Tag Archives: tuba

“BAKER, RILEY (tuba);”

I celebrate the public performance and video debut of Riley Baker. You’ve seen and heard (and I trust admired) him on drums, but this is his first appearance in public with a band while he is so allied to metal tubing.

This took place a few days ago — May 30, 2014 — at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, where Riley’s father (that fellow Clint) put down the tuba so that Riley could join in. The other members of the All Stars are Leon Oakley, cornet; Jim Klippert, trombone; Robert Young, soprano and alto saxophone; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; J Hansen, drums.

BOURBON STREET PARADE:

MECCA FLAT BLUES:

Except for one chorus on BOURBON STREET PARADE, you can’t see a great deal of Riley’s face, but you can hear and feel him.  His tone is nice and full; he’s playing the right notes; his time is good.

And don’t rely on me: look at Jason’s face on MECCA and look at Leon’s enthusiastic “Welcome to the brotherhood!” grin and gesture at the end of that same tune.

Welcome, young Mister Baker!  And for the detail-obsessed, Riley and twin sister Ramona (a brilliant star in her own orbits) were born on November 28, 2000.  Not yet fourteen.  Hooray for the youngbloods!

May your happiness increase!

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SWEETNESS AND LIGHT AND FRIED CHICKEN, TOO: THE SUNNYLAND JAZZ BAND WINS OUR HEARTS (Part One: Oct. 18, 2012)

There aren’t many bands that would inspire me to make a 160-mile automobile round trip after a day’s work, but I did it for the Sunnyland Jazz Band and I still feel immensely gratified.

I met banjoist / guitarist / singer / composer Bob Barta at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party the week before, and had been delighted by him as a musician and as a gentle, witty, thoughtful person.  An added bonus: I also got to meet and talk with the remarkable Sherrie Barta.

When Bob told me about the Sunnyland ensemble — a trio of trumpet, banjo, and tuba — appearing every Thursday at Bonnie Jean’s on Main Road in Southold, I packed the car with provisions, told the imaginary staff I would be home late, and headed east . . . through old haunts.

It was a delightful musical evening, as you will hear.  Bob’s cohorts are trumpeter / singer John Klumpp and tubaist John Lovett, and they work together so beautifully.  They are sweet without being sticky, light without being insubstantial.  All I can say is that I have their music firmly ensconced in my mind and heart, days after I first heard it.  A singular and touching experience!

I have to point out that Bonnie Jean’s serves real food — I didn’t hear the microwave binging anywhere.  My homemade fried chicken, sauteed spinach, fingerling potatoes, etc., were first-rate.  Good coffee, too, and all at decent prices.  The desserts looked lovely but I was full.  Even if it isn’t Thursday night, I would stop there for the food — and for the lighthearted solicitude of the amiable Jenny and Theresa.  You can read the menu and get all excited here.  Or here if you prefer Facebook.  Worth the trip!

Some of my friends and JAZZ LIVES readers might see the instrumentation here — trumpet, banjo, and tuba, and quail.  Or perhaps blanch.  I understand.  Two of the instruments in this grouping have bad reputations.  But no instrument is inherently naughty . . . it’s just the uses it gets put to by people who are more concerned with volume and effects than with making beautiful sounds.  John Lovett (hiding behind his coils of tubing) creates a resonant deep cushiony sound out of his tuba — it reminds me of a very deep French horn, mobile and sweet.  And Bob is a peerless banjo player who doesn’t see his instrument as a kind of drum that happens to have strings in front of it.  John Klumpp needs no explanation, no rationales: he sounds like a cross between three players: Jabbo, Wilder, and himself.  Two of the three men in this band are known, in addition, to break into song.  They are sweetly persuasive singers and their swinging earnestness goes right to the heart.  Trust me on this.  And you have the videos to prove it.

