Tag Archives: vibraphone

VIBRAPHONIA: RAYMOND GRASIER and CO. at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Elin Smith and Flemnming Thorbye)

Leaving aside Red Norvo, the obvious subject for this tribute would be Lionel Hampton, and a few of these performances are aimed that way, but the real honors go to the neglected Thirties recordings Adrian Rollini made for Victor and Vocalion, on vibraphone.

This set was the idea of Frans Sjostrom, the noble bass saxophonist who brought his horn onstage late in the program.  The band at the start was Andy Schumm, trumpet; Steve Andrews, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Paul Asaro, piano; Mike Piggott, violin; Philippe Guignier, guitar; Bruce Rollo, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

The first two selections are loose-limbed jam sessions on familiar changes — performances that recall the imperishable 1937-41 records that Hampton made for Victor:

I GOT RHYTHM (Elin):

ROSETTA (Elin):

Frans brought his bass saxophone onstage and gave the other horns a rest for the Rollini SWING LOW (Elin) — which doesn’t go where one would expect it to:

For me, the highlight of the set was their version of SMALL FRY, which harks back to a lovely 1938 recording Rollini made for Vocalion featuring Bobby Hackett, whose place Andy Schumm takes for an interval.  (Thorbye):

I’d like to see some bands in the States take on this tune — it has its own life!  Thanks again to Elin Smith, “elinshouse” on YouTube, and Flemming Thorbye, “thorbye” in the same place, for their willingness to offer their videos to JAZZ LIVES.

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“AIR MAIL SPECIAL”: JOHN COCUZZI, ANTTI SARPILA, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JASON WANNER, RICHARD SIMON, and BUTCH MILES

Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian and the small groups they levitated (for only a brief time, 1939-41) continue to resonate, even though I believe that none of the original players survive.

But the music does.

Here is a fervent sample — recorded live at the 2011 San Diego Jazz Party.  (It comes from the “swingink” YouTube channel.)

This all-star sextet (led by Antti Sarpila) is playing AIR MAIL SPECIAL — composer credits Goodman, Christian, and Mundy — although my guess is that the composition should read CHARLES CHRISTIAN (100%), BENJAMIN DAVID GOODMAN (fine-tuning after the fact, percentage undetermined), and JAMES MUNDY (arrangement for big band).  Poor Charlie didn’t even live long enough to enjoy the royalties from his one-third, but that’s another story.

Many Goodman tributes are overseen by clarinetists, senior or junior, who have memorized the King’s fleet set-pieces without understanding the central nervous system that made them work so well.  Goodman seemed to use many notes, but he also had an intuitive grasp of space — how silence, like breathing, was essential to swing.  He had great flexibility on his instrument but was never shrill; he was melodic rather than loud.  Finnish clarinetist ANTTI SARPILA knows this from the inside out, having studied with the Master Robert Sage Wilber.

Then there’s the vibraphone / vibraharp — another instrument that lends itself, in the wrong hands, to swirling excesses: too many arpeggiated chords, too much jumping up and down a la Hamp, too much pounding.  If you simply watch JOHN COCUZZI’s mallets, you’ll be hypnotized — they go so fast, and in this performance one disintegrates under the strain (where is Dixie Rollini when you need her now?) but don’t let the flashing sticks fool you.  John’s phrases are elegant, his constructions logical and hot but never losing their cool.  He rocks!

Then there’s that wonderfully age-defying rhythm section: Uncle BUCKY PIZZARELLI, who is both the single-string Friend of Charlie Christian and a chording dynamo (a long-time Goodman alumnus); young titan JASON WANNER, spinning out beautifully nuanced piano lines; reliable swinger RICHARD SIMON; engine-room man BUTCH MILES.

Put them all together and you have an AIR MAIL SPECIAL that’s both riotous and right on time!

And for a reason to save your pennies or to make your own coffee now and again — John Cocuzzi has just recorded a delicious CD called GROOVE MERCHANT for the Arbors people — with Antti, the irreplaceable pianist John Sheridan, guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Frank Tate, and drummer Joe Ascione.  I’ve heard an advance copy and it swings in a lovely, insinuating way — and some tracks have become instant classics, stuck in the JAZZ LIVES car player.  Coming soon!

For now, dig this AIR MAIL SPECIAL: it repays frequent watchings.

WHO ARE THEY? A JAZZ MYSTERY

Although I have very little patience for detective fiction and mystery novels (except for the witty ones by Josef Skvorecky), I savor the mysteries that jazz is full of.  Why didn’t Frank Newton record for a major label after 1939?  What happened to James P. Johnson’s recording career after the Twenties?  And there are mysteries of influence: what Bing Crosby recordings did Louis know when he entered his “crooning” period?  And how did Irving Kaufman feel about singing — with the utmost sincerity — a song called “My Wedding Gown”?  Where are the kinescopes of the Eddie Condon Floor Show?  Ernie Anderson told a story of a private recording session featuring the remarkable trio of Bobby Hackett, Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, and Sidney Catlett: where did the records go?  And more . . . .    

But today’s mystery is called WHO ARE THEY?  All of this came about when I learned that jazz film scholar Mark Cantor had located a photographs from a short film made for television in 1948 featuring the Adrian Rollini Trio.  Rollini, a heroic multi-instrumentalist, had given up the bass saxophone, on which he had no equals.  He then concentrated on the vibraphone, forming a trio with a guitarist and bassist. 

Mark says that he originally thought the guitarist in this picture might be Frank Victor, the bassist Sandy Block, but no longer thinks this.  He would like to know if anyone recognizes the guitarist and bassist below.  As they say in Britain and Ireland, I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue, but I thought some of my very hip readers might.  All I can say about these three musicians is that I admire their sharp suits and neatly folded handkerchiefs.  Here they are:

adrian-rollini-trio

Of course, not all fine jazz musicians or studio musicians are famous, their faces instantly recognizable.  The mysterious picture evokes a departed past where every town and metropolis had a host of players who could read the charts, swing, and improvise.  It’s still true in New York City — one of the delights of going to clubs is hearing someone wonderful whose name I don’t know — and I get to say, politely, “Damn, but you can play.  Why haven’t you got a raft of CDs?”  But I digress.

If anyone thinks they know the identity of the bassist or the guitarist, please let me know and I will pass the information along to Mark.  And if, perchance, you’re listening to one of the Rollini CD reissues still available while you read this (on Jazz Oracle and Retrieval), our collective pleasure will be doubled and redoubled.