Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?
You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.
I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”? That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”
Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians. From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”
They might have said, “Here’s a song we love. Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”
(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music. I won’t. My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)
I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me. But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?
The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product. Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art. And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.
So . . . call it what you will, if you must. But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it. And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.
P.S. For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door. So negative comments will not see the light. And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.
One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest(all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).
The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others. I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that. But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t. But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.
Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet. I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it. One lyrical, one steaming.
The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972. Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody. I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.
It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN). Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity. There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar. I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday. How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains. The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so. I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:
From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable. Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens? If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement. Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas. To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up. Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:
Here’s the festival’shome pageand the relevant Facebook page. I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there. Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.
I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note. Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in. It works; I’m fine. Ask my electrocardiologist. But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.
I’m still grinning when I think of all the good music created last weekend (April 17-19) at the 26th Atlanta Jazz Party.
Here’s another leisurely sample, performed by Ben Polcer, trumpet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone; John Cocuzzi, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.
It’s the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. Now, if I could see you, I would catch some of my readers in mid-wince. “God, not that song again! That’s what’s wrong with ‘traditional jazz’!” Even I have been known to think and say, “I wish I could have a moratorium on ROYAL GARDEN,” but this performance reminds me again how little the repertoire has to do with the beauty created:
Although they play the song with the correct conventions, the appropriate gestures, there’s nothing locked-in here. Once those gavottes are accomplished, you can feel the musicians relaxing into a medium-fast twelve bar blues . . . and each one has a beautiful story to tell. Pay particular attention to that rhythm section! And you all know and admire Messrs. Vaché and Barrett, but one of the great lyrical surprises of the AJP was Ben Polcer — who is so much more than just “Ed Polcer’s kid” — an easy, hot player with a fine range who knows the twists and turns but also has a swing feel . . . now and again reminding me of Buck Clayton, and that is high praise.
This performance was only one of more than a hundred at the AJP — and it is by no means the only standout. Next year, the Party will be on April 15, 16, and 17. I hope to be there, and at Table Three. My jazz home away from home for three days.
As an antidote to the recurring journalistic “Jazz is dead,” “Jazz is irrelevant,” “Jazz no longer has an audience,” I offer cheering evidence to the contrary: Jeff and Joel’s House Party (October 10-12, Guilford, Connecticut).
I’ve been to two of the House Parties thrown by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone in Connecticut and they were wonderful weekends: friendly, full of fun, with easy opportunities to hear an abundance of hot music in cozy surroundings. Rather than hearing music at a distance while sitting in a hotel ballroom, people who attend the House Party actually have it at close range, and find themselves surrounded by friends who are there because they, too, enjoy the sounds.
Most of us aren’t actually going to throw a rent party — hire a dozen or more professional musicians and have them play long sets over a weekend — so this is as close as we will get to that experience. And when you look at the listing of musicians, stars of the traditional jazz scene in the Northeast, you know that “professional” is both accurate and an understatement here.
Only eighty seats are available for each session over this weekend, so I encourage you to investigate soon: previous House Parties have sold out. (I checked the site today, and more than half of the seating is already taken.)
My friend Eric Devine — a brilliant jazz cinematographer — has been on hand to capture some of the highlights of past House Parties for us all. (His YouTube channel is CineDevine and he takes his camera to surprising places.) Here are a few samples of the wonderful music to be experienced there. From April 2013, John Gill singing SALOON:
Jeff Barnhart tenderly singing and playing Fats Waller’s THERE’S A GAL IN MY LIFE in October 2013:
I’ve chosen more restrained examples of the hot music offered at the House Party, but there’s plenty of AVALON and THAT’S A PLENTY. Here’s one such seismic expression from October 2012, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:
This year, there will be a special Friday night (October 10) concert featuring Dan Levinson and Molly Ryan: 7-9 PM, tickets $30 / person. And the three sessions to follow (Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon) will feature Jeff Barnhart, Joel Schiavone, Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Herb Gardner, Lew Green, Tom Palinko, Fred Vigorito, Genevieve Rose, Bill Reynolds, Bob Ferguson, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, Herb Roselle — everything from solo piano, duos and trios, to full-ensemble traditional jazz and banjo-led sing-alongs. You can purchase tickets for individual sessions or for all three, plus Friday’s concert: the tickets for the weekend sessions include food and non-alcoholic beverages.
Find out more at the event’s Facebookpage, or at the Jeff and Joel’s House Party page. Or call Maureen Cunningham at (203)208-1481 — Maureen will return your call in the evening.
I feel as if I’ve been listening to recorded music all my life, and the discs and tapes I’ve managed to acquire certainly testify to this.
Long-time listeners like myself are also involuntary editors, revisers, and critics. Put on a new CD and we want to enjoy it wholly, but often the small whirring section of the brain that points out details comes in to play. “I’m so glad they are playing that song, but why at that tempo?” “Great band, but adding a trombone would have been even nicer.” “Did that soloist have to stop after one chorus?” You get the idea.
