Tag Archives: Walt Disney

KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER, TRANSFORMED

When that phrase is spoken, some of my generation will — if they allow themselves the vertiginous trip back in time — immediately think of this fellow.

DAVY CROCKETT

That’s Fess Parker, 1924-2010, who became famous in the Disney television series devoted to frontiersman Davy Crockett.  If I allow my memory to follow its own path (and I was very young in 1955-56) I think of the childish eagerness for a fringed jacket and imitation-coonskin cap or at least a fake raccoon-tail to have attached to one’s bicycle.

And then there’s the soundtrack.  Most of us only remember “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee / Killed him a b’ar when he was only three,” but here is the whole chronicle:

Sixty years after the fact, I feel terribly sorry for the b’ar.  And happy that Davy helped his Native American pals: I hope that this is true, not Disney-fried.

Why, however, am I thinking of Davy Crockett?  Do I need reminding that this blog is called JAZZ LIVES and that digressions from that theme will be tolerated but not overmuch?

For this post, readers can thank Robert Greenwood.  Robert, who lives in the UK, is a jazz fan slightly younger than myself.  On Facebook he diligently and reverently posts musical surprises, celebrating the birthdays of our heroes through YouTube videos of their music.  I’ve learned a great deal from his postings, and have enjoyed them greatly.

Recently, Robert posted this 1961 recording of DAVY CROCKETT’S BLUES –featuring Emmanuel Sayles, banjo and vocal; Punch Miller, trumpet, Emmanuel Paul, clarinet — to celebrate Sayles’ birthday (he was born in 1907) :

Were I an eager young graduate student deep in popular culture, I would already be formulating my well-meant yet deadly conference presentation on appropriations and reshapings of mainstream Caucasian popular culture by African-American innovators . . . but the thought makes me laugh too hard to continue typing.  I simply delight in the way these three New Orleans musicians both pay homage to and recapture Disney — making Davy swing.  Not a small accomplishment.  Thanks, as well, to Andy Wolfenden for creating the video.

I just hope no one goes out in search of b’ars, though.

May your happiness increase!

“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick.  Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.

But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers.  The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding.  (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern.  My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME

All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known.  One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman.  Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.

Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks to www.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally.  And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:

with-a-smile-and-a-song

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:

with a smile and a song two

The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti.  Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:

MOON SONG Becky Barrett

The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could.  Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible.  When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.

Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):

This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.

All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction.  (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.)  Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist.  Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.

The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:

I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him.  (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?)  Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton.  Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title.  But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics).  No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting.  When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.

The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here).  It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song.  I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again.  You’ll have to imagine it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on).  The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another.  In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance.   Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases.  Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody.  Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him.  Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns.  (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.

“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records.  Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at  Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison?  Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades.  The single copies of these recordings are all that remain.  I am thankful they exist.  This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.

May your happiness increase!

“YEAH, MAN!”: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS / CLINT BAKER / DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY 2013

Warming us all up in the best ways are John Reynolds, guitar / whistle; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Marc Caparone, cornet / vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass; Clint Baker, clarinet / vocal — at Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 3, 2013, with repertoire honoring Bing, Louis, Clarence Williams, Punch Miller, early Disney, and the sweet energies of the Thirties.  Guest pianist David Boeddinghaus joins in for the final three songs.

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU

OUT OF NOWHERE:

HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

CANDY LIPS:

May your happiness increase!

STOMPIN’ AT CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE DISNEY (ONE MINUTE AND FIFTY-SIX SECONDS)

This clip demonstrates what Einstein, Kinsey, Mickey and Minnie always knew: pleasure isn’t measured in mere clock-time but in intensity.

What could be more pleasurable than the Ellis Island Boys (here, Ralf and John Reynolds, Bryan Shaw, and Katie Cavera) evoking Louis on his romping blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP:

Hot jazz like this could make anyone seem Goofy with joy.

May your happiness increase.

MERRIE MELODIES at MONTEREY 2012: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS with BOB DRAGA (March 2, 2012)

The Reynolds Brothers are always SHOW-READY.  No question. 

And they began the 2012 Jazz Bash By The Bay with a riotous set — including clarinetist and master of witty repartee Bob Draga.  That’s cornet man Marc Caparone, string bassist / charming singer Katie Cavera, Brother Ralf on the washboard, and Brother John on the guitar, vocal, and whistle.  A good time was had by all, even though it was midafternoon, rather early for hot jazz. 