Bob — who has a puckish sense of humor — called A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH AND YOU as the first song.  (At the end, he told us that it was a toss-up between that and DINAH.  Think about it):

On the same theme, AUNTIE SKINNER’S CHICKEN DINNERS, although both Sherrie and I were wondering if the original lyrics contain the word “panties”:

Then, for a change of pace.  Think Al Bowlly, not Jack Nicholson, as you hear MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU:

MOONLIGHT is a Con Conrad tune that was new to me:

Even for someone who finds himself on a plane as often as I do, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD resonates sweetly:

I think that HIAWATHA’S LULLABY had a brief moment of popularity in 1933, thanks to Adrian Rollini and others — but I never expected to hear it in 2012:

LAZY RIVER.  Oh, you dog river:

A truly rocking version of HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN even though Bonnie Jean’s is not your usual taqueria:

And the sweet question — dear and romantic — HOW COULD I BE BLUE?:

There will be two more sets from the SJB.  But you should go to Bonnie Jean’s and see for yourself.  I plan to . . .

May your happiness increase.

OH, MY HONEY: THE NEW EL DORADO JAZZ BAND

Click on the video below of ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (with verse) and be delighted.  And when it’s about halfway through, notice how happy the musicians look:

These inspiring presences are Hal Smith, co-leader, washboard; Marc Caparone, cornet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Howard Miyata, trombone; Katie Cavera, banjo; Georgia Korba, bass; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano.

Here’s EARLY HOURS, a deep-down opus, in the groove.  The title doesn’t refer to the morning commute to work: it’s Chicago 1926 brought whole into this century: 

Something more cheerful — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE (at one of the many tempos this classic works well):

Katie suggests another kind of social networking here: I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE.  You know it’s serious business when Professor Miyata brings on his shiny tuba for a meditation on the theme:

This wonderful music was captured for us by Rae Ann Berry at the Fresno, California, Sounds of Mardi Gras celebration on February 12, 2011.

HOW ABOUT SOMETHING FOR THE MUSICIANS WE ADMIRE SO?  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

JIM FRYER AND FRIENDS, SWEETLY (June 2, 2010)

I was at Birdland last Wednesday, listening to David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band.  The LACB always attracts first-rank players, but this edition was remarkable because it was an All-Star All-Leader Band (with none of the expected tensions): David on tuba and vaudeville commentaries; Vince Giordano on banjo, vocal, and guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Dan Block on clarinet and alto sax; Jim Fryer on trombone and vocals. 

Although it has nothing to do with his musical virtues, Jim might be the least-celebrated of this group, although I’ve admired his playing since I first heard him a few years ago — perhaps as a member of the Nighthawks and certainly as someone sharing the stage with Bria Skonberg at one of Bill Taggart’s informal jazz gatherings.  He is a modest player but an exuberant player, taking risks when appropriate, never coasting.  I’ve also known him as a fine understated singer — but I’ve never heard him sing as wonderfully as he did last Wednesday.

As much as he enjoys playing the music and talking about Louis Armstrong, David Ostwald loves to connect with the people in the audience.  Occasionally it takes the form of comedy, as when he earnestly implores those of us who are driving to be sure we have a car, but sometimes it’s much more personal and endearing.  At the end of the first set, David noticed that there were a number of well-dressed women of varying ages in the front row; he chatted with them and found that they were at Birdland to celebrate someone’s birthday — which turned out to be the nicely coiffed Lorraine . . . someone obviously surrounded by love from the other women in her party. 

Because the LACB draws much of its repertoire from music that Louis played and recorded, SWEET LORRAINE was a natural choice — something the great man recorded in the Fifties on Verve with Oscar Peterson.  So the band launched into a sweet, slow version, but no one had yet chosen to take the vocal.  Vince had sung a few numbers before this with great style, but no vocal was announced . . . until Jim took the microphone to deliver the refrain in the most tenderly endearing manner:

Lorraine, sitting right in front of me, was delighted. 