We can’t help ourselves, and the Ideal Sound we hold in our heads — imagined, rarely heard — can be an awful burden.
Thus, it’s a real pleasure to alert you to a new CD, so special that I could instantly tell the critical cortex to take a nap. It’s that good.
I had heard and admired Steve for some years through recordings, but when I heard him in person for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, I was even more impressed with his depth of feeling and immersion in the music.
He doesn’t offer anything formulaic; he creates wonderful melodies and generous, leafy counterpoint; his pulse is always irresistible, even on a slow blues. Many capable players build little stylistic boxes and settle in for the duration: it could be their planned approach to the material, their choice of songs, the way they envision their bands.
Steve is more a free-floating spirit, with his goal being to inhabit every song fully as its own musical performance. No artifice, nothing but a kind of light-hearted yet inense candor, which makes his work sing . . . even when he isn’t. What he creates isn’t “traditional” or “New Orleans” or “Dixieland” jazz — but swinging dance music with a new rhythm for every track.
All of that would sound as if this were another Pistorius solo recital: rocking piano that bridges old traditions and new energies, and witty yet heartfelt singing of ballads, blues, naughty songs, and stomps.
But there’s much more on NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE, because it’s a quartet with Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, clarinet and alto saxophone; Tyler Thomson, string bass. To the purists, that might seem like an incomplete band, but this quartet is richly fulfilling. They don’t strive to offer contemporary copies of anyone from the Apex Club Orchestra to Soprano Summit: they sound like four generous fellows having a wonderful time in an informal setting. Not the clamor of angry stellar jays fighting for primacy in a nearby tree; nothing shrill or loud, just communal fun in sweet exploration.
The quartet neatly and surprisingly balances the rough, even raw possibilities of the clarinet with the elegance of the alto, and it’s all supported by Steve’s left hand and the buoyant playing of Thomson, a gifted player in the school of Pops Foster and Milt Hinton. I’ve always admired the fierce honesty of Orange Kellin’s playing: he plays like a man speaking his inmost thoughts — but those thoughts swing as they tumble out of him. James Evans is new to me, and he is also a fine clarinetist, but I was even more impressed by his honeyed alto playing — the way people who weren’t wooed away by Bird stuck to their original impulses about saxophone playing.
The quartet is a model small community, where something engaging is always going on, players trading melody and improvisation, lead and counterpoint. And the beat goes on from the first note to the last. The repertoire is immensely delightful — songs by Bechet, Dodds, Tony Jackson, Jelly, Natty Dominique, Bill Whitmore, Joe Oliver, but also by Berlin, Carmichael, Lorenzo Barcelata, Albert Howard, and Paul Dresser — a far cry from the done-to-death songs that characterize “traditional” playing: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE / BABY, I’D LOVE TO STEAL YOU / DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES / BECHET’S FANTASY / BULL FIDDLE BLUES ? WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / WORKING MAN BLUES / MARIA ELENA / LADY LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / JUBILEE / AS TU LE CAFARD / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME / GEORGIA CABIN / MY GAL SAL. Nicely recorded in several 2013 sessions. Honest, lively, feeling music.
I wish this were a working and touring band, and that I had a whole sheaf of videos of it to share with you. But I don’t. You’ll have to trust me about just how good this disc is.
To purchase a copy, please send $20 to the Man Himself (no rolls of quarters, please — check or IMO): Steve Pistorius, 306 Florida Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124. And something better than the usual bills will soon be in your mailbox. “I guarantee it,” as Justin Wilson used to say.
The real thing — lyrical New Orleans jazz recorded on the steamboat Natchez sailing up and back the Mississippi River. In 2013, not 1926, too. What could be nicer?
All of this was the idea (the dream, perhaps) of our friend and hero Duke Heitger, who launched the first STEAMBOAT STOMP in October 2013.
Here’s some hot music by Duke and his pals — the Steamboat Stompers: Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Fischer, tenor saxophone; Steve Pistorius, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo; Tom Saunders, tuba; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
One for Papa Joe, SWEET LOVIN’ MAN:
Sweetly dancing, those beauties, CREOLE BELLES:
A riverboat favorite, SAILING DOWN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY:
Duke never speaks roughly to anyone, so this traditional end-of-night New Orleans tune has to be taken as a gentle embrace rather than a rough shove out the door — GET OUT OF HERE (AND GO ON HOME):
I’ll keep you posted on the plans for the 2014 Steamboat Stomp, I promise. For the moment, admire these players: they can swing and they can float.
When asked about the origins of jazz and the blues, Willie “the Lion” Smith was certain that the music had originated in the brickyards of Haverstraw, New York, where he first heard it.
Official Jazz Historians may scoff at his theory, based on first-hand experience, but I do know that traditional jazz — hot and ready — flourishes in Guilford, Connecticut, as a rewarding seasonal event: JEFF and JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY — that’s Jeff Barnhart, piano, vocals; Joel Schiavone, banjo. Both men have been known to burst into song at intervals as well.