They began with the Gershwin call-to-musical-arms, STRIKE UP THE BAND:

What are the THREE LITTLE WORDS?  Of course, I LOVE YOU comes in first, but I would make a case for THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS.  I’m waiting for Congress to legislate that one into law:

Bob Draga probably doesn’t know my Aunt Ida, but the telepathic vectors in the cosmos suggested to him that it would be nice to play IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER.  It was and is!

Katie Cavera is full of surprises.  Ask anyone!  And the surprise she pulled out of her Show-Ready bag of tricks was the sweet and mildly naughty 1932 OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN.  Bob sat this one out; perhaps he went to play cards?

Professor Ralf wants the washboard to be returned to its former glory, rightly so.  He accomplishes this by playing it with a swing, but also by reminding us all of the music that it once propelled — here, Tiny Parham’s WASHBOARD WIGGLES:

John Reynolds is a magnificently swinging singer, sweet and hilarious at the same time.  I never tire of his TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME:

And another surprise — I can’t watch the Disney films, but their music is priceless and memorable.  If I began my day with WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK, I would arrive at my office with a big smile.  You try it and report back:

A powerful answer to darkness in the universe! 

May your happiness increase.

SOUTHERN (CALIFORNIA) COMFORT: THE “ELLIS ISLAND BOYS (and GIRL)” at CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE DISNEY

It’s not too soon to make plans for hot jazz for the next two months.  For the first time in its existence, JAZZ LIVES can recommend a trip to California Adventure Disney in Anaheim — the Paradise Garden Bandstand, to be precise, where this band is playing seven half-hour sets (beginning at 11:50 AM and ending at 7 PM) three days a week:

Do they look familiar in this action shot taken by our friend Susan Miyata?  Yes — you guessed right — the “Ellis Island” crew is our Peerless Quartet, known to the authorities as the Reynolds Brothers, and sometimes as the Reynolds Brothers Rhythm Rascals.  From the left, that’s Marc Caparone, trumpet and vocals; Ralf Reynolds, washboard, vocals; Katie Cavera, string bass, banjo, guitar, vocals; John Reynolds, guitar, banjo, whistling, vocals.  We knew that the Ellis Island Boys had arrived when we saw they had their own Facebook page: Ellis-Island-Boys

For the remainder of January, they will be appearing on the 10, 14, 15, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27, and 30.  In February, they will be swinging out on the 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28.

Founder Walt had a real love for hot jazz and it looks as if the tradition is being carried on in the best way.  I want the great Disney marketing machinery to kick in — souvenir washboards would be the first step . . .

And here’s another photo — by Alex Matthews — that shows Bryan Shaw sitting in for Marc Caparone . . . same hot music and high-level entertainment!

“A WONDERFUL BAND”: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at RADEGAST, Dec. 13, 2011

The title for this post isn’t my enthusiastic invention.  The very creative Peter Ecklund came over to me to say hello during a set break while the GSS were playing at Radegast (Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York) and his first words were “Isn’t this a wonderful band?”  I agreed — and the fact that he phrased it as a rhetorical question takes nothing away from its truth.

Peter was speaking of Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who, for their Dec. 13, 2011, holiday visitation, were made up of composer / arranger / trumpeter Gordon; reedman Matt Koza; trombonist Emily Asher; guitarist Davy Mooney; bassist Debbie Kennedy; singer Molly Ryan.  (Also in the house were friends Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And the Official GSS Person, Veronica Lynn Day.)

You’ll find so much to admire here: the swing, the arrangements and compositions; the hot / sweet soloing and singing.  I especially admire Gordon’s originals: they lilt and trot like the best jazz tunes or pop songs of the past (I find myself humming them — a sure sign of permanence!) but they take unusual twists: they don’t follow formulaic paths — melodically or harmonically.  We begin with three — ranging from a hot march to two rhythm ballads.  Then there are pretty vocals by Molly Ryan, ukulele and whistling from Peter Ecklund, and the casually intense playing by every member of this band.  They are indeed wonderful!

