Tag Archives: Tommy Cecil

“EDDIE CONDON REVISITED”: MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL (May 19, 1989, Set Two) featuring JOHNNY BLOWERS, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY GWALTNEY, JIMMY HAMILTON, CLYDE HUNT, JOHN JENSEN, CONNIE JONES, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, TOMMY SAUNDERS, AL STEVENS, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE

By day a tax accountant and perhaps a financial advisor, by night a deep jazz enthusiast, concert producer, record producer, singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee” knew and loved Eddie (and Phyllis) Condon, and the music that Eddie and friends made.

When “Fat Cat” began his jazz festivals in Manassas, Virginia, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy McPartland, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, and many of Eddie’s stalwart individualists were alive and well.  By 1989, few were left and playing (Max Kaminsky had just turned eighty and was advised by his doctor not to join in).  But over the weekend of May 19-21, 1989, he staged a series of CONDON REVISITED / CONDON REUNION concerts, each attempting to reproduce a precious 1944-45 Town Hall or Carnegie Hall or Blue Network broadcast from 1944-45.  It was a hot jazz repertory company: Connie Jones acted the part of Bobby Hackett, Betty Comora played Lee Wiley, Bobby Gordon was Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Saunders became Wild Bill Davison, and so on.

The results were sometimes uneven yet the concerts were beautiful.

I’ve acquired these videos through the kindness of deep jazz collectors and here’s a listing of everyone who takes part, to the best of my record-keeping ability.  I asked permission to post from the Survivors who appear in this and other concert videos — the very gracious Brooks Tegler, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone and clarinet; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Betty Comora, vocals.  (Update: my friend Sonny McGown told me that John Jensen, Clyde Hunt, and Al Stevens are still with us, which I had not known.  I’ve reached out to John and Clyde but haven’t found Al.  Any leads gratefully accepted.)  Had I been able to, I might have edited out the kazoo solos, but I leave them in as a tribute to “Fat Cat.”  Imperial privilege.

Here’s the bill of fare: ‘S’WONDERFUL Clyde Hunt, trumpet; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, kazoo / DINAH Marty Grosz – Bobby Gordon / CLARINET CHASE Bobby Gordon, Tommy Gwaltney, Kenny Davern / THE ONE I LOVE / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Betty Comora, vocal; Connie Jones, cornet; John Jensen, trombone / THAT DA DA STRAIN / RIVERSIDE BLUES Connie Jones, Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny Williams, Johnny Blowers / OL’ MISS McRee, ensemble.

Thank goodness for such tributes — full of individualists who have the right feeling — and for the video-recording.  As Eddie would say, WHEE!

May your happiness increase!

NATE NAJAR’S BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

Love comes in through the ears as well as through any other channel: the voice you hear on your phone (if you are fortunate) or the purring, from any species, that makes you smile.  Louis, Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Ben Webster, Bing, and many others create sounds that assure me that things are going to be all right.

Nate Najar by Jamie Inman

Guitarist Nate Najar has some of that very same magic.  His new CD isn’t “Easy Listening” (for those who remember that archaic category) but it certainly is easy to listen to, and to love.  It’s both beautiful music and a homage to a time when beautiful music was a common language.  The theme is French, and the title is UNDER PARIS SKIES.  It isn’t released yet, so you’ll have to wait until September 7, but you can line up here.  Nate says it will be available in all the old familiar places, including his site.

What distinguishes this CD from the thousands of guitar sessions, and even the thousands of sessions devoted to the music of France, is Nate’s sweet expertise. He loves translucent melodies; he has a light touch; he swings without cliche or strain, and the CD is also elegant dance music.  I’ve heard him swing all by himself — he has his own rhythmic engine — but he’s also aided immeasurably by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Matthew Home, drums; and playing vibraphone on two tracks, the splendid Chuck Redd.  They work together in true gracious harmony, with Nate making sure everyone gets a chance to sing out.  (Hear Tommy’s lead on APRES UN REVE and know how acoustic string bass should be played.)

