Tag Archives: Walter Donaldson

JUST AN HOUR OF LOVE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, RAY SKJELBRED (June 23, 2017)

Heroes and friends: Ray Skjelbred, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2015.

To some JAZZ LIVES’ viewers, what follows will simply be another set recorded at a recent jazz festival — America’s Classic Jazz Festival at Lacey, Washington (through the great generosity of videographer RaeAnn Berry).

And if those viewers, possibly glutted with stimuli, perceive only that, who am I to deny that perspective?  But to me, performances that allow us to revel in the joy created by singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and pianist Ray Skjelbred, are more than special.  In their swing, lyricism, courageous improvising while respecting the songs, they are remarkable offerings.

We begin with Ray and Marc having a good time — a la Louis 1928 — with BASIN STREET BLUES, a song so often reduced to formula that this version is thrilling:

The leader joins in for a touching IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

I fell in love with this from the introduction on!  I’ll go back to stevia some day:

Who remembers Paul Denniker?  But this beauty of a tentative love song, ‘S’POSIN’ — is always a pleasure:

Ah, Marc and Ray think of Henry “Red” Allen: always a good idea:

Another evocation of Red circa 1936, THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME.  I love the lyrics and the idea that the River gives me breakfast — not poached eggs on English muffin, but recalling the days when one went fishing and cooked one’s catch of the day immediately.  Huckleberry Finn, anyone?

Isham Jones!

And Walter Donaldson:

One of those wonderful songs that brings together Louis and Fats:

Walter Donaldson’s YOU — also recorded by Red Allen and others:

I know I am going to see Marc, and Dawn, and Ray — separately and perhaps together — at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest . . . so this is indeed something to look forward to.  For the moment, we have this hour of love, thanks to the musicians and to RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH and CONAL FOWKES (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: November 27, 2016)

DAWN headshot

The music that Dawn Lambeth and Conal Fowkes create sounds real, fresh, and full of feeling.  Here they are at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest: the last set I saw on Sunday, November 27, 2016, a divine way of wrapping up a splendid weekend of music and friendship.  And since this isn’t a studio session, with engineers to help things along, you can see and hear its authenticity: we watch and listen as it is being made.

CONAL

and another Walter Donaldson bouquet, this one associated with Billie in 1936:

I hope that 2017 will bring more opportunities for this pair to perform and record . . . and there are a few more shining examples of heartfelt music from this set I will share with you.

May your happiness increase!

THE NALEPKA FAMILY MUSICALE: BRIAN NALEPKA, NORA NALEPKA, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN (FAT CAT, December 18, 2016)

Talent runs in the family, they say.  And in this case, they’re right.  Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging.  His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella.  But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it.  This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.

On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.

how_keep_em_on_farm1

Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds.  If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.

Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF  YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

all-i-do-is-dream-of-you

and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:

all-i-do-page-two

Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal.  Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.

She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings.  Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.

This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.

And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden.  Years of obsessive listening pay off.

Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding.  And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL SWING: “TOO HOT FOR SOCKS,” by the JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET

Young Mister Doyle and his noble colleagues are the real item, as I celebrated a few days ago here.  And Jon has just issued a new CD, TOO HOT FOR SOCKS, a beauty from first to last.

DOYLE Too Hot

Some enlightened souls who have enjoyed the live videos they saw in that earlier blogpost will want to purchase the CD right away: that can be done here.  The more cautious can also visit this page to listen to samples from the CD.)

But TOO HOT FOR SOCKS can be what a dear friend of mine calls “a life-changing experience,” which is not all hyperbolic.

I have many gifted young musical friends born after Benny Goodman died (that would be 1986).  So they have grown up with recordings, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube — and often with third-generation evocations of the original mystical arts.  I write this not to diminish their efforts or to mock them. But often their connection to the original impetus and spiritual energy that is swing is mediated through famous recordings, which they copy for appreciative audiences.  Now, I’ve made enemies by preferring improvisation over recreation, so let me be clear: if I lived next door to a pianist who could play Teddy Wilson’s LIZA note-for-note, I would ask her to do it often.  The same is true for a quartet of brilliant neighbors who could “do” The Delta Four.

But I’m awed and delighted by musicians and groups who completely understand the intense easy glide of the great recordings and can write and play their own distinctive variations on the forms.  Such a group is or are the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

The personnel is David Jellema, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Mark Gonzales, trombone; J.D. Pendley, amplified guitar; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass; Jason Baczynski, drums. The disc was produced by Jonathan Doyle and Laura Glaess.  Jonathan wrote all the songs except KEEPIN’ TIME and GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, which are Laura Glaess compositions, and COMFORT ZONE, which is by Mark Gonzales. The disc is very recent — recorded on March 24, 2016 in Austin, Texas.  The very evocative cover art is by Amado Pena III.