PISMO BEACH PARADE:

SARATOGA SERENADE:

I want to know what Gordon’s title ONCE, DEAR means.  Is it “once” as in a numerical concept, or is it “once,” referring to the past?  If I know, then I can begin to whimsically compose the lyrics in my head, without ever expecting to hear anyone sing them:

I have had a soft spot for SHE’S A GREAT, GREAT GIRL for thirty-five years, ever since I heard it on a Jack Teagarden RCA Victor Vintage compilation — with Jack’s solo bursting out in the open (with great sympathetic assistance from Vic Berton’s tympani).  But I am also fond of the vocal version I heard in the last year or two, where the male singer, obviously besotted beyond reason by the Girl he loves, offers to “give up golfing, even give up my meals,” if he could only hear “the tap-tap of her heels.”  Not bad for late Twenties pop song lyrics, I vow:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — sweetly sung by our own Molly Ryan and strummed by Peter Ecklund:

Molly says I’LL BE  HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: 

Peter Ecklund is one of the great whistlers I know (along with John Reynolds) and it was a treat to hear him breathe new life into SWEET SUE:

And — as a joint tribute to Walt Disney, Louis Armstrong, and a man in a bear suit — Molly tells us all about the BARE NECESSITIES:

A good time can be had by all: just appear where Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers (or perhaps one of the smaller versions) are playing.

SOME RIGHTEOUS JIVE: THE AU BROTHERS JAZZ BAND (October 28, 2011)

This is the good stuff.  Give up the multi-tasking for about ten minutes and relax into the sweet and hot sounds of the Au Brothers Jazz Band.

They are Gordon on trumpet / vocal / composition;  Justin, trumpet; Brandon, trombone / English baritone; Howard Miyata (Uncle How), tuba; Katie Cavera, banjo / guitar; Danny Coots, drums.  These four performances were recorded at the Pismo, California, Jazz Jubilee “By the Sea,” on October 28, 2011.  And if you have any skepticism about how the balance would work — four brass, no piano — worry not.  Splendid soloists, great riffers, wonderful team players!

Here’s Gordon’s own romantic rhythm ballad, SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN, which he sings in a way both unaffected and effective.  The song is straight out of the Thirties but has much more clever lyrics.  Energized playing throughout and good feeling on the stand: see Katie and Danny smiling while Justin and Uncle How explore:

Another surprising composition of Gordon’s is PAVONIS (named for the genus of the peacock).  Gordon’s originals shift and turn as you listen, so I hear in this a moody ballad that could be scored for Bobby Hackett, late Louis Armstrong, or even Johnny Hodges.  But the ABJB — by their sweet understated playing — brings us to 2011, with no rhapsodizing about the past.  And by the end, all I could think of was the words “soaring lyricism” — from the whole band:

I don’t know how old any of the players was when Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK appeared on movie screens in 1967, but I would guess it predates a few of them.  Gordon has a not-so-secret fondness for odd Disney songs (many of them neglected classics) and BARE NECESSITIES is one of them.  Brandon not only utilizes his English baritone horn (in a cross-stage series of trades with his uncle) but offers a vocal chorus in the manner of Louis.

And speaking of Louis, this was one of the songs he performed on television that year — was it the HOLLYWOOD PALACE?  I have a very clear memory of watching him sing this ditty — then a man in a bear suit came out from the wings; “bear” and Louis did a few turns and a do-si-do, then the “bear” went back to his cave — perhaps the greenroom.  If you see your hero cutting a rug with a man in a bear suit, you don’t forget it:

To close the session, something familiar — a good old good one complete with hot drum solo!  LIMEHOUSE BLUES with the verse.  And, yes, that riff before Katie solos is indeed an Au-variation on DIZZY ATMOSPHERE:

Californians are so lucky!  (Although we have a firm grip on Gordon here in New York City: I saw the Grand Street Stompers at the Radgast Bierhalle last night, and they were wonderful.  Stay tuned.)

SOME FINE RIFFIN’ THIS EVENING: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and FRIENDS (DAWN LAMBETH, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, CHLOE FEORANZO, and COREY GEMME) at SWEET AND HOT 2011

On the closing day of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, the Reynolds Brothers (and friends) performed their ninth set — and it was as Hot and Ready as the previous eight.  The Brothers are Ralf (washboard), John (guitar, vocal, whistling), with help from Marc Caparone (cornet), Katie Cavera (string bass), as well as Chloe Feoranzo (reeds), Corey Gemme (cornet, trombone), David Boeddinghaus (piano), Dawn Lambeth (vocal).  It seemed, then and now, that the vibrations the Brothers launch into the universe are so strong and so sweet that everyone wants a chance to stand on the same stage and feel that energy.

But music speaks louder than words.