The songs are nicely chosen, familiar and obscure.  I apologize for the lack of accents, but that may be why Miss Virby gave me a 75 in French III.  LA MORT DOUCE / I WILL WAIT FOR YOU / NUAGES / LA JAVANNAISE / SOUS LE CIEL DE PARIS (Under Paris Skies) / CE PETIT CHEMIN / APRES UN REVE / SA JEUNESSE / QUE RESTE-T-IL DE NOS AMOURS? (I Wish You Love) / CHANSON DU COEUR BRISE (Song of Songs) / LA MARSELLAISE.

Some of the repertoire has, in the past, fallen into sentimentality, but Nate likes to swing just as much as he likes to increase the humidity, so I WISH YOU LOVE starts off as a proper rhapsody and then moves into a modern-Basie-rock, energized and energizing.  There’s also a good deal of understated wit here: these musicians aren’t obsessive quoters (I could name names) but the rare references to other songs often made me laugh out loud.

Nate’s own playing is quietly spectacular: hear his solo exploration of SONG OF SONGS: majestic yet not melodramatic, easily mobile but never trivial.  And the sound he gets out of his unamplified guitar is a gorgeous song in itself, so much like a beautifully modulated human voice.

It would be easy to pass this CD by for one more “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” or “adventurous,” which often means lengthy less-melodic excursions, but I encourage you to seek it out.  We can never have too much light-hearted beauty, and Nate Najar lives right in the center of it, as this CD proves.

Nate doesn’t make it to New York that often, but he will be playing music from UNDER PARIS SKIES on October 14 at the Blue Note in New York City — a Sunday brunch, with details here.  It will be a very good way to feel comfortable in the world, no matter what Monday brings.

Thank you for the beauties, Monsieur Najar.

May your happiness increase!

A BRAZILIAN WATERCOLOR: NATE NAJAR TRIO

More than half a century ago, Bossa Nova and Brazilian pop music became part of our common musical language; I recall how delightfully we were surrounded by the sounds of Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz, Jobim and Gilberto.

NATE NAJAR TRIO

The music is still vividly alive, as demonstrated by guitarist Nate Najar’s new CD, AQUARELA DO BRASIL (Candid Records CCD79988), where he is joined by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums (all except 5, 7) and vibes (5, 7); Harry Allen, tenor saxophone (3, 8); Duduka Da Fonseca, drums (5, 7).  The songs are Canto De Ossanha / Carinhoso / Ligia / Aquarela do Brasil (Brazil) / Amparo (Olha Maria) / Chovendo No Roseira (Double Rainbow) / Fotografia / Samba For Felix / Charlotte’s Fancy / Canto De Ossanha (in an extended version).

Nate, in the fashion of his mentor Charlie Byrd, makes beautiful pools of sound on his unamplified guitar — reminding us that this sometimes-abused instrument was meant for amorous serenades — but he never loses his uplifting pulse.  Indeed, many of the performances on this disc have rollicking vamps as their heartbeat, but they are never merely rhythmic exercises, for Nate, Tommy, Chuck, and Harry are too deeply committed to melody for that. And although the swinging evocations of dancing in Rio are irresistible, I was drawn to the more meditative moments on this disc: Nate’s ruminative playing on CHARLOTTE’S FANCY and CARINHOSO, and his opening statement on AMPARO. The music, although all “Brazilian,” comes from different composers and eras — four by Jobim, but also compositions by Barrosa, De Moraes, and two more recent originals by Byrd and Cecil — spanning a range of music from the late Thirties to the present. The result is evocation rather than a copy — this is not a “famous album reproduced fifty years later” but a soulful exploration of the many possibilities of the genre.

Here is more information about the disc (including Nate’s gently perceptive notes — minus the final two paragraphs) on the Candid Records site, and you can learn more about Nate here.  For an engaging sample of the music Nate’s trio creates live, here is a 2012 recording of SAMBA FOR FELIX (named for jazz enthusiast and disc jockey Felix Grant) recorded in 2012:

May your happiness increase! 

THE REAL THING: JAMES DAPOGNY and his EAST COAST CHICAGOANS in CONCERT (Nov. 16, 2012)

What follows is the video record of a rewarding evening I spent observing — and being uplifted by — James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans on November 16, 2012, at the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Real Thing, as we say: a small band neatly yet passionately improvising and recreating lively hot music.