The autumnal event (a hot jazz solstice of sorts) will take place this year from Friday, October 11, to Sunday, October 13. Details immediately below!
My first-hand experience of two House Parties is that these events are delightful, with an authenticity not always found at more formal jazz events. Part of this comes from the easy friendliness of the people who run the House Party, people whom it’s easy to get to know. But a good deal of the happiness here has to do with the physical setting — as if a group of jazz musicians just happened to be having a relaxed session in someone’s home. Unlike some “jazz parties,” where the musicians are far away on a stage, the House Party is informal, and the barriers between musicians and audience are never quite established. Not only do you get to hear your heroes; you might have a casual conversation over a sandwich, or find one standing outside on the porch, admiring the lovely fall landscape. (The leaves are especially beautiful at this time of year.) And the music-packed sessions are good value indeed (for the budget-conscious, Guilford has a number of pleasant inexpensive motels a few minutes’ drive away from the Schiavone farmhouse.) For those who don’t see themselves getting to France any time soon, the extra-added-attraction on Friday of PARIS WASHBOARD is something you don’t want to miss.
The music has been blissfully wide-ranging, from Hot Five and two-trumpet King Oliver to Twenties New Orleans and early Ellington, Joplin as it might have been played in “Disneyland for adults” (a bordello circa 1904), a good deal of Bix-related music, evocations of early Bennie Moten and Willie the Lion Smith ensembles. Chopin, Lil Hardin, Don Lambert, and other notables stopped by, too.
If you need some audible evidence (video provided by CineDevine), here is memorable music from the April 2013 party. I present one of my musical heroes, John Gill, singing and accompanying himself of Ernest Ball’s classic SALOON — with friends Jeff, piano; Lew Green, cornet; Noel Kaletsky, clarinet; Brian Nalepka, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums:
For more information and good times amidst hot music, click here.
The more I hear Jeff Barnhart — pianist, singer, improviser — the more I admire him. He has an ebullient spirit, whether he is striding or playing a rag, but there’s a soulful vein of sweet melancholy that underlies his work — a tenderness that never disappears in the humor and hot music. See and hear for yourself.
HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (from the 2010 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — with Michel Bastide, Paul Munnery, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Jacob Ullberger, Josh Duffee, with leader Bent Persson standing off to the side, admiring) comes from a Red Allen tribute, and it is notable for those of us who revere Vic Dickenson as his first real appearance on record — as a singer — with a song that is a little unpredictable. Thus, Jeff’s looking at the lyrics is the act of a wise man, not an unprepared one. And you’ll hear, fore and aft, his glistening piano coming through the ensemble in a wonderful Hines manner:
Let’s move things up a little bit — a video created by Tom Warner — something I adore, for its dancing comedy and incredible swing. Ladies and gentlemen, the duo of Messrs. Barnhart and Danny Coots, performing Uncle Fred Coots’ A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE — a small theatrical romp, whatever the tempo.
But first! You need to hear the song as originally performed — with absolute mastery — by Jan Peerce in a 1935 radio airshot (wait for the final cymbal crash!) . . . to get the full flavor of the Barnhart-Coots spectacular.
Jeff and Danny:
(I can’t comment on Jan Peerce’s showmanship — it’s all there in his passionate voice — but Jeff wins the prize for me for one gesture, the way he lifts his right hand while playing at a violent tempo to point to his heart. That’s the best old-school stride piano Method acting you’ll ever see.)
And one more. Why not? It’s a favorite of mine, one of the half-dozen videos I would self-prescribe if I got up feeling gloomy. A proven spiritual panacea — variations on the 1933 Crosby hit YOUNG AND HEALTHY, with a true Cast of Characters: John Reynolds (guitar); Ralf Reynolds (washboard); Katie Cavera (bass); Marc Caparone (cornet); Dan Barrett (trombone); Bryan Shaw (trumpet). I recorded this at Dixieland Monterey — the Jazz Bash by the Bay, nearly two years ago — March 5, 2011 — and it still delights me. Jeff does honor to Fats and to Putney Dandridge while remaining himself.
Convinced? I should think so.
But experiencing Jeff and his music in person is even better. He travels the country with wife Anne, a classically trained flautist, in their own duo or trio IVORY AND GOLD (with Danny Coots), and he shows up everywhere, spreading joy and mirth and swing.
I am happily going to see him at least three times this year — at the March 1-2-3 Jazz Bash, at the April 20-21 Jeff and Joel’s House Party, and at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, turning the corner from October into November).
You can find out more about his peregrinations and recordings here. And you can hear samples of his music as well — I’ve picked out a particular favorite, an excerpt from a CD I love, called THUMP! FIRST WHACK —Down in Honky Tonk Town.
The title of that recording should say something about its delightful individuality. The performers are Jeff (piano, vocal, co-leader); SherriLynn Colby (vocal, co-leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, vocal); Matty Bottel (banjo, tenor guitar); Otis Mourning (clarinet, soprano, alto sax); Marty Eggers (string bass); Lauri Lyster (drums); Simon Stribling (cornet, trombone). JAZZ LIVES readers will know how much I admire Clint, Marty, Simon, and now Jeff — but the other musicians are quite wonderful as well.
