Tag Archives: transformation

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part Two): The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012)

There are certain live musical events I hope to remember the rest of my life.  Three that come to the surface immediately: an I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU that Ruby Braff created one night in 1975 at the last Eddie Condon’s — at such a quick tempo that the other players had to scurry to get in their sixteen bars before the performance ended.  There’s also a Vic Dickenson chorus of LOUISE performed as part of a Condonite ballad medley alongside Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood in 1972 at Your Father’s Mustache.  The BODY AND SOUL played at the 1975 Newport “Hall of Fame” by Bobby Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones — where Hackett gave the bridge of the final chorus to Jo, who created a subtle, dancing wirebrush sound sculpture.

I could extend this list, but it is only my way of prefacing this: the music I heard and recorded last Sunday night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) — created by the EarRegulars and friends — is on that list.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — and some fine congenial friends.  I have written in my earlier post (check it out here) about a community of joyous magicians (Jazz Wizards, perhaps?), artists and friends listening deeply to one another . . . but the new friends coming along didn’t break the spell.  Rather, they enhanced it.  The party expanded and became more of what it was meant to be.

Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

They began with that twelve-bar commentary on how the universe feels on a dark Monday morning — a lament with a grin, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.  Here it’s a soulful shuffle with a big heart.  Things might be annoying but if we play the blues for a good long time, we won’t notice so much:

Listening to THINGS, I thought once again of Miss Barbara Lea’s mildly imperial disdain for what she called “Sounding Like” — the game critics and listeners play of “Oh, that phrase Sounds Just Like . . . ” and a name, famous or obscure, follows — but most importantly, the names mentioned are never those of the musicians actually playing.  I declare that for this post, the musicians these players Sound Like are named Kellso, Peplowski, Chirillo, Burr, Anderson, Au, Musselman . . . no one else but them!

Someone proposed that minor romp — all about a melancholic African fellow whose liturgical utterance swings like mad: DIGA DIGA DOO.  Concealed within in, not too subtly, is an Andrew Marvell carpe diem, which you can find for yourself.  The Ellington connection isn’t all that obscure: it was a 1928 hit by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh from the show BLACKBIRDS OF 1928 — which also included Bill Robinson’s DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN.  (If Fields and McHugh had never collaborated, how much poorer would our common language be.) And the Ellington band recorded it when the song was new and kept the chord changes for many romps in later decades.  All I can say is that I was happy to hear them begin it — and I got happier chorus by chorus through their Krazy Kapers:

The eternal question, DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW)?  What beauty!  And the surprise for me — among others — is that lovely bridge.  In this performance, every note is in place but it all sounds fresh, new — from their hearts!

An aside: as an introduction to DON’T YOU KNOW?, Jon-Erik said that the EarRegulars were going to continue their explorations of Ellingtonia because a friend was in the house who likes Ellington.  I found out later that it was the UK rocker Joe Jackson, who has created his own Ellington-tribute CD: details here.

The first of the Friends to join the fun was the brilliant young reedman Will Reardon Anderson, who had been sitting at a table with a very happy Missus Jackie Kellso — he leapt in the carrot patch for a exhilarating COTTON TAIL:

The emotional temperature in the room was increasing, not only because we moved from the plaintive question DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE to the romantic request JUST SQUEEZE ME.  And the stellar cornetist Gordon Au joined the band for this sweet improvisation.  (Behind Missus Kellso the observant eye can catch a glimpse of night-owl Charles Levinson and ragtime hero Terry Waldo, enjoying themselves immensely.)  The first thirty seconds of this performance continue to make me laugh out loud . . . for reasons I don’t need to explain here.  And I hope you’ll drink in this performance’s beautiful structure — from ensemble to solos to conversations.  We’re among Friends!

And the young trombone master Matt Musselman came to play on the last song of the night, Juan Tizol’s PERDIDO . . . a true exercise in swing by all concerned!  And pay attention (to echo Jake Hanna) to the casually brilliant dialogues than just happen: not cutting contests, but chats on subjects everyone knows so well:

I write it again (“with no fear of contradiction,” as they used to say): we are so fortunate to live on the same planet as the magical creative folks.  Blessings on all of you!

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012

I write this on Wednesday, May May 16 — several days after the magical improvisations of last Sunday night, when The EarRegulars created life-enhancing beauty at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) once again.  But the music from The Ear is still vibrating in my ear and lifting my spirits.  I know that I will be savoring it for a long time to come.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass.  They were joined by some exalted friends you will encounter in the second chapter.

Each of the four EarRegulars here is a profoundly gifted musician, as my readers will know and have witnessed in person.  But this Sunday session was one of those special occasions where everything jelled from the first notes.  I won’t say “It kept on improving,” because it was already superb.  Everything was in place, yet nothing was planned or formulaic; you could see from the grins on the faces of the players just how pleased and surprised they were, how well and deeply they felt their most subtle impulses heard — for this was a listening band, a true community of joyous magicians.

