Tag Archives: Vanguard Records

“AND THE ANGELS SWING”: THE DAN BARRETT – ENRIC PEIDRO QUINTET

Swing is hard to define, but it’s the difference between ripe cherries and a cherry candy “with natural flavors” synthesized in a laboratory.  I’m happy to report that the CD that pairs tenor saxophonist Enric Peidro and trombone legend Dan Barrett is satisfying swinging jazz throughout.  In fact, it reaches new heights in the most refined yet impassioned ways.

Let’s start at the back of the bandstand, or the bottom of the band (no offense intended), the fine rhythm section.  I didn’t know pianist Richard Busiakewicz, bassist Lluis Llario, or drummer Carlos “Sir Charles” Gonzalez before this recording, but I love them.  Their swing is unforced and easy; they know how, what, when, why, and when not to . . .

But before I write more, here’s a sonic sample, celebrating both Vic Dickenson (the composer) and his horticultural endeavors:

The question of what is “authentic” is treacherous, because we defend our subjectivities with a lover’s defensive ardor, but that performance feels both expressive and controlled in the best ways.  Forget for a moment the warm twenty-first century recording technology.  If I heard that track, coming after a 1945 Don Byas-Buck Clayton Jamboree 78 and a Mel Powell Vanguard session, I would not think VIC’S SPOT an impostor.  Swing is more than being able to play the notes or wear the hat; it’s a world-view, and this quintet has it completely.

Barrett remains a master — not only of the horn, but of what I’d call “orchestral thinking,” where he’s always inventing little touches (on the page or on the stand) to make any performance sound fuller, have greater rhythmic emphasis and harmonic depth.  I’ve seen him do this on the spot for years, and his gentle urgency makes this quintet even more a convincing working band than it would have been if anyone took his place.  And as a trombonist, he really has no peer: others go in different directions and woo us, but he is immediately and happily himself, totally recognizable, with a whole tradition at his fingertips as well as a deep originality.

But Dan would be the first one to say that he is not the whole show: this CD offers us a swinging little band.  We’ve all heard recordings, some of them dire, where the visiting “star” is supported by the “locals,” who are not up to the star’s level: many recorded performances by Ben Webster immediately come to mind.

AND THE ANGELS SWING is the glorious countertruth to such unbalanced affairs, because Enric Peidro, who was new to me before I heard this CD, is a masterful player.  He’s no one’s clone — I couldn’t predict what his next phrase would be or where his line of thought would go — and although he is not cautious, he never puts a foot wrong.  You can hear his gliding presence on the track above, and for me he summons up two great and under-praised players, primarily Harold Ashby, but also a cosmopolitan Paul Gonsalves with no rough edges.  He is a fine intuitive ensemble player, with an easy sophistication that charms the ear.  I think of the way Ruby Braff appeared in the early Fifties: someone not afraid to play the melody, to improvise in heartfelt ways, to eschew the harder aspects of “modernism” without being affected in any reactionary ways.

Add to this a set of delightful song choices, with a great deal of variety but not so much that the ear is startled when track 4 becomes track 5, and you have a delightful session.  The tunes are: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME into KANSAS CITY STRIDE / ‘DEED I DO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / AND THE ANGELS SWING / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / IF I DIDN’T CARE / MY BLUE HEAVEN / VIC’S SPOT / SULTRY SERENADE — you’ll hear echoes of 1939 Basie and Ellington, but there’s no attempt to “reproduce” — just to play with ease, warmth, and wisdom.

If you need any more verification, know that Scott Hamilton approves of Enric!

You can learn more about Enric and his love of swing here — where I just learned that he and Dan have a new CD coming out this October, called IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING . . . what fun!

And here’s another taste from AND THE ANGELS SWING:

Let us — metaphorically at least — carry this band around the room on our shoulders.  Or we can strew flowers at their feet, whichever is easier.

May your happiness increase!

“MARGARET, CAN YOU RECALL THE DAYS OF OUR YOUTH?” “YES, DARLING, THEY WERE WONDERFUL”: MARC CAPARONE and CONAL FOWKES (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

This venerable song — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — is a sweet reminiscence of love that lasts.  It has become an ineradicable part of our popular culture: Exhibit A is a Big Top peanut butter glass (first a jar full of BTPB) devoted to the song:

and

I learned it first, decades ago, when I was young, from Vic Dickenson’s Vanguard version, which I can still play in the mental-emotional jukebox of the mind. But I am grateful that Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes keep it fresh and green in this century, as they did at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest:

Here’s another treasure, created on the spot.  There are thousands of versions of George and Ira Gershwin’s vernacular yelp of delight, ‘S’WONDERFUL, but the one this reminds me of is an early-Fifties session for Vanguard, led by Mel Powell, supervised by John Hammond, featuring Mel, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jimmy Crawford.  (That’s me applauding: if you have to ask why, you need to go back to Remedial Swing.)

Marc and Conal — what a pair of glorious musical artists, creating worlds of sound, rollicking and tender, for our pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, SIR CHARLES (1918-2016)

Sir Charles Trio

The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):

“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.

He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.

He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .

He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.

He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s.  Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation.  Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.

We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”

sircharlesthompson

Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love.  Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES.  But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful.  I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago.  Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.

Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.

And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:

That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift.  But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player.  With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.

If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.

If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.

But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies.  His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.

I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”

There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.

RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff remains one of my heroes: brave, curious, exploratory, full of lyrical warmth in his music — and one of those people I had many opportunities to observe between 1971 and 1983, at close range, in New York City.

Here is something new to me and I think absolutely remarkable — an interview with Ruby, done August 18, 1989, at the Newport Casino.  Ruby is remarkably patient with a somewhat inept questioner, but the subject is Louis Armstrong, so Ruby was very happy to speak about his and our hero:

Ruby despised his earlier recordings — and said so often, loudly and profanely.  I have no idea if he would have winced and swore at this one, but I am safe from his anger, so I present the 1954 Vanguard session (thanks to John Hammond) that paired him with Buck Clayton, Bennie Morton, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Jones, Steve Jordan, Aaron Bell, and Bobby Donaldson.  The shift into 4 / 4 at the start is one of my favorite moments in recorded jazz.  And the song is, of course, also.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

Much later, in 1996, Ruby created a gorgeous and irreplaceable Arbors CD, BEING WITH YOU, in honor of Louis and of Ruby’s recently-departed friend, the great reedman Sam Margolis. Along with Ruby, there were Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dan Barrett, Jerry Jerome, Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Jim Gwin.  Ruby gave everyone a spot, and the results are glorious. And if you didn’t know what a magnificent singer he could be, savor LITTLE ONE.

I apologize for the intrusive advertisement that begins the final two videos:

LITTLE ONE:

And my own Ruby story, very brief and elliptical.  I had followed Ruby around with cassette and reel-to-reel recorder, with notebook and (once) camera — so much so that my nickname was “Tapes,” as in “Hey, Tapes!” — from 1971 on. This was not embarrassing to me; rather, it was an honor.