The session began with a not-too-fast SHINE, John singing the somewhat treacherous lyrics with great style after hot solos from the horns and a surging outchorus:

Keeping Mr. Strong in mind, Chloe suggested LAZY RIVER, and kicked it off at just the right easy tempo:

The extraordinary singer Dawn Lambeth kept the Louis-connection going with a sprightly JEEPERS CREEPERS, complete with the verse.  Her phrasing is so subtle and so delicious.  And “Ole!” sums it up for me, too:

Pianist David Boeddinghaus came on the stand (he sits in with the Brothers whenever he can) and Dawn — knowing that David is both sensitive and well-acquainted with a million songs, asked him if he’d follow her on WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR — a song that Dawn has been singing to young Master James Arden.  Aren’t we lucky that she was able to let us in on this tender creation (with a lovely piano chorus and a courageous bridge).  Dawn’s second chorus brings tears to my eyes, and I’m much older than James Arden, that lucky boy.  (Incidentally, the Louis-connection is intact: check out DISNEY SONGS THE SATCHMO WAY, a late masterpiece):

From those holy moments, a U-turn.  SING YOU SINNERS:

For his feature, Corey did beautiful things with a song about candor, I’M CONFESSIN’:

And the Brothers closed their set with a real rouser — their habit always, reminding us to have and cherish HAPPY FEET:

I will be seeing and exulting in the Reynolds Brothers at the 32nd Annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival (Nov. 23-27, 2011) — http://www.dixielandjazzfestival.org. — and I’d love to see you there!

A SPLENDID TRIO, A HOT QUARTET

Two new CD releases from Arbors Records live up to their titles. 

A SPLENDID TRIO brings together Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, to play THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / THE DUKE / GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY / I WON’T DANCE / SWEDISH PASTRY / UPPER MANHATTAN MEDICAL GROUP / WITH SOMEONE NEW / RUSSIAN LULLABY / CHANGES / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / INDIAN SUMMER. 

THE INTERNATIONAL HOT QUARTET combines Duke Heitger, trumpet; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, reeds; Oliver Mewes, drums, for HAVIN’ A BALL / SIDEWALK BLUES / LINGER AWHILE / WHEN DAY IS DONE / OPUS 1/2 / LOCH LOMOND / CHEVY CHASE / PEE WEE’S BLUES / FOUR BROTHERS / WOKE UP CLIPPED / DYNAFLOW / PENTHOUSE SERENADE / KING PORTER STOMP / WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR / SLEEP.

Decades ago, jazz fans and journalists divided themselves into “schools” and “camps” — words harking back to childhood — for battles that seem truly childish now.  If you admired Jelly Roll Morton’s 1926 Victors, then you railed against the corrupting influence of Swing and hid under the bed when someone played a Dial Charlie Parker 78.  Some of this was heartfelt; some of it musicians defending their little slice of the jazz turf, some of it now seems just efforts to get journalists to pay attention.   

But since the Feathers and Bleshes and Ulanovs are no longer with us (although some musicians still bristle at jazz that doesn’t sound exactly like their ideal), we can relax into a musical continuum that goes back to ragtime and forward to post-war Mainstream . . . in fact, all the way up to 2011 and beyond.

So the first thing to notice about these two discs is the happy breadth of repertoire: Strayhorn and Giuffre hang out with Morton and Eubie; Twenties and Thirties pop songs sit neatly next to more “modern” lines by Kessel and Sir Charles; Bix and Brubeck, Disney and Ben Webster get along just fine.

This ecumenical understanding — that beauty is beauty, no matter what its source might be — doesn’t become a flattening sameness, where every performance sounds alike.  The International Hot Quartet harks back to the John Kirby Sextet, Fats Waller and his Rhythm, Maxine Sullivan, Louis, and many other small groups — but it’s not a repertory project.  And the Splendid Trio (musicians who worked with and learned from Ruby Braff) is another marvel of ensemble cohesion and individual sounds.  Neither CD is a ragged blowing-session; both benefit greatly from subtle arranging touches: my favorites (as of this afternoon’s playing) are the DICKY’S DREAM introduction to RUSSIAN LULLABY on the Trio CD, and the sweet waltz-time ending to SLEEP by the Quartet.

The solo playing throughout is special: even Alderighi, the youngest player of all (he’s not yet thirty) shows his maturity.  What that sounds like is a graceful naturalness, melodic invention, deep unforced swing at any tempo.  Tere’s great passion here, and I found myself returning to the ballads: GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR — but each CD is a complete, beautifully-programmed little concert on its own.     