Leader James Dapogny, pianist, scholar, poet, wit, barrelhouse master, is one of my heroes — and if you don’t know his work . . . . where have you been?  He assembled a fine band: Randy Reinhart, cornet; David Sager, trombone (who did the hard work of making this concert a reality); Anita Thomas, Scott Silbert, reeds; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Craig Gildner, guitar; Brooks Tegler, drums.  No funny vocals, no gimmicks or tricks — just surging, delicate, detailed jazz.  An honor to be there!  And this post is for those of you, like the writer Gretchen Comba and Aunt Ida Melrose, and many other friends, who couldn’t make it.  It was good.

W. C. Handy’s BEALE STREET (in the arrangement that I recognize from the 1944 Commodore session that featured a front line for the ages — Miff Mole, Ernie Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell):

Jelly Roll Morton’s forward-looking (1930!) BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

Alex Hill’s DELTA BOUND:

Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:

Roy Eldridge’s THAT THING:

Chris Smith’s TOOT TOOT, DIXIE BOUND:

A lyrical Thirties song, something I’ve only heard when Professor Dapogny is at the keys, COUNTRY BOY:

In honor of the Ellington small groups, LOVE’S IN MY HEART:

Juan Tizol’s Middle Eastern revery, CARAVAN:

The ideal state of affairs, BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE:

Hill’s TENNESSEE TWILIGHT:

I’d like to see Dapogny concerts like this in every city on a regular basis.  Wouldn’t you?

May your happiness increase.

DELICACY AND STRENGTH: NATE NAJAR’S “BLUES FOR NIGHT PEOPLE”

Guitarist Nate Najar knows what that wooden box with strings is for — to fill the void with lovely, surprising sounds.  And he continues to do so on his new CD, a tribute to Charlie Byrd, BLUES FOR NIGHT PEOPLE.

Nate Najar cover

I write “continues,” because I was immediately impressed with Nate and his music when he came and sat in at The Ear Inn some time ago.  Ear-people know that 326 Spring Street is a hot place for guitarists: Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, Chris Flory, James Chirillo, Julian Lage, and some other notables.

But Nate stands out as he did that Sunday night: a sweetly melodic player who didn’t let sweetness get in the way of swinging.  “Delicacy” and “strength” may seem an odd combination — a writer’s contradiction designed primarily to catch the eye — but they live happily in Nate’s playing.  His sound is beautiful, subtle, full of shadings — but he never is content to provide pretty aural wallpaper, the guitarist’s version of Laura Ashley for the ears.

No, his notes ring and chime; his phrases have meaning and depth on their own, and they fit into the larger compositions he creates.  And “strength” is evident in several ways on this disc.  In its most obvious manifestation, it comes across powerfully in the opening blues — not harsh, but not music for people who “play at” the blues.  But strength, we know, is also a kind of wisdom: knowing where to take a breath, where to be still, so that the music created resonates powerfully even after the performances have ended.

Come on and hear.  Here.

The CD, as you can see, is Nate’s respectful but lively tribute to another down-home poet of the guitar — where he remembers but does not imitate.  It offers a variety of moods, tempos, and sounds — from lovely ballad playing to rocking Latin expressiveness to barbecue-flavored blues.  Nate is accompanied by the wonderful bassist Tommy Cecil and the indispensable Chuck Redd — on vibes as well as drums.  Beautifully recorded.   And the CD has very plain-spoken yet elegant notes written by Nate and by Charlie’s widow, Becky.  The songs are MUSIC FOR NIGHT PEOPLE (the last movement, called 4 AM FUNK) / DJANGO / DESAFINADO /SWING 59 / O PATO / A SINGLE PETAL OF A ROSE / CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ / HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES? / WHO CARES? / SOMEONE TO LIGHT UP MY LIFE / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / REMEMBERING CHARLIE BYRD.

It’s wise, subtle, and genuine music.

May your happiness increase.