He played a concert at the New School with Dick Hyman early in 1983, and I, recently married, asked my new wife to come along.  She did not particularly like jazz, but it was a novel invitation and off we went.  We sat down in the middle of the auditorium — early, as is my habit — and I looked around for Ruby.  Surely, I thought, I could make eye contact and he would come over, exchange pleasantries, and I could not-so-subtly suggest to my new bride that I was Someone in this jazz world.  Ruby emerged from somewhere, and I stood up.  Perhaps I waved to catch his eye, or said, “Hey, Ruby!”  He looked at me, grinned, and pointed a forefinger.  “You!” he said.  “I remember you when you were in diapers!”  That was not the effect I had hoped to create, so I sat down and the deflated encounter was over.  He played beautifully.  As he always did.

Ask me about lyrical improvisation, and I might play you this as a glowing exemplar.

ONE HOUR:

I miss Ruby Braff, although, like Louis, he is always with us through his music.

May your happiness increase!

 

THE OCEANIC MOTION OF SWING: JANUARY 22, 1954

Yes, “the Swing Era” was over by January 1954.  But swing — as a concept easily and authentically realized — was not.  (It is lively and possible today.)

SCT4

I offer as evidence one of my favorite recordings, another gem — issued by who-knows-what “authority” on YouTube, SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES by the Sir Charles Thompson Quartet — from one of the sessions supervised by John Hammond for Vanguard Records.  Sir Charles, who is still with us in his nineties (born March 21, 1918) was joined by three angelic presences of rhythm — three-quarters of the original Count Basie rhythm section, Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, string bass; Freddie Green, guitar, for this exploration of Jimmy Mundy’s swing classic, more usually encountered as a big-band performance.

Jake Hanna, who not only knew everything that could be known about swing but embodied it, said (often), “Start swinging from the beginning!” and Charles does just that with his solo passage to begin the performance: a simple figure that is already the most effective dance music possible.  Then the “rhythm men” join in, with more than fifteen years of experience from playing together night after night.  One hears the shimmer of Jo’s brushes on the hi-hat, with the dry slap and slide of those brushes on the snare drum, the resonant strings of Walter and Freddie, all complementing the bright percussive sound of Charles at the piano:

It all seems simple — and it goes by so quickly — but lifetimes of expert work in the field of swing are quietly on display here.  Note, for instance, how the overall sound changes at the bridge of the first chorus when Jo moves from his cymbal to the snare head, padding and patting away.  When they turn the corner into the second chorus (which, for Charles, has been a straightforward chordal exposition of the simple melodic line) we hear what set Charles apart from the great forebears, Waller, Basie, Wilson, Tatum, Cole, Kyle — his intriguing single-note lines which have a greater harmonic freedom than one might initially expect.  (Look at Charles’ discography and you see early work alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker.)  Hear the bridge of the second chorus, and delight in Charles’ wonderful mixture of stride, Kansas City swing, and bebop: James P. Johnson meets Al Haig, perhaps.  The Basie influence —  paring everything down to its most flowing essence — comes out more at the start of the third chorus, with the theme simplified for the greatest rhythmic effect, as if a trumpet section was playing these chords.

At this point I find it impossible to continue annotating because I am simply floating along on the music.  But two things stand out.  One is that all that I’ve described has taken around two minutes to be, to happen.  That’s a rich concision, a conservation of energy.  The other is Charles’ intentional use of space, to let us hear the three other players, who are — as they all know, not just subordinates but in some ways the Masters.  Charles could certainly swing as a soloist but this is so much more fun.

There’s a brief nod to CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS at 3:04, but it’s just a nod: the pattern of joyous riffing on the opening and closing sections, alternating with single-line explorations on the bridge has been set.  And I think — this is all surmise — that the four musicians did not spend more than a few minutes preparing.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES is, except for the bridge, harmonically dense, so I can imagine Charles saying, “I’ll do four bars to start; you join in at two, and let’s do this as an ending — I’ll let you know how many choruses we want, and let’s do a take.”  And I love the way the last chorus is an ornamented version of the first, with Jo returning to the hi-hat.

I think I first heard this record thanks to Ed Beach on his Sir Charles program: this might have been forty years ago.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES remains at the very apex of glowing inexhaustible swing.  It is so reassuring to know that it was created and we can hear it again — to soothe and uplift and remind us of what is indeed possible.

In one way, I think of having a book on the shelf with the most beautiful ode or short story, known and loved for decades, that we can always revisit simply by moving a few feet across the room.  But I think the pleasure of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES goes deeper, at least for me: it’s like waking up, seeing the sun, breathing the air, going to the kitchen faucet for a glass of cold water, feeling one’s needs filled.

Listen.  Charles, Freddie, Walter, and Jo create a small universe of motion and joy that reminds us of the dancing universe around us.

May your happiness increase!

GRATITUDE IN 4/4: THE 2011 SAN DIEGO THANKSGIVING JAZZ FESTIVAL: TIM LAUGHLIN – CONNIE JONES NEW ORLEANS ALL STARS, Part One (with thanks to Rae Ann Berry)

It’s a long title, but the music and the experience justify it.

The 2011 San Diego Dixieland Jazz Festival combined a number of “firsts” for me — my first time at this rollicking festival, my first visit to San Diego, first meetings with many lovely people (Justin, Brandon, and Yvonne Au; Susie Miyata; Janie McCue and Kevin Lynch; Allene Harding, Paul Woltz, Sue Fischer, Stephanie Trick, and two dozen more) . . . .

And then there was the gloriously familiar: Connie Jones, Tim Laughlin, Bob Havens, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, Katie Cavera, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker, Carl Sonny Leyland, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ralf and John Reynolds — reasons to be happily jet-lagged both coming and going.

Because of Paul Daspit and his friends, the festival was a happy and musical place no matter where you turned; things ran efficiently without pressure; the audiences listened intently to the music, and the musicians soared.

I would have been presenting JAZZ LIVES with more than a hundred videos — except for the combined forces of accident, gravity, and hubris, which I have detailed elsewhere — so I turned to one of my dear friends who also happens to be the Uncrowned Queen of Bay Area Jazz — which extends down to San Diego and up to Olympia, Washington, but who’s worrying about such details?

You will know Rae Ann Berry from her two thousand-plus videos on YouTube (as “SFRaeAnn”) and her twenty-five years of vigorous advocacy of the music and musicians she loves.  She maintains an up-to-date list of hot jazz gigs in the area on www.sfraeann.com and you can visit her YouTube channel here.

So with thanks to all concerned both behind and in front of the camera, let me offer a short — but exciting — tour of the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland frolic, beginning with four songs from a set recorded on November 25, 2011, by Tim Laughlin’s All-Stars: Tim, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

I won’t praise individual solos or the way the band sounds as a unit — but everything is precisely where it ought to be, and all the parts are in balance, with each player offering a beautiful tone combined with deep intensity.  At times I thought of the finest recordings of Eddie Condon, the Teddy Wilson small groups, the Vanguard recordings of the early Fifties, nicely seasoned — but this band is no spinning disc or mp3: it’s being created right in front of us.