The scope of this recording comes through in its repertoire: GOT NO TIME / TANK TOWN BUMP / AM I BLUE? / LINA BLUES / KITCHEN MAN / I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / DADDY DO / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DELTA BOUND / EXACTLY LIKE YOU.
Its character can best explained metaphorically. THUMP sounds the way the food of our childhood tasted: succulent, multi-layered, perhaps a little drippy (the tomato eaten in the garden) or a bit greasy (real chicken on the barbecue), rather than the sanitized modern version — neat but flavorless. After you listen to THUMP, you might have to wipe your hands on a napkin, but your ears will be full of savory large musical flavors. Hot horn solos, beautiful interplay in the ensembles, a rocking rhythm section, and delightful vocals — this is my first introduction to SherriLynn Colby, whose sweet-tart approach to her material suggests that she is really a Thirties film star who Warner Brothers never had the sense to hire — and that is a very large compliment.
And Jeff has recorded many other CDs — while keeping a busy traveling schedule. We are very lucky to have him, whichever of his many joyous visages he turns to the audience.
The Metropole in New York City was on Broadway and had a large bar near the front and the musicians played on a stand within the bar. The front window had been removed so passers-by could see and hear them. Dick Wellstood played there with a trad group. He told me that when they were hired the owner told them, “I do not want to interfere with your artistic integrity. You can play anything you want, provided you play loud.”
I first encountered the swinging percussionist Stephane Seva on pianist Olivier Lancelot’s CD (“Lancelot and his Chevaliers”). Although some washboardists can be heavy and overly assertive, Stephane had a light, tapping sound, and an irresistible beat. He’s on two new, rewarding CDs.
But first — here’s Stephane in the setting most would have encountered him, as an integral part of the quartet PARIS WASHBOARD (captured by Jeff Guyot for YouTube), with trombonist Daniel Barda, clarinetist Alain Marquet, and pianist Christian Azzi, performing ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:
Stephane is in fine form on the quartet’s latest CD, LIVE IN MONSEGUR (which features Barda, Marquet, and pianist Louis Mazetier), recorded live on July 4, 2009 — at a festival titled “Les 24 heures de Swing.”
It’s on the Black and Blue label (BB 708.2) and begins in high gear with a romping MINOR DRAG — followed by SQUEEZE ME, DINAH, KEEP YOUR TEMPER, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, CARAVAN, SWEET LORRAINE (with witty lyrics in French about the song itself, crooned by Stephane), and MAPLE LEAF RAG.
Although Fats Waller avoided trombone in his Rhythm, Paris Washboard has the cheerful stomp and swagger of the Waller group.
Stephane hasn’t wanted the washboard to be identified exclusively with Twenties jazz and with revivalist bands, so he has performed with a variety of jazz players. And the results, surprising and delightful, can be heard on another CD (on his own label — STEF 001 — with an unusual quartet, SWING ONDULE.
It follows Paris Washboard’s format: piano (Ludovic de Preissac), trombone (Eric Fauconnier), clarinet (Stephane Chausse), Stephane on washboard and vocals, and guest saxophonist Eric Seva. The CD is teasingly brief — fourtracks only — MINOR’S MOOD, CHEVAUCHEE A BOP-CITY, SWEET LORRAINE (vocal by Stephane), WASHBOARD WIGGLES. The first two are originals by the pianist; the last track a famous composition of Tiny Parham’s.
What distinguishes the group and the CD from its more traditional cousins is their gleeful breadth of influences. In the first few minutes (at a rocking tempo) I thought of the Raymond Scott Quintette, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, late swing and early bop . . . all flying by most joyously. This CD cries out for Blindfold Testing across the civilized world. The appropriate reaction would be, “I don’t know who they are, but they’re superb!”
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Stephane is coming to New York for the last week of November, and will be doing four gigs. Here are the details:
DOC SCANLON’S PAN-ATLANTIC SWINGSTERS with Stephane Seva:
Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010: Swing 46, New York City
349 W. 46th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues
Tuesday, Nov. 30: The Bickford Theatre, Morristown, New Jersey 8 PM: New York Washboard Band: Stéphane Séva, wasnboard and vocals; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Matt Musselman, trombone.
Recently, someone commented enthusiastically and knowledgeably on a posting of mine. His name was familiar: Bob Sparkman. I knew about him through our mutual friend John L. Fell. I also recalled seeing Bob play clarinet one evening at the “new” Eddie Condon’s in 1975.
I must digress for a moment to describe that oddly intriguing evening: Ruby Braff led the band — with the sweet-natured Dick Rath on trombone, Bob, Jimmy Rowles (!), Marty Grosz (!), Al Hall, and Connie Kay. I recall that Ruby didn’t let Marty solo once, and that he taught Rowles IT’S THE SAME OLD SOUTH in a minute or two — with great success. My cassette recorder, uncharacteristically fickle, didn’t capture a note, but this might have been the evening when Ruby asked me, “Want my autograph?” which was unusual for him, since we already had it in a variety of forms . . . . took my notebook and Flair pen, drew a cartoon of a revolver with smoke coming out of the barrel, and signed it LUCKY LUCIANO.
