Tag Archives: Vincent Youmans

POETS IN THEIR YOUTH (October 11, 1938)

Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us.  If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others.  But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect.  But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.

Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.

They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties.  (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)

I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen.  And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us.  The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes.  The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn.  And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic.  One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:

It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song.  And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.

But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo.  It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.

It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings.  Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.

May your happiness increase!

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HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, 1944

A simple song about a universal, deep desire — by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar.  The melody is very unadorned, as are the lyrics: qualities that would make it memorable to a large popular audience and also great material for jazz improvisers.  It was recorded frequently when it was a new pop song, then given new life by Benny Goodman, his orchestra, and other Swing Era bands.

In my time, I’ve seen leaders call I WANT TO BE HAPPY when they want a trustworthy up-tempo song, often to close a set.  I remember Wild Bill Davison announcing the title and then leering at the audience, “Don’t we ALL?”  Kenny Davern, more an intellectual comedian, would conjugate the statement in a half-Yiddish inflection, “I vant to be happy, he vants to be happy . . . ” and then trail off amidst the audience’s laughter.

Here is a particularly memorable 1944 version, showing that a good melody has its own immortality, especially when explored by brilliant improvisers who never lose sight of the melody’s validity: the Commodore Records classic (from a long session with many alternate takes) featuring Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Arthur Trappier (July 20).  It is easy to take this superficially as a version of a Goodman small group because of the uplifting presence of Wilson, but Hall and Wilson had been working together at Cafe Society for some time.

The YouTube presenter has gotten the date wrong and provides no data; instead there is a constant flow of often irrelevant photographs, but the music is what matters.

And what music!  It’s really a simple recording — a worked-out introduction, a chorus for Hall, one for the rhythm section, another for Hall (low-register with the bridge for bassist Taylor) one for the rhythm section with the bridge for Trappier on brushes, then a quartet improvisation, everyone more intense but hardly louder, ending with no dramatics.  I marvel at Edmond’s tone in all his registers, his easy facility that is allied to great quiet intensity; the depth of Wilson’s harmonic inventions that are always moving — he never puts a foot wrong but nothing seems worked-out — and the solid sweet push of Taylor and Trappier.

It’s a remarkable recording because it never tugs at the listener’s sleeve to say LOOK HOW REMARKABLE WE ARE.  (However, if one hears it through a fog of multi-tasking, it might become background music — what we used to call “elevator music,” which would be a shame.)

This was the peak of a particular style (still practiced beautifully today): swinging melodic inventiveness in solo and ensemble.  There really is no way that a listener could improve on this group effort, and I whimsically theorize that Bird and Dizzy went their own ways because this style, these individualistic players, had so polished this kind of jazz that there was no way to better it without breaking out of it.

We still want to be happy, and music like this points the way, if only we take the time to immerse ourselves in it.

May your happiness increase!

DANNY TOBIAS MAKES BEAUTIFUL MUSIC: “COMPLETE ABANDON”

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

One of the quietest of my heroes, lyrical brassman Danny Tobias, has a new CD.  It’s called COMPLETE ABANDON — but don’t panic, for it’s not a free-jazz bacchanal.  It could have been called COMPLETE WARMTH just as well. And it’s new in several ways: recorded before a live audience — although a very serene one — just last September, in the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey.

dannytobiasquintetThe CD presents a small group, captured with beautiful sound (thanks to Robert Bullington) “playing tunes,” always lyrical and always swinging.  The cover photograph here is small, but the music is endearingly expansive.  (Lynn Redmile, Danny’s very talented wife, took the photo of Mister T. at the top and designed the whole CD’s artwork.)