PALESTEENA:

SUGAR (with a charming vocal from Connie):

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

and an utterly rocking WANG WANG BLUES:

More to come!

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA” — JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Marty Grosz is known for many things aside from playing the guitar and singing.  He always looks for new ways to present what looks to some like a tradition fixed — if not in stone, then in shellac.  He reveres Frank Teschemacher’s scant recorded work, for instance, but doesn’t want living musicians to be copying and reproducing those notes from 1928.

Thus, when Marty was found himself considering a performance of music associated with Bix Beiderbecke for the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party, he left slow. elegiac readings of SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA alone . . . and reinvented a handful of Bix-favorites in styles that didn’t always come from 1923-31.

And he certainly saw to it that any resemblances between the original recordings and what happened on the stage on Sept. 17, 2011, were coincidental.  Marty surrounded himself with players who know Bix and his world deeply, but understand that they have their own songs to sing: Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.

They began with one of the happiest bits of good cheer I know (which Bix recorded with Jean Goldkette for Victor), I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER.  But, Toto, it certainly doesn’t sound like that scroll 78.  Does anyone recognize the source of the romping phrase that begins this performance (somehow I think it’s a closing riff . . . which would suit Marty’s obstinate whimsies) — a performance full if little surprises:

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND has associations with Eddie Condon, Milt Gabler, and the Commodore Music Shop — but this lovely performance reminds me just as much of the John Hammond Vanguard sessions of the early Fifties, in the way it takes its time.  Up until the double-time passages (after the bass solo), you could easily be in 1953, in a Masonic Temple in Brooklyn:

OL’ MAN RIVER came from 1927, but this performance floats along from the start with borrowings from everywhere (isn’t that a mid-Forties “Keynote” riff I hear at the start — or is it the opening fidget from the ROUTE 66 television show theme, circa 1961?).  The overall feel here, with Pete Siers’ swishing hi-hat, is that of a Buck Clayton Jam Session, either the early ones supervised by Hammond or the later Chiaroscuros (thanks to Hank O’Neal for such blessings).  And the musicians float over those neat charts, sounding like themselves (or like Lester and Higgy, when the spirit moves them):

Finally, after some official Grosz-talk, we have COPENHAGEN, named for the Midwestern delicacy.  And look out for letter C!  This performance sounds more like the 1939-40 Bud Freeman band (“Summa Cum Laude” or “his Famous Chicagoans”) which doesn’t do anyone any harm:

One, two . . . they know what to do!

“PERFECT!”: THE EARREGULARS “COAST TO COAST” (May 1, 2011)

My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST.  Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.

No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.

Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass.  They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others.  Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.

But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod.  They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).

Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play.  And lovely things happened.  I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in.  And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.

After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride.  You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!

They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster.  Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence.  And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:

“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!

After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete.  Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness.  He knows how to do it, he does!  And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy.  (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.)  Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it?  And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving.  Wow, as we say!

Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon.  The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time.  Soulful is the word for this performance:

For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration.  Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role!  Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos.  And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around.  He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block!  While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:

This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like.  Only better!  And it exists here and now.  What blessings!

INSPIRATIONS at THE EAR INN (April 17, 2011)

While Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri were finishing up what I hope was a rewarding weekend at the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival, the EarRegulars kept swinging happily in their absence — at The Ear Inn last night (Sunday, April 17, 2011 — at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

The quartet was made up of old friends and musical colleagues — people who had a lot to say to each other on their instruments: Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Frank Tate, bass.

The music was playful and conversational: the band evoked the past (the 1938 Basie band, an imagined 1944 Keynote session, a Vanguard record date) while reminding us at every turn that there were four living musicians creating beauty in the here and now.  In each of these performances, you’ll see and hear casual splendor: the inventive lines and big sound of Frank Tate, who plays the string bass as it wants to be played (no manic guitar runs for him); the irresistible rhythmic surge of Chris Flory, his lines chiming; Danny Tobias’s subtle mastery — he never plays a superfluous note, and although he’s deeply grounded in the tradition of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, you’d lose all your bets trying to predict where his next phrase will land; the fierce lyricism of Dan Block, lemony on clarinet, yearning on tenor — a man inseparable from the phrases he creates.

Melodies everywhere!

Pay attention! as Jake Hanna used to say — especially to the conversations between Danny and Dan, uplifting interludes in several performances.

LINGER AWHILE isn’t played that much by contemporary bands, but Bill Coleman, Dicky Wells, and Lester Young had a good time with it some decades back:

Some cautious optimism with SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY at an easy rocking tempo:

A good old good one, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Happiness is on everyone’s mind on a Sunday night at The Ear Inn, so why not play I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And to cool the room down, a swinging JADA:

Cherish these sessions!  They’ve been going on for nearly four years . . . come visit while this music is in the air . . . .

SWING MASTERS: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

I’ve admired Becky Kilgore’s singing and grace for some years now: her creamy voice, her understated, convincing dramatic sense, her innate swing.  And although she is poised, she is also a great chance-taking improviser, someone able to abandon herself to the song, shining her light through it, letting it reveal its beauties to us.

At Dixieland Monterey, she was most often joined by the noble members of her Quartet: Dan Barrett on trombone, vocals, and piano; Eddie Erickson on banjo, guitar, and vocals; Joel Forbes on string bass.

But there came a time when a few more pals — old and new — crept onto the stage to create a lovely little jazz party within the jazz party: Carl Sonny Leyland, rocking piano man; Bryan Shaw, trumpet wizard; Jeff Hamilton, drum stylist.

I am thrilled to be able to share some of the music created that evening with my readers.  It is a special pleasure — everyone was so happy and relaxed, witty and swinging.  Propulsive and gentle, masterful and casual: the great art that is a matter of skill, practice, nonchalance, and relaxation.

Let’s begin with I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER that swings so persuasively from the first note — and Becky gets herself up on the streamline train without spilling her coffee!  Hear the horns and that rhythm section — eloquent and easy.

I would like my friends to use this clip as a Blindfold Test.  Say, for instance, you have friends who “don’t like jazz,” or “don’t get that old jazz,” or find “Dixieland” boring.  Let them hear this — without naming anyone’s name or explaining a thing.  Then ask, “Does that make you feel good?”  Let them get into the absolutely impromptu Kilgore – Hamilton discussion: it makes everyone on stage feel BETTER!

(Musicians’ in-joke: this song is sometimes called I’M GOING TO  SIT RIGHT DOWN AND KNIT MYSELF A SWEATER, but the weather is warming up rapidly, even in Farmer City, Illinois, so a letter might be all that was needed.)