Enough words.  The depth and playfulness of this music makes them trivial, perhaps an impudence.  Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

Tommy Dorsey’s pretty theme, taken at a sweet loping pace, I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

The good advice created by Harry Barris and friends, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

Harking back to Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton but never Charles Laughton, RING DEM BELLS:

The pretty ballad that Louis recorded in 1938, ONCE IN A WHILE:

The hot tune that Louis recorded in 1926, ONCE IN A WHILE.  Only at 326 Spring Street!:

Oh, so sweet!  SUGAR, set up beautifully by Jon and James:

The Twenties ode to the madness syncopation brings, CRAZY RHYTHM:

It was just magical — watching and hearing these musicians transform metal, wood, electricity, breath, and moisture into a joy that had tangible heft and substance.  But there were no tricks, no stuffed rabbits or items concealed from view: it was simply the magical combination of tension and repose, expertise and abandon.

I felt that the money I put in the tip jar was paltry in comparison to the experience I had participated in.  And these musicians go off to do this night after night.  Aren’t they something?

Hail, O EarRegulars!  We are lucky to live in your world.

May your happiness increase.

MAKING LIGHT OF OUR GRIEF

Why should someone happy sing a sad song?

This question has been part of my thoughts since Labor Day weekend.  At the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, I had seen Dan Barrett and Marc Caparone join Dan Levinson on the stand — very informally.  (Molly Ryan and Mark Shane were already there, and even though they are not the focus of this posting, they are dear to me and anyone who listens.)

Dan L. has long been making good things happen with the somewhat obscure Jimmie Noone repertoire, and he called READY FOR THE RIVER.  After the instrumental choruses, he  asked, “Want to do it as a band vocal?” — the three hornmen decided in the space of a few seconds that they all knew the words to the song, and this resulted:

I haven’t been able to get that song or that performance out of my mind.  Although my life is happier than it ever has been, at odd moments through the day I find myself cheerfully sotto voce singing about committing suicide.  Trying to plumb this mystery, I cheerfully told the Beloved once again about the song and sang it to her as we walked through Central Park this afternoon.

There’s no post-modern ambiguity in the lyrics.  The singer is planning to drown himself.  The lyrics to the bridge are “Made my will, wrote some notes.  Goin’ to keep on walking till my straw hat floats.”  But the paradox of the pleasure I am taking in this sad song doesn’t frighten me.  Rather, it opens out into broader vistas.

I could start with the simple pleasure of a catchy melody and well-crafted, surprising lyrics.  The song has an irresistibly simple melody: the “A” sections are within the span of an octave, and the bridge uses only four notes.  Easy to remember, to hum, to whistle, full of emphatic repeated notes.  They lyrics are clever: suicide never seemed so much like a nifty thing to do.  The contrast between playful melody and direly witty lyrics is intriguing in itself.  But I had heard the Noone record of READY FOR THE RIVER years ago with no particular compulsion to revisit it.  I didn’t sing it to myself when I might have had much better reason to take it seriously.

And this rumination is not entirely self-referential: two Dans and one Marc take great joy out of singing those sorrowful lyrics on the stand.  Watch them sing, and I believe you see three men singing a dark song — but they are so delighted with the music passing through them that they are having a hard time not giggling.

I am entranced by the performance and its implications.  We perceive three artists, united by common language, shared knowledge, simultaneous emotions, breaking into song — harmonizing on a shared theme.  They create a community that transmutes gloom.  In performance, READY FOR THE RIVER is so much more than sheet of music or a disc.

And, as with all improvisation, a transformation happens: something is created that did not exist before.  Marc Caparone inhales, passes his exhaled breath vibrating through the metal of his cornet, and what comes out perhaps twenty inches from his face is music.  He sends his notes out into the room — “This is what I have to tell you!” — and the sound bounces back to him.  Dan and Dan hear it; the three voices are triply individual and at the same time a choir.

In making a song about deep sadness, our feeling that nothing can be fixed, these artists turn the grieving darkness into something beautiful that will sustain us.  If we sing about ending our lives, perhaps we have defused the impulse and have purged the need to act on it.  If we can put our sorrows into song, we can endure the worst of them.  Grief that once weighed us down is now just a bubble.

Thanks to them, my straw hat floats.  Joyously.

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I had assumed that READY FOR THE RIVER dated from late 1929, a song naturally catching the mood of the country after the Wall Street Crash.  But I was mistaken: it was first recorded (according to Tom Lord) on March 27, 1928, by Emerson Gill and His Bamboo Garden Orchestra, vocal by Pinkey Hunter.

I’m always happy to have my assumptions refuted by evidence, and I now envision well-dressed men and women happily dancing to a snappy song about suicide.  I wish that the late Dennis Potter (of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING POLICEMAN) were here to savor this image: