Tag Archives: Vernon Duke

MORE MODERN SWINGMATISM: MICHAEL BANK SEPTET at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (Jan. 20, 2015)

Here’s what I wrote about a recent performance by Michael Bank and his remarkable group.

I first heard pianist Michael Bank play a decade ago, in a situation that would have unsettled a lesser musician: he was set up behind a keyboard — with three or four other players — in a Brooklyn bar / restaurant.  The clientele, well-heeled young men and women enjoying their Sunday brunch, talked loudly and incessantly about their possessions: “my architect,” “Emily’s play group,” “the worst cleaning service we’ve ever used,” “our financial advisor.”  But Michael’s beautiful individualism cut through the self-absorption.  He knew his swing well: when the leader called ALL OF ME, Michael immediately started off with Teddy Wilson’s introductory passage from the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY — before moving into inventions of his own.  Michael had studied with Jaki Byard, a master of surprises, and Michael’s own work, although never written in capital letters, goes its own happily quirky ways.

That refreshing quirkiness (that’s a deep compliment) is even more in evidence when Michael leads his own small band, usually a septet, playing his compositions and arrangements.  I always think his bands have the good stomping feeling of the Johnny Hodges small bands of the Fifties (I think Panama Francis would approve of this music for dancers) but there are quiet delicious explosions of color throughout that evoke Byard and Mingus.

I offer five performances from a recent (January 20) evening at Somethin’ Jazz (212 East 52nd Street, New York City), a congenial harbor for all kinds of improvised music, where Michael had with him these fine players (ensemble, solo, and reading charts): Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Noah Bless, trombone; Tim Lewis, Mike Mullins, saxophone; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Steve Little, drums.

In honor of Chick Webb’s band, a difficult chart, HARLEM CONGO:

“A nice blues,” BLUEVIEW:

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE, featuring Kelly Friesen:

Ellington’s GOIN’ UP:

For those of you who want to hear and learn more, I offer three previous blog-celebrations of Michael Bank and his bands.  From 2012, here.  Then, some words about Michael’s CD, aptly titled THE DAO OF SWING, here, and a 2013 session here.

And here is the first part of this swinging evening’s concert.

May your happiness increase!

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HAPPINESS, PLURAL: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, KURT KRAHNKE (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

I wrote elsewhere on this blog recently that so many of the songs in what we call the Great American Songbook are about the desolation of lost love, love unsuccessfully yearned for, love that has been broken past repair.

As a corrective, I offer two chamber-music improvisations on happier themes, created by James Dapogny and Strings at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015.  This quartet — formal in aspect but lively in spirit — is Dapogny at the piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  No amplification requested or applied, and the lovely videos are the work of Laura Beth Wyman.

I am sure it is only a narrative I have created out of my essential romanticism and optimism, but the two songs below describe a brief play of risk-taking that is sure to bring deep rewards, and the delight of fulfillment.  May it be so for those listening as well!

Vernon Duke’s cheerful TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (impossible for me to hear this song without hearing Ethel Waters singing it as well):

And the full quartet returns for the Jimmy McHugh – Dorothy Fields EXACTLY LIKE YOU, a song that so epitomizes the most elated feelings of lovers at their most rapturous: “YOU are the only person I have ever wanted to be with, and our connection has been pre-ordained by both the cosmos and my Mother!”:

I have listened to these performances many times, and find them delightfully contradictory: on one hand, there is a priceless translucency, all of the component parts shining and apparently weightless — yet these performances are musically dense, and each time I listen I have the epiphanies, “Did you hear what he did there, how he responded?”  Playful brilliance at every turn, never showy or self-referential.  Thank you so much, James, Rod, Mike, Kurt, and Laura.

I have posted other performances from this gig, and here is an uplifting place to begin.

May your happiness increase!

URBANELY, WITH FEELING: HILARY GARDNER SINGS OF CITY LIVES (with EHUD ASHERIE) at SMALLS, April 7, 2013

Hilary Gardner is not only a fine singer but she has an original turn of mind.  She wouldn’t have been the first singer to create a mini-concert around the theme of THE GREAT CITY — which, not incidentally, is the name of her bracingly fine new CD.  Details here.

Another singer might choose nostalgia and celebrate New York in formulaic terms of bygone neighborhoods and landmarks, the musical world of the double-decker bus and a pocketful of nickels for the Automat.  Hilary has her eyes open to this century as well as to its predecessor.  Her world didn’t begin in 1990, but she knows that intriguing songs keep being written about the city that so fascinates her.

The ten songs that follow — glorious evidence of the swinging, witty rapport between her and pianist Ehud Asherie — stretch back to Vernon Duke and Leonard Bernstein, but forward to Nellie McKay and Dan Hicks.  Hilary has a beautiful voice and a clear, focused delivery — you can hear she’s thought about the lyrics and how they ring most effectively — and a natural swing, a keen ebullience.  Her “contemporary” perceptions aren’t hard or ironic, though; she isn’t a postmodernist smirking at the audience through her songs.  No, she balances her sharp observations with a tender romanticism, both evident here.

WHEELERS AND DEALERS:

YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS:

BROOKLYN BRIDGE:

THAT’S NO JOKE:

MANHATTAN AVENUE:

A NEW TOWN IS A BLUE TOWN:

THE GREAT CITY:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

SWEETHEART / WAITRESS IN A DONUT SHOP:

THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS:

And even those who think that singers should stay in the nicely fenced corral of “The Great American Songbook” should listen closely to both Hilary and Ehud — models of swinging, inventive solo and interplay, music with deep intelligence and deep feeling.  And any program of songs she offers us has its own artistic logic: she creates mosaics full of sharp but deeply felt juxtapositions and resonances.

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP”: MUSIC FOR ADULTS (TOM DEMPSEY, TIM FERGUSON, JOEL FRAHM, ELIOT ZIGMUND)

I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.

I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more.  But now I want to make up for my omission.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players.  What a mistake that would have been!  I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves.  Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”

Not this one!

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BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm.  It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.

These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old.  Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up.  One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.”  Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.

BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals.  IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music.  TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz.  Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.

It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.

You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s    here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players.  But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out.  I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists.  What could be nicer?  As for me, I’m keeping this one!

P.S.  Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title?  There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By.  To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book.  BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.

May your happiness increase.

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.