Danny is heard not only on trumpet, but also on the Eb alto horn (think of Dick Cary) and a light-hearted vocal on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.  He’s joined by his New Jersey friends, the very pleasing fellows Joe Holt, piano; Paul Midiri, vibraphone; Joe Plowman, string bass; Jim Lawlor, drums.  And both in conception and recorded sound, this disc is that rarity — an accurate reflection of what musicians in a comfortable setting sound like.  The tunes are I WANT TO BE HAPPY; DANCING ON THE CEILING; MY ROMANCE; LOTUS BLOSSOM; COMPLETE ABANDON; THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU; THIS CAN’T BE LOVE; LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER; I’M CONFESSIN’; EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY; GIVE ME HE SIMPLE LIFE; THESE FOOLISH THINGS; PICK YOURSELF UP.

You can tell something about Danny’s musical orientations through the song titles: a fondness for melodies, a delight in compositions.  He isn’t someone who needs to put out a CD of “originals”; rather, he trusts Vincent Youmans, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Rodgers.  He believes in Count Basie, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong, whether they are being joyous or melancholy.  Danny has traveled long and happily in the sacred land of Medium Tempo, and he knows its most beautiful spots.

When I first met Danny — hearing and seeing him on the stand without having had the opportunity to talk with him (this was a decade ago, thanks to Kevin Dorn and the Traditional Jazz Collective at the Cajun) I delighted in the first set, and when he came off the stand, I introduced myself, and said, “Young man, you’ve been listening to Ruby Braff and Buck Clayton,” and young Mister Tobias heard and was gracious about the compliment.

Since then, I’ve understood that Danny has internalized the great swing players in his own fashion — I’m not the only one to hear Joe Thomas in his work — without fuss and without self-indulgence.  He doesn’t call attention to himself by volume or technique.  Rather, to use the cliche that is true, “He sings on that horn,” which is not at all easy.

Danny’s colleagues are, as I wrote above, his pals, so the CD has the easy communal feel of a group of long-time friends getting together: no competition, no vying for space, but the pleased kindness of musicians who are more interested in the band than in their own solos.  The vibraphone on this disc, expertly and calmly played by Paul Midiri, at times lends the session a George Shearing Quintet feel, reminding me of some Bobby Hackett or Ruby Braff sessions with a similar personnel.  And Messrs. Lawlor, Plowman, and Holt are generous swinging folks — catch Joe Holt’s feature on GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE.

To purchase the CD and hear sound samples, visit here.  Or you can go directly to Danny’s website — where you can also enjoy videos of Danny in a variety of contexts.

CDBaby, not always the most accurate guide to musical aesthetics, offers this assessment: “Recommended if you like Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, Warren Vache.”  I couldn’t agree more.  And I’m grateful that the forces of time, place, economics, and art came together to make this disc possible.  It is seriously rewarding, and it doesn’t get stale after one playing.

May your happiness increase!

FACING THE MUSIC: EHUD ASHERIE, DAVID WONG, AARON KIMMEL: JAZZ AT THE KITANO (March 4, 2015)

An ideal evening in New York — or anywhere else — with the brilliant pianist / composer Ehud Asherie and his expert friends, David Wong, string bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums.  This mini-concert took place at Jazz at the Kitano on March 4, 2015.

Songhounds will notice that Ehud currently draws much of his inspiration from songs written before 1945, but that his approach is wide-ranging, “modern” yet lyrical and deeply respectful of the original inspirations. He can offer a lovely classical tribute to a jazz set-piece (as in the deliriously fine Waller interlude below) but he is not only a conservator of traditions.

Ehud never reduces a song to a stark harmonic formula; rather, he opens its doors and plays around inside and outside of it. The trio swings assertively but cheerfully; this is endearing and engaging music.