All the songs are “originals,” but even I, who shrink from a CD completely made up of the leader’s compositions, am thoroughly comfortable with these songs. For Jon’s secret is that many of them are “contrafacts,” new melody lines built over familiar harmonies.  Think of MOTEN SWING (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY), the six thousand lines built over I GOT RHYTHM, and almost all of the repertoire of the Goodman Sextet.  If it was good enough for Charlie Christian, it should be good enough for us.  Sometimes the harmonies are immediately recognizable — rather like seeing your favorite actress in deep makeup and knowing who’s under there — and sometimes not.  I had to ask Jon about the title tune, which was driving me crazy — not in a Walter Donaldson way — and he generously unlocked the door by telling me it was built on JAPANESE SANDMAN.  I found myself so happily distracted and cheered by the ensemble’s new lines that I often didn’t recognize the familiar harmonic underpinnings, which is tribute to the compositions and the authentic warm way they are played.

I so admire this group’s sound. The ensemble voicings, whether unison lines or harmonized figures, are always pleasing. Some “modern / swing” groups are made up of musicians eager to get to the solos, so that there’s one chorus of ensemble, and then a long period of time — often thrilling — when each soloist plays, backed by the rhythm section and now and again some impromptu accompaniment from the other horns.

The Swingtet is in its own way old-fashioned: they understand how lovely an ensemble can sound.  (And I don’t mean “jam session” ensembles, but more often written lines that build energetic momentum — although the middle “layered” part of PRINCE HARLES happily fits the description.)  So the Swingtet pleases my ears: the opening of the title track, YOU CAN’T TAKE THOSE KISSES WITH YOU (what would Johnny Mercer have made of that?) is the simplest possible combination of single-note hits, arpeggiated chords, and other streamlined delights.  Yet it sounds magical, as if it were a Basie piano chorus scored for band.

The mention of Basie (to quote Jake Hanna, “You get too far from Basie and you’re just kidding yourself”) brings up two other notions.  One, there’s no piano on this disc.  That isn’t a problem, because the Swingtet exists in that sphere where the electric guitar has taken the piano’s place — it happens every Sunday night with the beloved EarRegulars in New York City — and the space is more than filled by a reassuringly swinging four-piece rhythm section, ticking away warmly rather than mechanically.  But the overall ambiance — think of Keynote Records sessions in 1944-46 or Basie small groups — is a wonderful balance between four individualistic soloists, each with a beautifully recognizable sound, and a lovely rhythm section.  Hear the glide this band creates within the first minute of KEEPIN’ TIME.

Did I mention dynamics, shadings, split choruses, background hums behind soloists, eloquent eight-bar passages, propulsive riffs, the wise use of mutes for the brass, wire brushes, acoustic string bass, open-and-closed hi-hat, and variety? You’ll hear all those and more.

Most of the fifteen compositions are medium and medium-uptempo, as you’d expect from a swing group that plays for dancers, and the Swingtet makes the most out of the subtle variations of that tempo range that the Ancestors did.  But several exceptions show that the band is much more than an instrumental unit producing originals with the right number of beats per minute.  A few of the songs appear to be simple riff-based creations, but each one has a surprise within.  Some of them take left and right turns, and I found myself saying, “Wait a minute.  That’s a new theme.”  At first, JUST A LITTLE RIGHT has the dreamy warming-up sweetness of a band in the studio, experimenting without knowing that the engineer has started to record (think of WAITIN’ FOR BENNY).

Perhaps my favorite piece (at this writing) is also the most distinctive — IF THE RIVER OVERFLOWS — a minor-key lament that still swings, beginning with a sideways nod to some Russians on the river.  Just when you think you’ve understood what will come next, the harmonies twist and turn.  I imagine Frank Newton smiling on this music.  And if I tried to describe STRANGE MACHINATIONS, I would need another page, but it’s as satisfying as a wonderfully-seasoned dish of homemade ethnic cooking.  As Stan Zenkoff pointed out to me, it has some relation to QUEER NOTIONS.  Thank you, Stan!

Although the Swingtet could wow an audience on Fifty-Second Street, they aren’t copying the classic recordings.  No one quotes anything, and what a blissful space that creates!  They aren’t a shirt-pocket full of repeater pencils. Rather, they sound like people who have so thoroughly internalized the great swing individualists that they can be themselves within — and beyond — the tradition.