HARD-HEARTED HANNAH comes from the intersection of vaudeville, pop music, and hot improvisation.  Once she’s been properly attired in Guitar, she treats the hyperbolic lyrics with just the right mixture of amusement and seriousness.  And, dear viewers, look how happy everyone on that stand is!  That isn’t always the case, and it is meaningful — a tribute to the easy grace of all concerned.  The interplay between Dan and Bryan is priceless (think of Teagarden and Davison, please?) over that splendidly-swinging Vanguard Records rhythm section (could someone direct me to the Reno Club or the Famous Door, 1938?).  Eddie digs deep into his stash of bent notes and witty banjo run before Dan decides to let us know all about the verse — in his upper register, but we get the point!  And Becky rocks us out through the rather gruesome lyrics (she is a stellar musical comedienne, isn’t she, in the great tradition?):

Although both Eddie Erickson and Thomas Waller are usually associated with hi-jinks and romping jazz, both of them shared a deep yearning tenderness.  (Hear Fats’ late recording of I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN if you need proof.)  Eddie is often asked to make people laugh, but his first vocal chorus is a sweet, feeling masterpiece in miniature — followed by Dan’s Dickensonian ruminations on the theme and Carl’s special mixture of Fats, Pete Johnson, and Jess Stacy, to great effect.  After Joel’s deep-down chorus, the key changes so that Becky can come in and float over the band.  She’s more than believable: the embodiment of tender commitment!

Even if you had left all your mischief behind, you might have to take a fast train to see your Beloved — and Carl Sonny Leyland, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton show us how with an easy but intense HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES, with its own deep swinging pulse:

Less expert musicians would have tried to top the HONKY TONK TRAIN with something faster and louder — but not this group.  Becky chooses ALL OF ME, which (since 1931) has been turned into a jaunty offering.  But it’s really a song of near-romantic immolation: let me take myself apart to offer the pieces and the totality to you, as complete tribute to you and love.

She never sounds soggy or self-pitying, but she offers the imagined hearer and the audience her entire being.  Eddie’s chiming guitar solo doesn’t lose the mood (and Jeff’s cymbals are just-right commentary); Dan plays around wtih the opening phrase of the song in the best singing Benny Morton tradition, handing off to Carl (who is ornate without a superfluous note).  Becky, soaring and crooning, improvising without smudging a note or a word, is absolutely compelling without seeming to strain even the smallest muscle.  A perfect rhythm ballad and dramatic utterance:

I think it was an honor to be in that audience, a stroke of good fortune to have my video camera, and a privilege to be able to share this music with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.

These video performances were made possible by the editorial stewardship and support of the Shuzzit Charitable Trust.  JAZZ LIVES thanks to the SCT and to all the artists for performing as they did and do!

OH, SHAKE THAT THING!  CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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THE REAL THING at THE EAR INN (January 30, 2011)

TO MAKE SURE THAT THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, WHY NOT CLICK HERE?  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS, YOU KNOW:

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The EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Chris Flory, and Jon Burr — began their Sunday session last week (at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as a relaxed tribute to the spirit and energies of Roy Eldridge, who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday on January 30, 2011.

Roy was not available to drop in with his horn, but this didn’t deter the participants.  And when the second set rolled around, Jon-Erik Kellso asked two of his colleagues what they would like to play — a nicely egalitarian gesture.  Young Eric Elder from Chicago suggested the lilting hymn to romantic togetherness through domestic chores — easier to do in song than in real life: James P. Johnson and Andy Razaf’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, which sweetly rocked.  The jazz scholars in the audience didn’t rise to their feet and insist that the EarRegulars cease and desist because there was no evidence that Roy had ever recorded this song.  Oh, no, we were having too much fun with this group that at times sounded like a modern version of the John Kirby Sextet, but looser (enjoy those riffs!) crossed with a John Hammond Vanguard date — with Chris and Jon, the string section, reaching new heights of easy elegance:

Chris then asked Jon-Erik how he felt about HAPPY FEET — always a good idea, a fine romping song with echoes of the 1933 Henderson band (an outfit that had Dicky Wells, Henry “Red” Allen, and Coleman Hawkins) as well as Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.  And one of our most prized secret weapons, Pete Martinez, took up his position leaning against the phone booth.  Then a surprise for me — Tricky Sam, I mean Jim, Fryer, seated at the bar, playing wonderfully — Jon Burr bowing his heart out before everyone traded epigrams:

Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing!

THE VANGUARD SESSIONS

Vanguard Ruby disc

Between 1953 and 1957, John Hammond supervised a series of record dates for the Vanguard label.  I first heard one of those records — the second volume of the THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE — at my local library in the late Sixties, and fell in love. 

The Vanguard sessions featured Ruby Braff, Shad Collins, Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Emmett Berry, Pat Jenkins, Doug Mettome, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Benny Green, Urbie Green, Lawrence Brown, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jimmy Buffington, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Rudy Powell, Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Frank Wess, Pete Brown, Paul Quinichette, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Hank Jones, Sammy Price, Ellis Larkins, Nat Pierce, Steve Jordan, Skeeter Best, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Walter Page, Aaron Bell, Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson, Jimmy Crawford, Jimmy Rushing, and others.

The list of artists above would be one answer to the question, “What made these sessions special?” but we all know of recordings with glorious personnel that don’t quite come together as art — perhaps there’s too little or too much arranging, or the recorded sound is not quite right, or one musician (a thudding drummer, an over-amplified bassist) throws everything off. 

The Vanguard sessions benefited immensely from Hammond’s imagination.  Although I have been severe about Hammond — as someone who interfered with musicians for whom he was offering support — and required that his preferences be taken seriously or else (strong-willed artists like Louis, Duke, and Frank Newton fought with or ran away from John).  Hammond may have been “difficult” and more, but his taste in jazz was impeccable.  And broad — the list above goes back to Sammy Price, Walter Page, and forward to Kenny Burrell and Benny Green. 

Later on, what I see as Hammond’s desire for strong flavors and novelty led him to champion Dylan and Springsteen, but I suspect that those choices were also in part because he could not endure watching others make “discoveries.”  Had it been possible to continue making records like the Vanguards eternally, I believe Hammond might have done so.   

Although Mainstream jazz was still part of the American cultural landscape in the early Fifties, and the artists Hammond loved were recording for labels large and small — from Verve, Columbia, Decca, all the way down to Urania and Period — he felt strongly about players both strong and subtle, musicians who had fewer opportunities to record sessions on their own.  At one point, Hammond and George Wein seemed to be in a friendly struggle to champion Ruby Braff, and I think Hammond was the most fervent advocate Vic Dickenson, Sir Charles Thompson, and Mel Powell ever had.  Other record producers, such as the astute George Avakian at Columbia, would record Jimmy Rushing, but who else was eager to record Pete Brown, Shad Collins, or Henderson Chambers?  No one but Hammond. 

And he arranged musicians in novel — but not self-consciously so — combinations.  For THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE, it did not take a leap of faith to put Braff, Vic, and Ed Hall together in the studio, for they had played together at Boston’s Savoy Cafe in 1949.  And to encourage them to stretch out for leisurely versions of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Russian Lullaby” was something that other record producers — notably Norman Granz — had been doing to capitalize on the longer playing time of the new recording format.  But after that rather formal beginning, Hammond began to be more playful.  The second SHOWCASE featured Shad Collins, the masterful and idiosyncratic ex-Basie trumpeter, in the lead, with Braff joining in as a guest star on two tracks. 