A well-deserved nod to Fred and Ginger and those glorious films, LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE:

A whimsically titled but emotionally kind original, THE WELL-EDUCATED MOTH (Ehud explains it all):

The very tender Eubie Blake – Noble Sissle love ballad in swingtime, A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

For this, our tour  guides are Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Duke Ellington, and [stowing away in the hold] James P. Johnson — the accurately titled FAST AS A BASTARD:

Ehud’s Brazilian souvenir, SAMBA DE GRINGO:

His brilliant solo excursion into the Land O’Waller, AFRICAN RIPPLES / VIPER’S DRAG:

Who remembers Vincent Youmans?  Ehud does: FLYING DOWN TO RIO:

The Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin THANKS FOR THE MEMORY is most often played at an appropriately mournful tempo, but Ehud gives it a kind of jaunty wave as he and the trio say “Bye now!”:

And we come back to Berlin and Astaire for TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Jazz at the Kitano happens regularly in a comfortable space in the Kitano Hotel (66 Park Avenue in New York City) — worth the trip!

Thanks to Ehud, David, Aaron, our friend Maggie Condon, and the durable Gino Moratti, who helps good things like this to happen — always.

May your happiness increase!

A LOVE-DRAMA IN THREE ACTS, CREATED AND PERFORMED BY WESLA WHITFIELD and MIKE GREENSILL (Sept. 20, 2013)

I am now honored to present a love-drama in three acts — three moving musical performances by the irreplaceable duet of Wesla Whitfield (song, voice) and Mike Greensill (song, piano) — recorded on September 20, 2013, at Jazz at Chautauqua — now renamed the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Here, Wesla and Mike move through three moods of Amour:

Sweet wistful yearning for the Ideal.  

Erotic transports, enacted and imagined.  

The sadness when the relationship has faded.

Their script is musical and lyrical, sweetly intense no matter what the emotions depicted, with not a note out of place or a gesture too broad. Three dear dramas, knit together subtly yet powerfully.

They do this by reinventing three beloved songs: one, a pop hit from the 1946; a two, 1922 Youmans / Caesar song so venerable that it gets taken for granted; three, the mournful Bernstein / Comden / Green classic from ON THE TOWN:

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE:

TEA FOR TWO:

SOME OTHER TIME:

Whitfield and Greensill, master musicians, subtle dramatists, wise psychologists. There’s no one like them.

May your happiness increase!

ASHERIE-KELLSO, UNLIMITED (Smalls, May 10, 2012)

Wonderful music from a duet session (with noble guest in the second set!) on May 10, 2012 — pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso at play, brilliantly, at the happy space that is Smalls, 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.  They made, as they always do, timeless music: you hear echoes of Louis, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Dizzy, and Ruby Braff — but ultimately what they create is heartfelt and so personal.

In honor of the charming bartender (guess her name?), Ehud and Jon-Erik swung into a rendition of MARGIE:

Ehud is a friendly fellow — why else would his fingers turn to a few measures of SOCIAL CALL? — but both players were thinking about the Eternal Feminine, and a deeply felt SWEET LORRAINE was the result.  How wonderfully Jon-Erik expresses himself and that familiar melody at once in the opening chorus and then moves deeper.  Lovely!

I thought the set might turn thematic — Songs Named for Women (i.e. DIANE, ROSETTA, and so on) but my idle silent guess was wrong; Jon-Erik suggested they talk about the larger metaphysical subject of Knowing and Not-Knowing, with Jimmie Noone as spiritual guide . . . thus, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

Something new for this inspired duo — a 1940 Swing Era favorite recorded by Basie and Duke, THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE — its theme being the lame explanation of a factory worker who stays out until 2 AM and then tells his wife that he is late because that whistle never blew.  Don’t try this one at home!  And I keep returning to Ehud’s “Yeah!” at 1:05.  Notice that Jon-Erik has a new mute?  It’s Spring, you know — a new season for trumpet fashion.  But he is the Onlie Begetter of this invention: its main assembly is the top of a metal cocktail shaker with other secret ingredients to create a growly buzz.  Call the Patent Office!  And while you’re on hold, enjoy this:

And these two Heroes of Swing closed their first set with a tribute to the smiling man in back of them — Mister Strong — with a 1928 composition called HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  I especially enjoy the trading of phrases near the end:

I hear them talkin’ to us, I say.  And there’s another set to come!

May your happiness increase.