And I, watching this performance again, find it full of human moments: the pleasure of Dan Block’s chalumeau register; Jon-Erik’s steady, winding phrases (and how unflappable he is while a good deal of microphone-hunting is going on behind him); Vince, making jokes as he plays; the pulse of the rhythm section, and Jon-Erik’s quiet Muggsy Spanier ending.  Masterful all around!

Sometimes bad things pile on: this was a rare night when one outpouring of affection succeeded another.  Vince Giordano came over to Lorraine at the end of the night (he is ever hopeful of garnering some fascinating piece of first-hand experience from someone who saw and heard his heroes) but Lorraine didn’t recall the names of bands; she didn’t have Victor Home Recording discs in her attic; she did, however, tell Vince that she was an avid fox-trotter, which pleased him.

Then David Ostwald brought himself and his tuba over and tenderly chatted with Lorraine . . . and said, “I’m going to play something for you.”  He proceeded to play a tender, legato, singing version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY — sweet and slow — on the tuba, ending with a Louis-flourish.  He sang through that brass tubing as if it were a cello — a very moving experience!  I was sitting there, possibly with my mouth open, too struck by what was going on (it seemed private) to record it for YouTube, so you will have to imagine it.

When I caught up with Jim later, to tell him how much this particular performance moved me, he reminded me that one of his and his wife Rosita’s daughters is named Lorraine — a choice the prospective parents made after hearing Doc Cheatham sing the song with unaffected grace on Sunday brunches at Sweet Basil.  It pleases me immensely to be able to offer this lyrical moment for the Lorraine in the audience, Lorraine Fryer, and all the people out there who answer to other names. 

What is all this?  Love in the shape of music.

NATE CHINEN: “FIGS AND STONES”

Nate Chinen writes about jazz for The New York Times, JazzTimes, the Village Voice, and he also has a thriving blog, “The Gig”: http://thegig.typepad.com/blog/2010/04/mossy-stone.html#more

Until this year, I would have perceived him as living on the other side of the Jazz Divide, because we clearly loved very different — even irreconcilable — music.  But my opinion changed last January when Nate sent me a friendly email:

I don’t believe we’ve met, but I wanted to get in touch. I’m working on a JazzTimes column about the “new” strain of jazz traditionalism, and the ways in which the culture(s) of swing and bebop have continued to thrive, often well out of the reach of mainstream-media coverage. You struck me as an ideal person to sound off on such matters, so I’m wondering whether you might have some spare time this afternoon or evening. We could speak by phone or I could shoot you a few questions over email. Please let me know, in any case. I’ll look forward to making your acquaintance.

I was delighted — someone was graciously asking whether I would like to discuss my favorite subject!  So we spent an hour on the phone.  Nate asked pertinent questions, listened closely, and let me talk.  I told him that this “new traditionalism” was deep and inventive.  It wasn’t simply young people copying old records. 

I spoke at length about the performances I had seen in New York and elsewhere — musicians comfortable with many approaches to improvising, able to encompass Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and James P. Johnson in a single solo without seeming exhibitionistic or synthetic.  I told Nate about nights at The Ear Inn, where musicians of different “schools” found a common language  — connecting George Mitchell and Don Cherry — that was communal, genuine, and satisfying.  (I also urged him to join me there some Sunday, and he said he would.) 

Of course, I mentioned the names of my living heroes (my readers will be able to name a dozen) throughout the conversation, in hopes that he would understand that jazz — the religion of JAZZ — was very much alive here and now. 

As our conversation progressed, Nate was enthusiastic about his inventing a new name for the old — derisive — term for people who loved older jazz players and styles.  In the ideological wars of the Forties, they were “moldy figs,” defending their territory against the interlopers Bird and Dizzy.  Nate had come up with “mossy stones,” and his coinage made me think of a quotation from W.B. Yeats’s “Easter 1916.”  If I had been worried at the start that Nate was uncomprehending or hostile to my sensibilities, this phone conversation had given me reason to relax.