Vanguard Vic

Now, some of the finest jazz recordings were made in adverse circumstances (I think of the cramped Brunswick and Decca studios of the Thirties).  And marvelous music can be captured in less-than-ideal sound: consider Jerry Newman’s irreplaceable uptown recordings.  But the sound of the studio has a good deal to do with the eventual result.  Victor had, at one point, a converted church in Camden, New Jersey; Columbia had Liederkrantz Hall and its 30th Street Studios.  Hammond had a Masonic Temple on Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York — with a thirty-five foot ceiling, wood floors, and beautiful natural resonance. 

The Vanguard label, formed by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon, had devoted itself to beautiful-sounding classical recordings; Hammond had written a piece about the terrible sound of current jazz recordings, and the Solomons asked him if he would like to produce sessions for them.  Always eager for an opportunity to showcase musicians he loved, without interference, Hammond began by featuring Vic Dickenson, whose sound may never have been as beautifully captured as it was on the Vanguards. 

Striving for an entirely natural sound, the Vanguards were recorded with one microphone hanging from the ceiling.  The players in the Masonic Temple did not know what the future would hold — musicians isolated behind baffles, listening to their colleagues through headphones — but having one microphone would have been reminiscent of the great sessions of the Thirties and Forties.  And musicians often become tense at recording sessions, no matter how professional or experienced they are — having a minimum of engineering-interference can only have added to the relaxed atmosphere in the room. 

The one drawback of the Masonic Temple was that loud drumming was a problem: I assume the sound ricocheted around the room.  So for most of these sessions, either Jo Jones or Bobby Donaldson played wire brushes or the hi-hat cymbal, with wonderful results.  (On the second Vic SHOWCASE, Jo’s rimshots explode like artillery fire on RUNNIN’ WILD, most happily, and Jo also was able to record his lengthy CARAVAN solo, so perhaps the difficulty was taken care of early.)  On THE NAT PIERCE BANDSTAND — a session recently reissued on Fresh Sound — you can hear the lovely, translucent sound Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones made, their notes forming three-dimensional sculpture on BLUES YET? and STOMP IT OFF. 

Vanguard Vic 2(Something for the eyes.  I am not sure what contemporary art directors would make of this cover, including Vic’s socks, and the stuffed animals, but I treasure it, even though there is a lion playing a concertina.)

What accounted for the beauty of these recordings might be beyond definition.  Were the musicians so happy to be left alone that they played better than ever?  Was it the magisterial beat and presence of Walter Page on many sessions?  Was it Hammond’s insistence on unamplified rhythm guitar?  Whatever it was, I hear these musicians reach into those mystical spaces inside themselves with irreplaceable results.  On these recordings, there is none of the reaching-for-a-climax audible on many records.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on the sessions featuring Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  Braff had heard Larkins play duets with Ella Fitzgerald for Decca (reissued on CD as PURE ELLA) and told Hammond that he, too, wanted to play with Larkins.  Larkins’ steady, calm carpet of sounds balances Braff’s tendency towards self-dramatization, especially on several Bing Crosby songs — PLEASE and I’VE GOT A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS.  Vanguard Ruby

Ruby and Ellis were reunited several times in the next decades, for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label and twice for Arbors, as well as onstage at a Braff-organized tribute to Billie Holiday, but they never sounded so poignantly wonderful as on the Vanguards. 

Hammond may have gotten his greatest pleasure from the Basie band of the late Thirties, especially the small-group sessions, so he attempted to give the Vanguards the same floating swing, using pianists Thompson and Pierce, who understood what Basie had done without copying it note for note.  For THE JO JONES SPECIAL, Hammond even managed to reunite the original “All-American Rhythm Section” for two versions of “Shoe Shine Boy.”  Thompson — still with us at 91 — recorded with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones for an imperishable quartet session.  If you asked me to define what swing is, I might offer their “Swingtime in the Rockies” as compact, enthralling evidence. 

Hammond was also justifiably enthusiastic about pianist Mel Powell — someone immediately identifiable in a few bars, his style merging Waller, Tatum, astonishing technique, sophisticated harmonies, and an irrepressible swing — and encouraged him to record in trios with Braff, with Paul Quinichette, with Clayton and Ed Hall, among others.  One priceless yet too brief performance is Powell’s WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? with French hornist Jimmy Buffington in the lead — a spectral imagining of the Benny Goodman Trio. 

Vanguard Mel 2

The last Vanguards were recorded in 1957, beautiful sessions featuring Buck Clayton and Jimmy Rushing.  I don’t know what made the series conclude.  Did the recordings not sell well?  Vanguard turned to the burgeoning folk movement shortly after.  Or was it that Hammond had embarked on this project for a minimal salary and no royalties and, even given his early patrician background, had to make a living?  But these are my idea of what jazz recordings should sound like, for their musicality and the naturalness of their sound.

I would like to be able to end this paean to the Vanguards by announcing a new Mosaic box set containing all of them.  But I can’t.  And it seems as if forces have always made these recordings difficult to obtain in their original state.  Originally, they were issued on ten-inch long-playing records (the format that record companies thought 78 rpm record buyers, or their furniture, would adapt to most easily).  But they made the transition to the standard twelve-inch format easily.  The original Vanguard records didn’t stay in print for long in their original format.  I paid twenty-five dollars, then a great deal of money, for a vinyl copy of BUCK MEETS RUBY from the now-departed Dayton’s Records on Twelfth Street in Manhattan.  In the Seventies, several of the artists with bigger names, Clayton, Jo Jones, and Vic, had their sessions reissued in America on two-lp colletions called THE ESSENTIAL.  And the original vinyl sessions were reissued on UK issues for a few minutes in that decade. 

When compact discs replaced vinyl, no one had any emotional allegiance to the Vanguards, although they were available in their original formats (at high prices) in Japan.  The Vanguard catalogue was bought by the Welk Music Group (the corporate embodiment of Champagne Music).  in 1999, thirteen compact discs emerged: three by Braff, two by “the Basie Bunch,” two by Mel Powell, two by Jimmy Rushing, one by Sir Charles, one by Vic.  On the back cover of the CDs, the credits read: “Compilation produced by Steve Buckingham” and “Musical consultant and notes by Samuel Charters.”  I don’t know either of them personally, and I assume that their choices were controlled by the time a compact disc allows, but the results are sometimes inexplicable.  The sound of the original sessions comes through clearly but sessions are scrambled and incomplete, except for the Braff-Larkins material, which they properly saw as untouchable.  And rightly so.  The Vanguard recordings are glorious.  And they deserve better presentation than they’ve received.

P.S.  Researching this post, I went to the usual sources — Amazon and eBay — and there’s no balm for the weary or the deprived.  On eBay, a vinyl BUCK MEETS RUBY is selling for five times as much.  That may be my twenty-five dollars, adjusted for inflation, but it still seems exorbitant. 

On eBay I also saw the most recent evidence of the corruption, if not The Decline, of the West.  Feast your eyes on this CD cover:

Vanguard Visionaries corrupt

Can you imagine Jimmy Rushing’s reaction — beyond the grave — on learning that his reputation rested on his being an influence on Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, and Harry Connick, Jr.?  I can’t.  The Marketing Department has been at work!  But I’d put up with such foolishness if I could have the Vanguards back again.