I dream of a concert tour for these two groups — each featured and then coming together for a collective session.  But until that day comes, I’ll content myself with these two delightful CDs.  Visit http://www.arborsrecords.com. for more good news.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN WILLIAMSBURG: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (May 12, 2011)

I made my monthly pilgrimage to the Radegast Bierhall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last Thursday (May 12, 2011) and had a delightful evening with trumpeter / composer Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers. 

The May edition of the GSS had Gordon, Matt Musselman on trombone, Matt Koza on clarinet, Davy Mooney on guitar, Rob Adkins on bass, and Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

The GSS did what they do so well: they swung, they had a wonderful ensemble sound and rocking motion; they created beautiful solos.  And in the manner of the late Ruby Braff, Gordon showed himself once again to be not only a soaring trumpeter but a peerless on-the-spot arranger, setting up little duets and exchanges on the bandstand.  Here are ten examples of this band’s easy grace.

The first tune comes with its own story.  I had fallen in love with the 1922 or 3 bit of manufactured sentimentality for the Old South and Mammy’s nest, TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME, ever since I heard John Reynolds sing it at this year’s Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay.  (Pianist Chuck Folds had once written that Vic Dickenson loved to play it, so I hear Vic in my mind’s ear as I write this.)

When the GSS began their first song, I knew I had heard it but didn’t recognize it.  It sounded good — and then, as they say in the UK, the penny dropped: it was ‘TUCKY HOME.  What a treat!  Dig it for yourselves:

Then, a famous “Dixieland” standard — bringing Eddie Condon’s club to Brooklyn, FIDGETY FEET:

Gordon’s musical imagination is anything but narrow (as previous posts have shown): here’s an “Afro-Cuban” composition by Arturo O’Farrill, CAMPINA:

I associate SOUTH with the Bennie Moten band, with California revivalist groups, and a wonderful session pairing Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland:

I don’t know why my mind retains such things, but after the band launched into ABA DABA HONEYMOON with a fine lope, I recalled that Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter had performed it in some MGM musical — and that its cheerfully silly lyrics delineate (politely) the romance of the chimpanzee and the monk.  You figure it out while I listen to the GSS:

Cross-species love having its happy ending, the GSS could move to less biologically-fraught terrain wittheir tribute to the 1927 Hot Seven masterpiece, POTATO HEAD BLUES (whose title caused such scholarly commotion on this blog some months back).  Not only is it an engaging composition on its own, but the ensemble version of Louis’s solo is a real delight:

Here’s one of Gordon’s characteristically winding originals — it doesn’t always land where you think it might, which is a lovely thing.  The title is SO MUCH FOR LOVE, and I hope Gordon will set lyrics to this melody (he’s a fine lyricist, too):

A night with the Grand Street Stompers wouldn’t be complete without one of their excursions into Disney territory — here, ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH, which swings from the start.  Catch the impromptu brass riff behind Matt Koza’s second chorus:

For Louis or Fats Domino?  I couldn’t tell, but BLUEBERRY HILL still works, more than sixty years later, especially with plunger mute:

And an old-time jam session favorite to end this posting, I NEVER KNEW:

Its title is slightly off, because the Grand Street Stompers surely know . . . .

I believe that they will be at Radegast on June 15, for a CD release party — not to be missed!

A GRAND NIGHT at RADEGAST: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN (April 20, 2011)

Last Wednesday, April 20, 2011, I made the now familiar trip to the Radegast Bierhall (131 North 3rd Street, corner of Berry in Brooklyn, New York) to enjoy one of my favorite bands — trumpeter Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — with the alwys surprising Tamar Korn.

Nick Russo (guitar and banjo) and Rob Adkins (bass) swung out, keeping it all together; the front line was Gordon (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, and quiet moral leadership), Matthew Koza (clarinet), Will Anderson (tenor saxophone).

And here are the festivities, in living HD.

Gordon delights in the songs from certain Disney films, with justification — they’re good songs with good associations.  I connect BARE NECESSITIES with Louis. 