Yesterday, Nate informed me that the article had been published:   

Figs & Stones

Some time ago Michael Steinman, a professor of English at Nassau Community College, was out to dinner on vacation when the conversation turned to jazz. Hearing of his love for the music, someone at another table proudly claimed that he had been at Carnegie Hall in the early ’60s, for a concert that included tenor titans John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. “I told him my taste in jazz went back a bit further than that,” Steinman recalls. “He looked at me and said, ‘Wait a minute. Are you a moldy fig?’”

The fact that you’re here, dear reader, probably means you know that them’s fightin’ words. To be seen as a moldy fig, at this point in jazz’s post-history, is to be lumped together with the loonies and curmudgeons, hopelessly out of step, terminally uncool. Like Renaissance faire habitués and Civil War reenactors, the moldy fig longs for some receding point on the timeline, striving to transplant its bygone values to an inhospitable soil. Jazz, for such a creature, is a firm ideal, lovingly and narrowly circumscribed.

What’s funny is the fact that “moldy fig” connotes two distinct jazz factions that should be fundamentally at odds. The term originally referred to the early jazz traditionalists who saw the music as having peaked in the 1920s. Soon it was also leveled at swing adherents who decried the advancing tide of bebop. Both meanings were in circulation in the 1940s, reflecting a pair of schisms in jazz at the time. As Bernard Gendron once put it, in a definitive essay on the subject: “The first of these conflicts pitted swing against the newly revitalized New Orleans jazz that it had previously supplanted, and the second against the bebop avant-garde movement that threatened to make it obsolescent.”

Pluck in the face of obsolescence is what unites the moldy figs of both persuasions today: the Benny Goodman fan club, say, with members of the Sidney Bechet Society. The term has even become a badge of honor among some listeners—though not for Steinman, who runs a blog called Jazz Lives. “Traditionalism to me is not tuba and banjo,” he writes in an explanatory note, distancing himself from the moldiest of fig trappings. But he’s clear about the music he loves—“[My] heroes include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Eddie Condon,” he writes—and he uses his platform to champion it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the moldy-fig legacy as it applies to the next wave of jazz traditionalists. While the music has advanced (I’ll refrain from writing “evolved”), the shadow of obsolescence has been lengthening. It no longer stops at the breakthroughs of bebop, or the refinement of modal jazz. So even though jazz’s mid-century modern constituency still has a lot to be thankful for—the Jazz Icons DVD series, for one, and present-day paragons like tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander—the center of the music no longer reflects that reality.

Perhaps you can identify. Depending on your tastes, you might be among the jazz diehards disillusioned with what’s become of the jazz media, with its fetish for newness. You nod your head when you hear of the death of jazz, as it’s commonly understood. Well, don’t look now, but you might be a mossy stone.

Allow me to explain. A mossy stone is a jazz adherent whose core stylistic allegiance is to the music pioneered in the 1940s, streamlined in the ’50s and diversified in the ’60s. This region of inquiry begins with bebop and ends with free jazz, cutting off at the early stirrings of fusion. Wynton Marsalis, once disparaged by critic Gene Santoro as a “latter-day moldy fig,” actually fits this bill: Though vocal in his advocacy of swing and earlier jazz, he’s a modernist at heart, as his own track record proves. (Listen again to his last few albums on Blue Note.) But you could despise Marsalis and still be a mossy stone. All it takes is a tacit understanding that jazz innovation peaked by about 1967, and that nothing of real, lasting value has changed in the music since.

Right about now you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of a mossy stone. Simple: I made the term up, while pondering the distance between results in critics’ polls and readers’ polls. Obviously I’m riffing on the aphorism “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” with its valorization of forward motion. I’m also invoking the Rolling Stones, and rock, with its progressive connotations. A mossy stone finds no traction in the straight-eighth groove and fusionlike flow of so many jazz albums today. He or she appreciates the Monkish aspects of a pianist like Robert Glasper or Jason Moran, but not so much the hip-hop inflections. You can be a mossy stone at any age—I bet there are more than a few working at the high school level—as long as you possess the same stubbornness exhibited by the moldy figs all those years ago.