MR. TOBIAS COMES ON!

THE BRONZE MESSENGER, by Ericka Midiri

I’m very happy to report that cornetist Danny Tobias has finally come out with his own CD, aptly called CHEERFUL LITTLE EARFUL — a subtle trio session, intimate yet propulsive.

I was fortunate enough to write the very brief notes for the CD:

Danny Tobias is an old-fashioned jazz player in the best modern way, at home in any swinging jazz context. Like his heroes Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, he loves melody, his improvisations have a beautiful shape, and he is always recognizably himself. Danny didn’t learn his jazz from a textbook but through experience – early gigs with Ed Metz, Jr., Paul Midiri, and Joe Holt, and a fifteen-year musical apprenticeship with drummer Tony Di Nicola and master clarinetist Kenny Davern.

Kenny was an inspiration. He taught me what not to play, how to play in an ensemble, and how to construct a solo. He could build a solo as well as anyone who has ever played. Period. Tony and Kenny were always willing to teach me and I loved every night that I had the privilege to work with them. Since those two passed away I’ve been traveling with the Midiri brothers to festivals all over the country and leading my own groups whenever possible. It’s funny but when I looked at the tunes I’d picked for this CD almost all of them were written between 1925 and1935. I don’t think of these songs as old. They speak to me and remind me of Tony and Kenny.

When I asked Danny about his original compositions, he said, The names of my tunes are rather silly. I rehearse with an organ trio once a week in Trenton saxophonist Dom DeFranco’s cellar. Hence the name DOMINIC’S BIG CELLAR, which is based on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. When I brought up NO MATH, he just grinned. And the song with the most striking title has an intriguing explanation: HOW’S YOUR MOTHER was first written as a Christmas song for my three sons. The title comes from a gag of mine (with people I know very well): when someone mentions something off color or foul, I will say “How’s your mother?” as if the bawdy comment has jogged a memory.

Danny’s trio is completed by two very sympathetic and supportive players. Pianist Joe Holt is a fixture in jazz rooms along the Eastern Seaboard, and he and Danny have been playing together for years, often with the Midiri brothers. (You can see them on YouTube.) Gary Cattley has his Ph.D. from North Texas State University, plays tuba in addition to string bass, and appears with the Princeton Symphony as well as Marty Grosz.

This easy-going trio got together for sessions in summer 2009, with the head arrangements done by Danny. The results remind me of the finest sessions for Keynote Records in the Forties or the John Hammond sessions for Vanguard a decade later: neat but inspired. Each performance was completed in one or two takes. This CD captures the kind of jazz that musicians play for their own pleasure when only the attentive customers are in the club. It’s comfortable, late-evening music, from the sorrowing SAY IT ISN’T SO to the romping CHICAGO RHYTHM and the title tune, a perfect description of Danny Tobias’s jazz.

The disc is available from the modest, soft-spoken Mr. Tobias himself for $15.00.  Send check, cash, or other negotiable instruments to Danny at 38 Fenwood Avenue, Mercerville, New Jersey 08619.  More to come!

P.S.   When Dan Barrett started his New York City tour — sadly too brief — one of the first things he said to me was that he had played two concerts in New Jersey with a wonderful cornet player, Danny Tobias.  Did I know him?  (I murmured assent but Dan was so intent that I don’t know if it registered.)  That young Mr. Tobias was so good, so melodic that he reminded the elder Dan why he had taken up the cornet himself: to play the melody.  Dan (Barrett) continued, looking at me sternly, “You really ought to mention Danny in your blog,” and I happily said, “I have, at length, and he’s coming out with his own CD.  He’s a fine player and a fine person!”  All true!

INSPIRED ABANDON! (Thanks to Dan Barrett)

DAN BARRETT’S NEW YORK CITY TOUR, Part One

Thursday, October 15, 2009, was a depressing night to be outside.  Any hopes that Indian Summer was here to stay were banished by frigid drizzle that kept many people indoors . . . but some of us made our way to Smalls, on West Tenth Street, to hear Ehud Asherie and Dan Barrett — early on in his East Coast tour — play duets for an hour.  Here’s the first part of that session.  Ehud was in rare form, even facing an exceptionally out-of-tune piano (we could charitably blame it on the humidity), striding, swinging from his introductions, playing the unknown verses to familiar songs, accompanying with rare grace.  And Dan Barrett is, to my ears, the complete musician, blessed with astonishing technique and the maturity to use it in the service of the music, an extraordinary range of sonorities, irresistible, witty swing . . . all without having to do more to warm up than to put the horn together and spray oil on his slide. 

Dan and Ehud began with one of the favorite gig-starting numbers (another is SUNDAY), I NEVER KNEW — although jazz knowledge was everywhere on the bandstand, Louis in high UK style grinning at what he was hearing:

Because James P. Johnson is one of our heroes — as composer as well as pianist — Ehud called ONE HOUR at a lightly swinging tempo, perhaps subliminally thinking of how long the duet session was supposed to last:

As an ironic nod to the weather, he then suggested Berlin’s jaunty ISN’T IT A LOVELY DAY — music to make us forget that our trouser cuffs might still be wet:

A bouncy THOU SWELL came next — no rhythm section needed here!

One of the most beautiful ballads I know is Oscar Levant’s BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — I think of an early Crosby version and a later recording by Mary Eiland.  This version stands along any I know:

Back to James P. for an ambling OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, perhaps also a remembrance of one of Dan’s idols, Vic Dickenson, who recorded this memorably for Vanguard with Ed Hall, Ruby Braff, Shad Collins, Walter Page, and Jo Jones: 

Jazz listeners will recognize that my title was originally used for a Lawrence Brown record session for Impulse — but it surely applies to the music recorded on Thursday at Smalls.  And there’s more to come!

SMILING JO JONES

As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library.  One of the librarians was hip.  Someone had good taste!  The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others.  On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing. 

I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert.  And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.   

Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe.  This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:

But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off. 

This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind.  I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones?  Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title. 

Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly.  And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.

Many other moments come back to me now. 

My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop.  We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place.  Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read?  I don’t know.  I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation. 

In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement.  Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation.  It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script.  There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.   

(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo.  Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it!  You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer.  “I don’t play with him any more.  He’s nuts,” said Ruby.) 

Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous.  But with him it was a form of emphasis.  You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice.  And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling. 

Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers.  And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play.  Was he gigging anywhere?   

He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.

“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation.  “I don’t play the drums anymore.  Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued.  We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again.  He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals?  All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.”  If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich.  Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.  

We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed.  We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.

The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival.  I think, now, that he had been putting us on.  But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.      

In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs.  He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show.  Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.  

Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo.  Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band.  Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed. 

He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed.  But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger.  And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal.  It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume.  Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could. 

I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music.  When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out.  At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night.  If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players.  They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost.  I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle!  The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos.  Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.   

Jo could play magically in clubs, though.  I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.   