I recall that Bob had a pretty, sweet-tart tone, and played simple, heartfelt lines. I soon found out that it was indeed the same man, gracious and witty, still playing, having moved from New York to Massachusetts.
And he’d formed a rewarding musical partnership with the pianist / guitarist Jerry Noble.
Here they are in concert (April 2008) at Smith College, truly at play on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and JITTERBUG WALTZ. I first delight in Bob’s tone and the way he shapes his phrases, so much like singing, and in Jerry’s lavish but never overwhelming imagination at the keyboard: in this duet, the “lead” shifts back and forth and finally evaporates, as we hear two equals having a good time and a musical conversation.
We’re shaped by the music we hear as children and adolescents; in 1942, Bob was fortunate to hear a record of Muggsy Spanier with the clarinetist Rod Cless. Soon he was playing informally with Dick Wellstood and Eddie Hubble, eventually playing professionally in New York City — and, after retiring up north, with a variety of small bands, including the Espresso Jazz Trio, the King Phillip Dixieland Band, and with pianist / guitarist / composer Clifton “Jerry” Noble. Bob and Jerry have recorded five compact discs of their favorite tunes, and have also collaborated with bassist Genevieve Rose and drummer Richard Mayer on Mayer’s CD Vermont Songbook. As I write this, their disc, called THANKS A MILLION, is playing. Jerry is a splendidly mobile pianist, someone not restricted to one style; he listens deeply and responds intuitively, never trying to steal the show. And Bob is unlike many traditional jazz clarinetists in his use of space, his vocalized phrasing, his subtle dynamics and tonal variety. Both men are melodic players, creating a democratic musical conversation.
*The Sidney Bechet Society. We haven’t been able to spend Tuesdays with Monsieur Bechet for a half-century, but time spent with his youthful heirs will be just as satisfying. Don’t be left out!
Wycliffe Gordon’s “History of Jazz Trombone”
Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th St., New York City Tuesday, September 29, 2009 2 shows: 6:15pm & 9:00pm
The Sidney Bechet Society presents trombone sensation Wycliffe Gordon leading a “History of Jazz Trombone.” Wycliffe & the band will remember the legends of this soulful instrument, jazz titans like Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, Al Grey and Buster Cooper. Joining Wycliffe will be Anat Cohen, reeds (Jazz Journalists’ Assoc. 2009 Clarinetist of the Year); Etienne Charles, trumpet (winner: 2006 National Trumpet Competition); Ehud Asherie, piano; Zaid Shukri, bass; Marion Felder, drums; Terry Wilson, vocals. Tickets are $25, available at the box office, by telephone and online at http://www.symphonyspace.org (use code “RAC102” when ordering online). Special 2 show discount: get our Sept. 29 & Oct. 27 shows for $44. This offer is good at box office & phone only—use code “SBS 01”
“Remembering Stuyvesant Casino & Central Plaza” with Vince Giordano
Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th St., New York City Tuesday, October 27, 2009 6:15pm & 9:00pm
The Sidney Bechet Society presents a tribute to two legendary jazz venues: Stuyvesant Casino & Central Plaza. Joining Vince will be Randy Reinhart, trumpet; Mark Lopeman, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kenny Salvo, banjo; Rob Garcia, drums, and Ricky Gordon on washboard. During the 1940s and 1950s, these were the hotbeds of traditional Jazz in NYC. All the greats played there. Vince Giordano will lead a hot band recreating the music one would hear at both establishments. Special guest stars are pianist Marty Napoleon & clarinetist Sol Yaged, who played at both venues. Marty & Sol are 88 and 87 years old, respectively, and still swinging hard! Tickets are $25, available at the box office, by telephone and online at http://www.symphonyspace.org (use code “RAC102” when ordering online). Special 2 show discount: get our Sept. 29 & Oct. 27 shows for $44. This offer is good at box office & phone only—use code “SBS 01”
On June 26, 2009, SFRaeAnn, that generous jazz videographer, took her camera to “America’s Festival,” in Lacey, Washington, and captured cornetist Bob Schultz’s Frisco Jazz Band playing the now-rare Irving Berlin song, “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A.”
Berlin wasn’t an anarchist; this 1920 song teasingly proposes a visit to a country where Prohibiition wasn’t law. (Other songs looked to Montreal for rehydration.)
The performance has an easy, tango-inflected swing, helped immeasurably by Hal Smith on drums — a master chef behind his set, mixing and flavoring with his wire brushes, swinging without getting louder or faster. I thought of Walter Johnson, among others: watch the way Hal moves! Cornetist Schultz has a fine Spanier-Marsala passion, matched by trombonist Doug Finke, whom I associate with rousing Stomp Off CDs by his Independence Hall Jazz Band.