SWING SEMINAR, INDEPENDENT STUDY: PROFESSOR JAMES DAPOGNY AND HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS (November 16, 2012)

I’ve long since been too impatient to sit in a classroom . . . call it a restless spirit or attention-deficit disorder.  But there are a few Professors I know I can always learn from.  One of them is James Dapogny, that barrelhouse / lyrical pianist, who shows us new ways in and out of the music — always lighting the way to pleasure without a hint of scholarly tedium.  Professor Dapogny is Emeritus from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, so the only lessons I’ve gotten from him since 2004 have taken place in informal hot seminars held at the Jazz at Chautauqua party.

I know that to some readers of JAZZ LIVES, what is coming up might provoke a barely muffled sigh.  “Is that fellow telling us AGAIN that there’s something to buy, somewhere to go, someone to hear?  Doesn’t Michael know that the enterprises he urges us towards cost money, take time and effort.”

Yes, I know.  And I wouldn’t suggest that you water the children’s milk or pay the credit card bill late.  But the concert that is coming up on November 16, 2012, by James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will be special.  If you buy a ticket online (see details here: DAPOGNY) it is $21.69.  I don’t think that’s an intimidating sum.  But, of course, the concert is held in Silver Spring, Maryland — which is out of reach for many people reading this post.  All I can tell you is that I admire the Professor’s deep feeling for the music that I am willing to drive a nine-hour roundtrip to get there . . . rather than say to myself in five or ten years, “It was inconvenient but I wish I had gone.”

Enough hocking, as my people say.  The concert is on a Friday; it begins at 7:30 and the site is the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9545 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

And the Professor knows the value of collaborative learning, so this isn’t a solo lecture.  He’ll be bringing fellow scholars: Randy Reinhart, Anita Thomas, David Sager, Brooks Tegler, Tommy Cecil, Scott Silbert, Craig Gildner.  It’s open seating, so make your plans early — I believe the church is somewhat more cozy than Bill Graham’s Fillmore or Carnegie Hall.

I’ve bought my ticket.  Come join me!  And there’s no final exam: Professor Dapogny wants to elate us, not force us into little wooden desks.  And he’s got phenomenal ratings on that wicked Rate My Professor.  See for yourself.

May your happiness increase.

JAMES DAPOGNY, BARRELHOUSE POET — in CONCERT WITH HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS! (November 16, 2012)

James Dapogny — pianist, composer, arranger, scholar, wry and thoughtful — is one of my heroes.  But the eminent Professor doesn’t have much patience for hyperbole, so I will keep it to a low murmur.

He didn’t learn his Swing from a book; rather, he embodies it in playing that is both bluesy / funky / downhome / greasy (these are the highest compliments) and lyrical / singing.  He can call to mind the dark-blue shadings of Jess Stacy or Frank Melrose; he can evoke Jelly, Little Brother, Hines, Sullivan, Fats . . . but what he’s best at is off-handedly creating his own singular worlds that resonate in the mind long after he has stepped away from the piano.

We can’t ask Sippie Wallace or Frank Chace for testimonials anymore, but if you run into Jon-Erik Kellso or Kim Cusack, ask them what they think of Professor Dapogny — who is both a Professor emeritus and a “professor” in the old New Orleans definition of the term.

Trombonist and scholar David Sager, who admires Dapogny as I and many others do, has created an opportunity for the Professor and eminent friends to become his East Coast Chicagoans in a concert in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Friday, November 16, 2012.  The musicians David has assembled are stellar team players and soloists: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Anita Thomas and Scott Silbert, reeds; David Sager, trombone; Craig Gildner, guitar; Tommy Cecil, bass; Brooks Tegler, drums.

Details can be found here— a Kickstarter campaign to fund the concert, to pay the musicians (what a delightful idea), and to record the proceedings.

I know that some readers will groan — silently or otherwise — at the mention of Kickstarter, because it occasionally seems that every improvising artist is asking for financial support through it, but times’ getting tougher than tough . . . and with all the things that we are urged to buy that will give us only the most brief pleasure (at best) supporting James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will not only benefit the listener but the musicians.

So I encourage you to consider supporting this enterprise, even if you can’t get to Silver Spring.  I have hopes of attending, and the District of Columbia is not my usual Friday destination . . . but this is important.

Don’t forget this Friday date!

May your happiness increase.