At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk.  One rainy night in particular stands out.  It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived.  Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers.  Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent.  It was mildly eerie.  Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.      

One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork.  It may have been Southold.  We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing.  Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums.  Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following.  Jo came out of one of them.  They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse.  I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case.  The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN.  It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes.  After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended.  Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded.  “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.

But he could be politely accessible to fans.  I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE.  I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me.  Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo.  The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table.  “See that?” he demanded of them.  “That is style!” he insisted, happily.  And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand.  When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music.  I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home).  I hope that it gave him pleasure. 

At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover.  Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also.  He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.

This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me. 

In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty.  Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne.  At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him.  When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.

Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served  — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two. 

 

Jo Jones Funeral

Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years.  Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.  

Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle.  All rights reserved.

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS AND DOC

Louis Armstrong understandably provoked awe, admiration, protectiveness, gratitude, reverence.  And those who know his life will think without hesitation of the people who cherished him: his beloved wife Lucille, his manager Joe Glaser, his friend Jack Bradley, recently celebrated in The New York Times for his astonishing collection of sacred artifacts. 

You can read the story about Jack here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/nyregion/29satchmo.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

But Gosta Hagglof, perhaps less famous, has done heroic things to keep Louis’s music alive.  Gosta is an Armstrong scholar and aficionado as well as an enterprising record producer.  On his own Ambassador label, he has created a wonderful multi-disc edition of Louis’s 1935-49 recordings, primarily for Decca, including alternate takes, airshots, and film soundtracks.  Much of this material is not only new to CD but new to everyone.  And it’s beautifully annotated and carefully speed-corrected: the ideal!  On his Kenneth label, its label imitating the Gennett company’s baroque whorls, he also made it possible for us to hear Bent Persson’s awe-inspiring recreations and imaginings of Louis’s 1927 Hot Choruses and Breaks.

With typical generosity, Gosta has just issued / re–issued a Doc Cheatham CD tribute to Louis, a gem.  It’s called THE EMINENCE, VOLUME 2: DOC CHEATHAM: “A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG,” and nothing in that title is hyperbolic.  (Kenneth Records CKS 3408)

doc-louis-kenneth-cd

Cheatham is someone I think of as jazz’s Yeats, getting wiser and deeper and subtler as he grew older.  Brassmen have a hard time because trumpets and trombones require such focused physical energy and skill just to get from one note to another with a pleasing tone.  Doc truly did seem ageless, pulling airy solos out of nowhere, then embarking on weirdly charming vocals that mixed crooning, speech, and bits of Wallerish comedy.  He hasn’t been well represented on compact discs, and this one is a particular pleasure because his Scandinavian friends, both reverent and playful, inspire him to majestic yet casual playing and singing.  Those players, as an aside, are Gosta’s stock company — many of them playing nobly behind Maxine Sullivan in her finest late recordings (five compact discs worth!), the ambiance being somewhere between the Teddy Wilson Brunswicks and the Fifties John Hammond Vanguard sessions.

The original sessions from 1988 and 1989 also feature wonderful playing — piano and Eb alto horn — and arrangements by Dick Cary, someone who knew Louis well, having been the first pianist in the All-Stars at the irreplaceable Town Hall Concert.  (Gosta asked Cary to replicate his original piano introduction to “Save It Pretty Mama,” which Cary does here.  It is immensely touching.)  The gifted but less-known pianist Rolf Larsson shines on two songs not originally issued.  The gutty, loose trombone work of Staffan Arnberg is delightful, and the reed section — Claes Brodda, Goran Eriksson, Erik Persson, and Jan Akerman are all original, fervent players.  I heard hints and echoes of Pete Brown and Charlie Holmes, of Herschel Evans, early Hawkins and Hodges, but they have their own styles, a swinging earnestness.  The rhythm section, collectively featuring Mikael Selander, guitar; Olle Brostedt, bass, guitar; Goran Lind, bass, and Sigge Dellert, drums, rocks in a gentle, homemade, Thirties fashion.  I imagine everyone in shirtsleeves.  I especially enjoyed the hardworking lyricism of Selander, combining the great acoustic guitar styles of the period without imitating anyone: he has a Reinhardt eloquence without entrapping himself in QHCF cliches.

The sessions embraced the expected hot tunes: “Swing That Music,” “Our Monday Date,” a version of “Sweethearts on Parade” with Cary’s alto horn and Cheatham’s trumpet in jousting tandem, “I Double Dare You,” and “Jeepers Creepers,” all essayed with the looseness you would expect from expert players who love to take chances.  The Swedish All-Stars play with daredevil ease — I don’t mean high notes or technical displays — but we hear them experimenting with the possibilities of the songs and the ensembles.  The result is impromptu rather than overly polished, and I can imagine the musicians grinning triumphantly at the end of each take, as if to say, “Hey! We did it!” or the equivalent.

But the best performances here are painted in deep romantic, yearning hues.  “Confessin,” a trio performance for Doc, Selander, and Lind, is the very epitome of tenderness, as is “I’m in the Mood for Love,” complete with the rarely-heard verse.  “Save It Pretty Mama” has Cheatham at his most convincing as a singer; he pours his heart into “A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” a rueful “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” (the song with which he concluded his Sunday brunch performances at Sweet Basil for years), a slow “Dinah” and “Drop Me Off At Harlem,” “Sugar,” and “That’s My Home.”  We often associate Louis with bouncy numbers, with “Tiger Rag” and “Indiana,” but Cheatham draws on his awareness of Louis the romantic, early and late.

Especially in these performances, Cheatham and his young colleagues get at Louis’s huge heart — his wistfulness, hopefulness, and deep feeling, without ever overacting.  Many of these slow performances left me with a lump in my throat.  The results are music to treasure.  Visit Classic Jazz Productions (http://www.classicjazz.eu) for more details.

JAZZ RAPTURE! AT THE EAR INN

Whether it’s collective improvisation or a soaring solo episode, jazz has the power to make us even more glad to be alive. The last two Sunday nights at The Ear Inn were thrilling examples of musical and spiritual energy.

On June 1, the Earregulars were led by New Orleans clarinetist Orange Kellin, who, quietly and without fanfare, recreated the hot Wednesday night band from the much-missed Cajun: banjoist-singer Eddy Davis, Scott Robinson on C-melody sax (atypically, playing only one instrument), bassist Kelly Friesen — who gave way to charter member Debbie Kennedy late in the evening. Pianist Conal Fowkes wasn’t there, but two ringers, both clarinetists, gave a truly international flavor: Motoo Yamzaki from Japan, and Adrian Cunningham for Sydney. Eddy used to call this band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” an apt moniker.

After a rocking medium-tempo “Sunday,” there were lovely ballads: “Prelude to A Kiss,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Ghost Of A Chance,” and a Scott Robinson specialty, “A Melody From the Sky,” which brought out the best in the crowd — a tidily-dressed woman at a nearby table half-sang, half-whispered the words to herself, smiling as she did so. (When later I congratulated her on knowing the sweet lyrics, she said, shyly, “Oh, you caught me!”)