I recently reviewed a Fifties jazz-goes-medieval effort where the participants earnestly jammed on recorders: they should have studied Jim Rothermel, sweetly wailing away. Thanks to Scott Anthony on banjo, who delivers the song stylishly, Chuck Stewart on tuba, and another one of my heroes, pianist Ray Skjelbred, for keeping the ship rocking but afloat.
Our travel plans for the summer have us heading north, not south — so I’ll content myself with this YouTube clip, spicy and sweet.
My friend Barb Hauser, the wise woman of San Francisco jazz, sent this along — an obituary notice for the brilliant, plunging cornetist (later pianist) Jim Goodwin, written by his friend — the justly renowned Dave Frishberg.
James R. (Jim) Goodwin, the son of Katherine and Robert Goodwin, was born March 16, 1944 in Portland, OR, and died April 19, 2009 in Portland. Jim was a natural musician with no formal training. Practitioners and admirers of traditional jazz on both sides of the Atlantic have long regarded him as somewhat of a legend, and his heroic cornet playing, influenced by Louis Armstrong and Wild Bill Davison, was warmly appreciated by his musical colleagues as well as by audiences who listened and loved it.
Jim was a star first baseman at Hillsboro High – a left-handed line-drive hitter. After high school he served in the Oregon National Guard, then trained on Wall Street for a career in finance, returned to Portland, joined Walston & Co., and became for a time the nation’s youngest stockbroker. Jim then put aside the financial career and began to devote his life to playing jazz on the cornet.
During his forty-year career as a cornetist and pianist, Jim had long residencies in Breda, Holland and Berkeley, California, as well as in his home town of Portland. He played with many prominent musicians of the “old school,” including Joe Venuti, Manny Klein, Phil Harris, and Portland’s Monte Ballou (Jim’s godfather). He toured extensively in Western Europe and became probably better known there than in the US. During his long residence in the Bay Area he played regularly at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel and at Pier 23, as well as in three World Series with the Oakland A’s pep band. Before his recent return to Portland, he spent several years living in rural Brownsmead, OR, near Astoria.
Jim became a pioneer in the Portland micro-brewing industry when, together with Fred Bowman and Art Larrance, he established the Portland Brewing Company. During the 1990s he and Portland pianist Dave Frishberg played regular duet performances at the company’s Flanders Street Pub, and the two made an internationally acclaimed CD on the Arbors Jazz label.
In recent years Mr. Goodwin was on the Board of Directors of Congo Enterprises, and he served briefly as CFO of that company, leaving office months before the scandal became headline news.
Forest Park was very dear to Jim. He spent a lot of time there hiking and running.
Donations may be made to: Forest Park Conservancy
1507 NW 23rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97210
– Include a note stating that the donation is “in honor of James Goodwin.”
On April 17, when I wrote a few lines about this wonderful hot band (see UNION RHYTHM KINGS) I had already had the pleasure of hearing several tracks from their debut CD on their MySpace page. Now, through the kindness of Trygve Hernaes, the CD’s executive producer, I’ve heard the disc, called A HOT REUNION. That it is! Astonishing music, precise yet abandoned, fierce yet relaxed — the qualities that characterizes the best jazz, perhaps the finest art. And the band’s “heat” is not a matter of speed and volume; most of the performances on this disc are at at medium tempos, but they swing and stomp remarkably.
The band title, I now know, harks back to the peaceable union of Norway and Sweden (1814-1905), and it’s not a history lesson. Three members of the URK (Bent Persson, cornet / trumpet; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, banjo/guitar) are Swedish; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds, and Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, are Norwegian. A most equitable balance, giving new meaning to the idea of a “mixed band.” Kristoffer and Lars are stars of the Jazzin’ Babies; Bent, Frans, and Jacob play and record as the Hot Jazz Trio, and Morten is an institution unto himself.
The CD pays tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and (by extension) Bing Crosby with AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, THE LOVE NEST, YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, WA-DA-DA, RHYTHM KING, JAZZ ME BLUES, and ROYAL GARDEN BLUES; it honors Louis and King Oliver with KEYHOLE BLUES and CHATTANOOGA STOMP; Jelly Roll Morton has his moments with THE CHANT, KANSAS CITY STOMPS, THE PEARLS, and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP. That would be enough for anyone — but this band has a particular fondness for the music that Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham made while members of the Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the hottest band on record in 1929-30: the URK revisits DOCTOR BLUES and HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES.
Some readers might think, “Do I really need another version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”?
Yes, when the Union Rhythm Kings play it.
Much of the repertoire above from 1923-30 has already been explored by “traditional” bands all over the world. And if you were to listen to all those recordings, an arduous task, you would note many “recreations” and many “improvisations.” Some bands feel that the only way to pay our ancestors proper homage is to treat the Victors, OKehs, and Gennetts as sacred text to be copied note for note. Although this can be electrifying when done expertly in concert, for example, it has serious philosophical limitations. And simply “jamming” on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, for instance, means that once the players are through the first two strains, it’s a medium-tempo blues, perhaps characterless.
