lives and their music.  “It’s a life in motion.  The wheel has to constantly be turning.  If I can’t play music, then I can’t make money to live,” Meschiya says.

There is the exuberant spectacle of Meschiya and her band jamming SATAN, YOUR KINGDOM MUST COME DOWN on a summer day in New York’s Washington Square Park — but the film keeps asking the question, “Where can art be nurtured and prosper and continue to be free?”

Ultimately, TRUE FAMILY is more than a performance film; it chronicles the near-death and vivid rebirth of both its subject, Meschiya, and the city that surrounds her.

And it glows with the joy of its music she makes with her Little Big Horns, with anyone who is spiritually allied.  When she and pianist Tom McDermott are navigating through BACK WATER BLUES, we know we are in the presence of emotions and craft that come from the heart.

As the closing credits unfurl, we hear Meschiya singing MY LIFE WILL BE SWEETER ONE DAY.  It’s clear that she, her friends, and her art have buoyed many people: TRUE FAMILY is imbued with a deep sweetness.

Usually at this point in a post, I would be writing that the film might be coming to a theatre near you — someday, eventually — or that you could purchase a DVD copy for a moderate sum.  But I have better news.  Without passing the cyber-hat for hot jazz, I can direct you to the  TRUE FAMILY site where you can download and watch this engaging and quirky film for a few dollars.  I commend it to you!

May your happiness increase.


From Nick Balaban:

“Hey everybody,

Here’s a day-brightener….

On Tuesday, May 26th, the great New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott will once again honor us with his bedazzling ivronics in our living room! This time, he’ll be playing with the illustrious Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet! AND if that wasn’t enough, our friend Brian Robinson proprietor of Fort Greene’s Gnarly Vines, has generously offered to donate some environmentally friendly boxed VINO. Yes, you heard that correctly. Time to get over any preconceived notions you may have of boxed wine. “Drink out of the box.”® Brian will be serving From the Tank Red and White – high quality, organically produced wines from the Cotes du Rhone as well as a classic Rose from the Comptoir de Magdala in the Cotes de Provence. All three of these wines come in 3 liter bag-in-a-box packages which represent an 80% reduction in carbon emissions when you factor in the amount of fuel required to manufacture, transport and recycle glass. (Jump on the sustainability bandwagon and be the first on your block to serve boxed wines!)

To be part of this true story, you need only to show up. (You’d be NUTS not to as anyone who’s been to these events knows…) As always, we will be passing the hat on behalf of these astounding artists…

Tuesday, May 26 – Two sets 7 and 9 p.m. Show up early, as seating will be limited.

135 Eastern Parkway, #10F (Eastern Parkway stop on the 2/3. Opposite the Brooklyn Museum)

If you never got to make it to any of our post-Katrina New Orleans Diaspora Concert Series, you can get a taste at http://www.nickbalaban.com.

Can’t wait to see you all!


Nick & Maura”