Eddy sang one of his favorites, Jerry Herman’s paean to vaudeville, “Two A Day,” as well as asking the audience to join in on “Bourbon Street Parade.” Since the crowd included John Gill and Simon Wettenhall, it was an expertly swinging sing-along. What started out as a mysterious Middle Eastern meditation, rather like “Lena is the Queen of Palesteena,” revealed itself as an early hundredth-birthday tribute to Cole Porter, “I Love Paris,” which kept on threatening to become “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

Orange, Scott, and Eddy (supported by Kelly or Debbie), musicians and friends, have a special chemistry. It is how brilliant soloists can intuitively sense what the band needs, create it on the spot, and send it forth. Scott and Orange, tussling like terrier puppies in a pet-shop window, worked wonderfully together: less aggressively than Soprano Summit or Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier, but with feeling and drive. Orange’s style seems plain, even homespun: his inspirations are New Orleans Albert-system deities, not Goodman’s legions — but his simplicity is deceptive, for he is really a racing-car driver negotiating a tight turn at high speed. Before we know it, Orange has slyly got it and gone. Scott energized us with his beautiful tone, his yearning phrases, his deep well of feeling. Eddy pushed the band — not only rhythmically, but with his cheerful front-porch singing and his needling “Whaddaya got? Whaddaya got?” to urge his colleagues to pick the next tune.

In the first set, a lengthy, shouting “Diga Diga Doo” let the band testify at length. Eighty years old, the song is not harmonically complex, and its lyrics are all about the “Zulu man, feeling blue,” who sings the title — Eurocentrism in capital letters, at best. But musicians love it because it lacks complexity; its simplicity enables them to wander around in old friends D minor and C7 without fear of bumping into some radical chord change in transit. Scott created pushing riffs behind Orange; the solos hinted at rhythm and blues, George Lewis, and Charlie Parker, all leading to a driving closing ensemble. The quartet had the force and playfulness of a whole jam session — not in volume, but in variety, as the band changed its approach from chorus to chorus, sometimes in the middle of choruses. Doug Pomeroy, who has heard more inspired jazz than most people, turned to me and said, when it had ended, “THAT was worth the trip to Manhattan for me!”

For any other jazz group, that performance would have been the high point of the evening, reason enough to go home and take a well-deserved nap. But the Earregulars topped themselves in the second set with a rendition of “Good Old New York,” a very simple Jelly Roll Morton tune that he recorded at the end of his life, in band sessions that endearingly have their hearts set on jukebox hits — which did not happen. The song’s two ascending phrases, four notes apiece, that make up its opening melody, are infuriatingly catchy. After a pulsing statement of the melody, veering between unison playing and collective improvisation, Scott and Orange riffed energetically behind Eddy’s banjo solo; Scott and Kelly then played an unaccompanied duet, leading to a rocking, nearly ecstatic close.

Last night at The Ear was equally gratifying, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Joel Forbes, bass; John Allred, trombone. The quartet seemed a little big band, brass and rhythm sections, compact and wasteless. Kellso’s growls, slides, and muted moans were wonderfully in place. Jon pours his heart into every note: although he moves nimbly at fast tempos, each eighth note is a serious matter, with its own weight. Allred’s style bristles with sharply focused thirty-second notes, but his tone gleams, his blues dig in, his ballads sing. Behind them, Matt and Joel worked in idiosyncratic harmony, truly rocking in rhythm.

Jon started off with the wittily apt “June Night,” but the music truly became electric with a brisk “Smiles,” an almost-forgotten sentimental song circa 1920, that inspired the band into jam-session polyphony, counterlines, and riffs escalating in intensity. He then asked the singer Catherine Russell, seated at the bar, to join them. She chose “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” — a tune that has had violence done to it by amateurs. Russell is stocky and solid but physically mobile, a playful actress, swaying her body and gesturing as the song indicated. Standing almost in the doorway, she made a spontaneous acting exercise of the lyrics, including the people wandering in and out in her script. It would have been hilarious improvised theatre if she had not sung a word. But Russell’s voice is extraordinary: a huge forceful instrument with power both released and held in reserve. I thought of Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington, but the resemblance was more organic than a collection of phrases copied from records. Singing, Russell can move mountains. But she has more than one approach: on a tenderly sad “I Cover the Waterfront,” with Kellso murmuring behind her, she made us believe the lyrics — honoring Billie Holiday without copying her mannerisms, Then, as if polishing off her imagined homage to jazz singers, she did Fats Waller’s “The Joint is Jumpin’,” with some clever changes to the lyrics. If the joint hadn’t been jumping before, it certainly was now.

The essayist Lorna Sass, whose most recent book won the James Beard Award, said excitedly, “They were cooking!” She knows.

The second set began with a luxuriant exploration of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” complete with verse, and the Earregulars, perhaps still thinking of Fats, went into a slow-drag “Squeeze Me” that suggested the great recording Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Kenny Burrell made for Vanguard, with honors going to Matt, whose solo evoked Jimmy Ryan’s 1942 and deep rural folk music at the same time, sometimes in the same phrase. A romping three-trombone “Sweet Georgia Brown,” featuring Allred, Harvey Tibbs, and Matt McDonald followed (Kellso sat happily watching). After a deeply Ellingtonian “Just Squeeze Me,” where the three trombones played choral held notes behind Joel’s solo, Jon called up the singer Tamar Korn, known for her work as part of the Cangelosi Cards.

I’ve written about Korn on a previous posting, when she came to the Ear and astonished everyone with a slow-tempo “Dinah,” so I couldn’t wait to hear her sing “Exactly Like You.” She is tiny and looks doll-like, but she’s clearly a hip urban doll; no Disney figurine, she. While the band played, Korn tapped her foot and wiggled, but in miniature. When she sang, she was intent, still, serious, gathering all her energy in her voice, which was focused but not at all tiny. Her approach is slippery, quicksilver: by the time a listener has said, “Was that a yodel?” or “That’s operatic,” or “She sounds like smeone on the Grand Old Opry,” the phrase is long gone — one runs behind Korn’s voice, trying to catch up with the beauties she has spread before us. “Exactly Like You” was all rocking sincerity: we knew that Mother HAD raught her to be true, and she didn’t need chorus after chorus to prove it. She then surpassed herself with a simple, eloquent, deeply felt reading of “Stardust,” which silenced most of the front room. What she sang transcended the song; we stopped listening to notes and words; we were swept up in her vision of lonely nights and memories. Sitting near me, Joyce Metz turned to her husband Ed (the noted jazz drummer) and lightly struck her sternum a few times with her fist, gently, to say, “That came from the heart.” It certainly did.

A postscript: the Earregulars, even before they had a name, played their first Sunday night gig at 326 Spring Street on June 17, 2007. I don’t know if next Sunday, June 15, is therefore a birthday or an anniversary (correct me, readers) but I hope to be there to join the cheering throng. However, and I find this pleasing, amusing, and just slightly annoying, The Ear Inn has now become so popular that people are calling for reservations.

Reservations?! Indeed!

But you will understand why in the first ten minutes of any Sunday night there.