The URK steer between these two extremes: their performances take inspiration, shape, and often tempos from the originals, but the solos are fresh, inventive. And the results are glorious. Hearing CHATTANOOGA STOMP, I thought, for the first time, “This must have been what the Creole Jazz Band really sounded like.” Now, it didn’t hurt that each man here is a brilliant soloist, “tops on his instrument for tonation and phrasing,” and that each soloist knows the repertoire intimately. But they all are brilliant team players. Often, collections of “all-stars” turn out to be exercises in ego, muted or open, with the players less concerned about creating a band than about playing their solo. Nothere.
And the CD is brimful with additional delights: on-target notes by trumpeter Mike Durham (who really can write!), and beautiful SACD Surround Sound.
I originally wanted to title this post THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW, but I thought my esoteric reference to the marijuana culture of the Thirties might be too arcane. But mellow the music is, indeed.
You can purchase this CD by contacting the producer, Trygve Hernaes, at Sonor as/Herman Records, Postbox 4275, NO-7436 Trondheim, Norway, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org., or email@example.com. A CD costs $25, and payments can be made only by MasterCard or Visa, but this hot music is worth the effort. I look forward to many more such reunions!
Freud, among others, points out that we all need love and work in equal measure to make our lives fulfilling.
Fortunate are the people who can work with all with all their hearts at something they love and then share the work, the love, and the glorious results with us. We all benefit beyond measure — not just because of the results, but because of the inspiring examples these people offer us: models of how life should be lived.
Leslie Johnson, who edited and published The Mississippi Rag for thirty-five years, was just such a person.
I’ve written about Leslie several times in this blog — most recently, LESLIE JOHNSON, JAZZ HERO (January 15), and yesterday I posted the news of her death.
Here is the email I received last night from her family:
It breaks my heart to write this letter and I know how hard it will be for you to read it. Leslie passed away Saturday afternoon, January 17, 2009.
Leslie had five goals going into the end of 2008; completing 35 years of publishing the RAG with the December 2008 issue, enjoying Christmas with her family, sending a personal letter to the writers, writing a final letter to post on the website and sending the monthly email notification. Once all of the goals were completed to her satisfaction, she was able to let go of everything tying her down. Although we knew this day was coming, we were unprepared for how quickly it actually happened. Fortunately, the entire family was able to be there and the hospice staff made sure her time there was beautiful, peaceful and pain-free. For this we will be eternally grateful.
With warm regards,
children Tony & Renee,
sisters Jody & Debbie
Visitation: Wednesday, January 21st, 5-8 p.m., Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 5000 W. 50th St., Edina, MN 55436
Funeral Mass: Thursday, January 22nd, Noon, St. Richard’s Catholic Church, 76th St. and Penn Ave. S., Richfield, MN
Jazz is full of people who burn brilliantly for only a short time. Then there are heroic figures who keep on keeping on for decades, selflessly giving.
Leslie Johnson has been the editor and publisher of THE MISSISSIPPI RAG since 1973. Today I received an email from Leslie saying that she could no longer go on in those demanding roles because of her illness: she’s been fighting cancer for three and a half years. You can read her farewell at www.mississippirag.com., but I just wanted to add a few words that perhaps Leslie herself would read.
I started to write reviews for the RAG in 2000, and became the paper’s New York correspondent in 2007. In the early days, I often picked up the phone and called Leslie when I had a question — because it was such a pleasure to talk to her, and because she worked such long hours putting out the paper that she didn’t always get to her hundreds of emails. She was fervent, cheerful, determined, and genuine. And I think she worked the longest hours of anyone I’ve ever encountered. For thirty-five years, mind you. It wasn’t for the money: operating a traditional jazz paper is not the Way to Wealth that Benjamin Franklin had in mind. It was because she loved the music, believed in it, and believed in the people who played it, those who produced the CDs, put on festivals, and wrote about it.
She believed in jazz in a practical way. And this came through in the first conversation I had with her about the house style, or what she expected from reviewers. I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but she made it clear that hers was not a paper that delighted in putting artists down. To her, traditional jazz was having a hard enough time. Her paper’s mission was to celebrate and praise rather than to carp about faults. Fair enough, I remember saying, “But what if I think a CD is really an inferior piece of work?” Well, she said, she would return it to the musicians and say that she didn’t think the CD was up to their usual standard and the RAG would rather not review it. That was Leslie’s tough-minded kindness all out — and readers of the paper will note we reviewers were encouraged to tell the truth, but to check our razors at the door.
Our phone conversations were also delightful for me — a born-and-bred New Yorker — because Leslie spoke what I think of as pure Minnesotan. I remember (and I can hear her voice now) responding to some statement of mine that she seconded, “That’s for darn sure!” It’s not a typical Manhattan form of agreement, and it gave and gives me great pleasure.