As someone sympathetic to the mossy stone agenda—I too have wondered why young musicians can’t occasionally carve up a standard, or just swing a little—let me offer a reassurance. Moss may be disconcertingly similar to mold, but that’s fine. As Gendron observed, regarding the two schisms in 1940s jazz: “Both contests were fought on much of the same discursive terrain.” Likewise, the mossy stone and the moldy fig have two very different record collections, but they’re cousins in many respects.

Of course moldy figs have had a longer time to refine their contrarianism, honing an admirable combination of staunch defiance and pragmatic resignation. When I mentioned my new bit of jazz taxonomy to Steinman, he picked up on this right away, despite his reflexive wariness about labels, especially those dreamt up by jazz critics.

“Have you read ‘Easter, 1916,’ the Yeats poem?” he asked. Yes, but it had been a while. When I consulted the text, I found its vivid image of a stone planted in a stream. The water moves, as do the reflections of clouds along its surface. A horse and rider splash along. “Minute by minute they live,” Yeats writes. “The stone’s in the midst of all.”

Anyone who’s been interviewed dreads being misquoted, so I was thrilled to find that Nate had paid me the great compliment of accuracy.  And he had given me a short solo at the start, middle, and end — generous journalism.   But the piece does raise a few issues for me, and since Nate invited me to address them here, I will take him up on it. 

I am delighted that he gives such serious attention to this “new traditionalism.”  It would be very easy to depict this phenomena as more evidence of The Death of Jazz: “See, all we have left is these shrinking audiences on cruise ships and jazz parties listening to stale perfomances of jazz-by-rote.  People who are almost dead listening to music that certainly is.” 

Although I am not ready for Medicare, it would also have been easy to satirize or stereotype me: an eager chronicler of a moribund art, recording its final wheezes.  I am pleased that neither of these approaches color Nate’s essay in the slightest.    

But I find it curious that the musicians whose names I utter in his essay are all dead.  It suggests that my “new traditionalism” is entirely antiquarian, as if I did not delight in current performances by players very much alive.  Yes, my iPod is full of now-dead players, but I’ll bet Nate listens to some dead folks, too.  He even writes obituaries of them, as in the case of John Bunch. 

Was it that Nate didn’t want to turn his essay into a list of names?  Or was it that he did not want to offen worthy players by omitting their names?  I admire tact, but Nate’s editing makes me and the Mossy Stones (who share my initials) seem to be the Emily Griersons or Miss Havishams of Dixieland, if you will.

At first glance, changing Figs into Stones sounds wonderful.  But “moldy fig” is such an archaic term that only those deeply involved in jazz history (“Jazz Battle” or “Squabblin,” if you like) would even recognize it.  True, I am pleased to no longer be compared to rotting produce.  And Nate does generously praise the “mossy stones” for their insistent devotion to the art they love. 

But do these names really matter? 

Given the minute notice jazz gets in the larger media, is this meditation on nomenclature the most profound way to bring attention to rewarding music?  And, given the divisive nature of much of the writing purportedly about jazz, is setting up a new sub-category of listeners a good thing?  Perhaps we should be attempting to bring the “schools” and “allegiances” together, so everyone could be open to music that could go back to ragtime and forward to hard bop and beyond. 

But this is the beginning of a deeper conversation — an optimistic one, not mourning the death of jazz but celebrating the life around us.  Nate and I agree that there is astonishing music to be heard and loved, now and in the future. 

And my invitation to dinner at The Ear Inn is still open!