I told Gordon about seeing Louis on television around 1968, singing and playing this song, and (someone’s idea of a clever visual pun) a man in a bear suit came out, danced around Louis, and the bear and Louis may even have performed a little twirl on camera.  Radegast hasn’t yet had anyone come in dressed as a bear; perhaps it will happen.  Bears love sausage, as do men dressed in bear suits:

SHE’S CRYIN’ FOR ME is a New Orleans favorite, composed (I believe) by Santo Pecora, although it was originally called GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, a reference to muta, muggles, or shuzzit:

I never get tired of hearing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, especially when Tamar sings its message of optimism and resilience:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND is a new old favorite, dating from 1913, a song Gordon has revived with the GSS (splendidly on their new CD . . . soon to be available where better books and records are sold):

EXACTLY LIKE YOU is from 1930 but still seems fresh, and its message, that the Beloved is precisely the person of our dreams, never gets stale:

BE OUR GUEST is another Disney creation, this time from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I love Gordon’s mock-symphonic treatment, full of crescendo and decrescendo, and all those Italian words.  And the key changes.  Can I be the only person who thinks this line is close to WHEN YOU’RE SMILING?:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA is one of the loveliest songs about going back home to Dixie, and it calls up memories of Bix, Tram, and Jimmy Rushing:

AVALON reminds me of Puccini (and a lawsuit), Al Jolson, the Benny Goodman Quartet, and of course of Miss Korn:

At points, WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS sounds so much like A MONDAY DATE (or MY MONDAY DATE) that Earl Hines should have sued Tschaikovsky for plagiarism:

Think of how much the previous century and this one owe to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler while you listen to I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

CRAZY EYES is a silly, frisky Gordon Au love song — it would have been a huge hit in 1936, wouldn’t it?:

And while you’re up, give thanks to Irving Berlin, too, for THE SONG IS ENDED and more:

Gordon comes across splendidly — his swing, feeling, and wit — on this glowing, memorable CORNET CHOP SUEY:

LINGER AWHILE is both a sweet sentiment and a swinging song:

Although some of the lyrics of the Disney songs seem too hopeful for reality, I wouldn’t argue with the idea of A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES, which begins in sweet 3 / 4 before becoming a delicately swinging rhythm ballad:

As I write this, it’s gray outside.  But in the world conjured up by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, the SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (at a nice bouncy 1938 Louis tempo) is only a few steps away:

Rather than end the evening with something uptempo, Tamar suggested the wistful and romantic A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, which would be a lovely song even if it didn’t make us think of Louis.  I think that she is expanding her emotional awareness and taking more chances — not that she was a timid singer to begin with:

This posting contains a large number of video performances — too many to be absorbed at a single sitting?  But I couldn’t stand to leave any of them in my camera.  Not sharing them would have seemed selfish.

FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

Two days ago on Maui, we wandered into a second-hand store in Wailuku and I saw a beautiful ukulele hanging on the wall.  In the grip of musical hubris and hopefulness, I asked to see it and improvised a simple Thirties single-note riff, impressing the Beloved, who said, “I didn’t know you could play!”  “I didn’t either,” I replied.

mele-curly-kpa-tenor-2-holeSince I was quite young, I have made half-hearted attempts at learning a number of musical instruments.  Some of those nstruments ornament my apartment, although I am cautious lest it turn into a one-bedroom version of a music store / pawnshop. 

The ukulele has appealed to me for a long time, because I had the notion that it might be fairly simple to play — four strings rather than some more intimidating number, and not a great deal of aesthetic ambition attached to it (unlike, say, the violin).  It also has a Jazz Age history — on all the Twenties and Thirties sheet music I collect, the line above the treble clef has chord diagrams for imagined ukulele players to read off the page — and the diagrams are just my speed, a diagram of the four strings with a dot on each string to show where the novice should place his or her fingers. 

I haven’t bought the ukulele yet, although we visited the Mele store, where Peter (the resident self-taught virtuouso) tried to teach me to play YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, with middling results. (I am a recalcitrant, stubborn pupil.)   The second-hand store was closed today, and I refuse to pay full price unless I am compelled to by circumstances.  I also don’t plan to turn into Arthur Godfrey, Don Ho, or Tiny Tim, never fear.  My aesthetic model is Cliff Edwards. I don’t aspire to starring in Technicolor, being the voice of a Disney character, or dying penniless, but his swinging insouciance is immensely appealing.

There are many wonderful Ukulele Ike clips on YouTube — too many to up or download, so you might want to investigate them on your own.  I’ll report back about the results of my four-string quest.

(On YouTube, you can also see a brief clip of Buster Keaton at home in 1965, happily croaking his way through “June Night,” accompanying himself on a tenor guitar with a fair deal of skill.  Who knew?)