I said above that Leslie believed in jazz. Many people I know would make the same statement of themselves, but their belief takes shape as pure enjoyment: “I believe in jazz, therefore I listen to _________ every night when I get home.” Leslie’s belief went beyond a set of speakers out of which music came, although she loved to listen to the music. It wasn’t an abstact reaction to jazz, either. She worked for thirty-five years FOR jazz, and the RAG has been the result, month after month.
It’s been a privilege, and honor, and an education to work with and for Leslie Johnson — a true jazz hero.
Much of what is presented as “traditional” jazz these days is really microwaveable Dixieland, steaming and synthetic, ready in ninety seconds. The recipe? Take some musical conventions learned from the records and make them loud and fast. Accelerating the tempo always makes for a savory dish. And the crowd, if one exists, applauds when the song and the band stop, even if they’re simply noting that it’s gotten quiet.
But when the right players get together on the stand and approach some evocative repertoire, magic just might happen. I think it did on Tuesday, December 2, when Dan Levinson’s Swing Wing got together: that’s Dan on clarinet and tenor, Randy Reinhart on cornet, Jim Fryer on trombone, Mark Shane on piano, Brian Nalepka on bass and vocals, and Kevin Dorn on drums. The cinematography is courtesy of singer Molly Ryan, one half of the Levinson-Ryan team.
Here the Wing is having fun with a song that we only know because Red Allen and PeeWee Russell took it on in 1932. “Oh, Peter” had lyrics that must have taken half a beer to compose, although its simple melody inspired the Rhythmakers to great heights. (“Oh, Peter, you’re so nice; it’s a paradise. When you are by my side, that’s when I’m satisfied. Come and kiss me, do, and hug me tight. There’s nothing sweeter than my Peter, call around tonight.”)
But this amiable band, at once energetic and relaxed, does what the best and happiest jazz musicians have always done — that is, PLAY. And Kevin, typically, is at the heart of the playful joy captured here.
The back cover of long-playing records in the Fifties used to say, none too subtly, “If you’ve enjoyed this Long Playing Record, you’ll be sure to enjoy these.” In that spirit, I will say that three more performances from this concert appear on YouTube, in a new account appropriately called “condoninthefifties.” Eddie would be pleased.
I will have more to say about Hackett and Teagarden in the future, but I was just searching through the happy disorder I create around my computer — a heady mix of papers, minidiscs, and compact discs — for something pleasing to listen to.
What I found pleases me so much that I am using my small perch in the Blogosphere to call your attention to it — a Capitol session, recorded on the West Coast, featuring Bobby and Jack with musicians they rarely recorded with — trombonist Abe Lincoln, clarinetist Matty Matlock, drummer Nick Fatool among others. This group made its living in the Hollywood studios and were sometimes brought together as the “Rampart Street Paraders” for Columbia. The under-recorded but always joyous Abe Lincoln, happy and in top form, whoops and shouts on trombone alongside Teagarden, much sleeker by comparison.
When this music came out on vinyl, it was called COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST. I got Hackett to autograph my copy, which I now treasure, but that’s another story. Hackett and Teagarden, perhaps drawn together by their love for melody, for immediately recognizable, personal sounds, by their reverent devotion to Louis Armstrong, never played better than when in tandem. Teagarden, who could often return to his one solo — a beautiful creation which he tinkered with for nearly forty years — seemed to be thinking, not remembering, when he stood next to Bobby.
Hackett didn’t need much inspiration: he could create luminous traceries in the sunset sky surrounded by the most dire musicians — but he sounds tremendously inspired here, even for him. How did “little Bobby Hackett,” as Louis called him so affectionately, always find “those pretty notes”? It’s a mystery — but investigating the Why and the How could make for hours of deeply rewarding listening.
Hear what the two horns do on a slow, meditative “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan,” which stands next to any jazz ballad ever recorded. Play it after Bix’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” Bird’s “Lover Man,” Hawkins’s “Body and Soul,” and there’s no letdown. It’s so simple, too: Hackett improvises an introduction; Teagarden plays a soulfully embellished chorus; there’s a modulation into a higher key, bringing on Hackett for his chorus, backed by the quietest of simple backgrounds. One more modulation, and Teagarden returns for the song’s final eight bars, with an extended ending which leads into a cadenza. Listen to it for the tonal beauties both men get out of what are really unforgiving lengths of brass tubing, for the humming organ tones of the other horns, for the sympathetic rhythm section — but DO listen to it. And any musicians, here or in Budapest, who pride themselves on what is now called “tradiitional jazz” or even “Dixieland,” should commit this music to memory.
And the photograph at the top of this post? A memorable thing in itself — I find the backs of those youthful heads particularly endearing, and would not crop them out for the world — but it is also a visual reminder that once, Virginia, groups of musicians calling themselves “All-Stars” were being accurate. It’s Town Hall, 1947, with Jack, Dick Cary, Louis, Bobby, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Haggart, and Big Sid. Bless them all. And — for my most fashiob-conscious readers: catch the sharp two-toned shoes on Louis. Class will tell!