ANDY SCHUMM and FRIENDS! (Sept. 2009)

I don’t think I have to praise young Mr. Schumm in this post — the video clips I’ve been posting (my own, from Jamaica Knauer and others) are eloquent testimony.  But here he is, surrounded by his musical elders, entirely comfortable, playing the music of Bix Beiderbecke that he loves, as well as a few rarities from the period.  Those well-known elders are Bob Havens on trombone; Scott Robinson on reeds; Andy Stein on violin and baritone sax; James Dapogny on piano; Marty Grosz, who needs no introduction here; Vince Giordano, ditto; Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

Andy opened his set with a slower-than-usual LOUISIANA, whose beginning I missed.  I especially admire Dapogny’s tremolos behind Scott Robinson’s Lesterish clarinet, and the way that Andy leaps in.  And Dapogny, playing the verse as an unaccompanied interlude, slyly reminds us that Mister Jelly was also in Chicago when Bix and the boys were visiting.  I apologize deeply for the lurching of the camera near the end.  Was I carried away with emotion or was it something more mundane?  Either way, the jazz ship was in no danger of going down: 

The second tune was ANGRY (it wasn’t really), which I associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings ans George Brunis, from the start of career to the end.  That’s some rhythm section!  Note the enthusiastic backing Arnie Kinsella gives Bob Havens, and the ferocious way Dapogny lets everyone know that he’s here at the start of his solo, emphasizing that three-note ascending phrase.  The tuba isn’t always a melodic instrument, but Vince just forges ahead, creating long-lined inventions that stick in the mind.  And I especially love it that Andy Stein said to himself, “This piece needs a baritone saxophone more than a violin,” picks his up, and boots the final chorus along energetically:

Next, from the Bix and Tram book (recording as “The Chicago Loopers”), the Fats Waller tune, I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.  Perfectionists will note that there is a moment, coming out of the ensemble, where the team seems to have forgotten the signals (and what was the esoteric meaning of Dapogny’s right-hand gesture to the band — was it “My hand hurts,” or perhaps, “Could we start this thing, for the love of Jo Trent”?) but the performance recovers nicely.  Dapogny’s solo is a model of hot construction, and the rhythm section passage, with Vince finding his low notes and Arnie rocking the temple blocks, couldn’t be better:

And two rarities: ROSY CHEEKS (you can almost invent the bouncy lyrics without ever having heard it sung — it seems an illegitimate relative of BABY FACE, which makes sense in a plagiaristic way).  Although few members of this group could have been intimate with the song, it seems to have simple, if not simplistic chord changes, and they leap right in.  That no one in the house cheered when Scott Robinson concluded his energetically labyrinthine solo is a mystery indeed.  Perhaps they were busily concentrating on their heaped-high plates of food?  Notice how Arnie Kinsella drives the band along in the last chorus — his beat more nourishing than what was on those plates:

Then, a song recorded by Harold Austin’s Ambassadors for Gennett in 1930 (what resonance those words have) — an unusual pop tune called MONA*.  Andy’s lead is, like Bix’s late work, a both poignant and urgent.  The chorus split by and shared by Andy Stein (on baritone) and Scott (on metal clarinet) is a wonderful impromptu creation, again under-appreciated.  And the band energetically takes it out, with Andy Schumm showing the way:

To conclude the set (perhaps to everyone’s relief), Andy called NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, much more familiar material.  Two endearing things happen at the end of the first ensemble chorus: Marty reaches forward and turns off the light on his music stand, because he doesn’t need it, and Arnie shifts into his own version of Jo-Jones-on-the-hi-hat, to encourage the congregation.  Am I the only one who finds such shifts, when done masterfully, absolutely levitating experiences?  And then, Scott whispers to Andy — certainly something about trading phrases.  What happens next reminds me a great deal of Bix and Tram on YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, except we know it’s being created there in front of our eyes, gloriously.  More split choruses (Andy Stein and Marty, Vince and Arnie) lead into a final chorus that begins with some tentativeness and then gets heated in a nice “Chicagoan” way just in time for the last eight bars:

Yeah, man!  And more Andy Schumm footage to come – – –

*There’s also a fascinating YouTube clip of Austin’s recording — a good hot dance band of the period, with a debatable vocal — that uses period phonograph advertisements as illustrations — don’t miss the naughty postcard and the Hebrew family illustrations!  But you’ll have to search it out on your own.