I’ll stop here, but if my words have done their job, you will be listening to TOO HOT FOR SOCKS here — and buying a copy or copies.  I think this CD is a small but fiercely effective panacea for many modern ills.  (And, lest you think that this long blogpost is because of some odd secret indebtedness I have to Jon, the reverse is the truth: I’ve been bothering him for months now, “When will I get to listen to the new CD?”  And now, gleefully, it’s here.)

Thanks go to Hal Smith — who knows all one would want about swing — for telling me about Jon Doyle as far back as late 2011 (I checked my emails and it’s true) . . . thanks and blessings to the wondrous people who made the music on this disc and made the disc a reality.  And here is Jon’s website, where you can purchase his other musical efforts.

May your happiness increase!

BACK TO SCHOOL, WITH TIME TO SWING (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 15-18, 2016)

BACK TO SCHOOL

For those who work fifty or more weeks a year, September is just the month that precedes October.  For those of us whose lives have been governed by the academic calendar — I’ve been on one side of the desk or the other since age four — September means something else.  For me, it means the clock radio has to be set, I have to re-attach my office keys to my key ring, and I will soon be saying, “Good morning!  Please put your phones away where you can’t get to them. There are human beings in the room, and they take precedence over texting.” Or words to that effect.  (That’s the modulated polite version . . . )

You can tell I might have been teaching for a few years, or perhaps a few years too many.

But September also means music.  And I mean MUSIC.  One glorious friendly event is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Since I’ve been part of that event for a dozen years, I could even throw an avuncular arm around the Party’s shoulders, and say, “Kid, I remember you when you were Jazz at Chautauqua, and then the Allegheny Jazz Party,” but I guess I won’t.

Here’s a quietly groovy sample of the wonderful music that happens at this Party: as it was captured last year, on September 13, 2015 — created by Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

The song is MOTEN SWING — with links to Basie, Walter Donaldson, and Bennie Moten — proving once again that great improvised music need not be Fast and Loud to make us very happy:

I hope to see many friends, off and on the bandstand, at the 2016 Party!

Here’s the Party’s  Facebook page, and their website.

And something nice: “Free Student Tickets.  Thanks to our generous supporters, we’re able to open up the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party to student musicians interested in jazz. Listening is the best education, and your kids or grandkids will certainly be inspired by our musicians.  One free student ticket is available with each paid ticket to any session. Call us at 216-956-0886 for details.”

May your happiness increase!

TWO BY TIM and FRIENDS: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, Nov. 28 / 29, 2014)

TIM CONNIE large

It’s easy to forget what a remarkable composer Tim Laughlin (clarinetist, bandleader, philosopher) is, because of the floating lyricism he offers other people’s compositions.  But here’s one of his own, THE ISLE OF ORLEANS, performed on November 28, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  The surrounding merrymakers are Hal Smith, drums; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone.  (Pay special attention to the Tim – Hal duet near the end of the performance: SING SING SING meets Second Line):

And a song nearly a hundred years old, but one of Walter Donaldson’s finest, MY BUDDY (from November 29):

This band — this splendid mixture of New Orleans and California, of Teddy Wilson Vocalion and Bob Crosby Decca — seems irreplaceable and wonderful to me, and I hope to hear them again.  I have been parceling out the videos from the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest because each one seems a jewel, a musical benediction.

May your happiness increase!

DAWN, DONALDSON, and DELIGHT (SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 27, 2015)

DonaldsonCrazy

Walter Donaldson’s 1930 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY is one of those wonderful songs that — by now — sits midway between being an Old Chestnut and Almost Forgotten.  (How many people in the audience actually know the lyrics beyond what is shown on the sheet music above?)

Its lyrics are emotional, especially if you know the verse: the narrative is that a lover has treated the singer badly; the singer is weeping and asking the question, “What did I do to you?”  Very forlorn material.  I envision the song coming to life with one person telling another — “You!  You’re driving me crazy!” in the way that songwriters picked up on common parlance and made it memorable.

But, leaving aside the sad narrative, the song has always had a built-in bounce, and I cannot think of it without hearing the two bass drum thumps that begin Louis’ 1931 recording — drums played by the ebullient Lionel Hampton — and the joyous charge into swing that follows. Or, since Bennie Moten in 1932, who can hear the song without hearing MOTEN SWING as a countermelody?  So it’s a fascinating hybrid of heartbreak and joie de vivre.

Here we have a performance that marries the two halves: a sweet singer and a rocking band.  The singer is the wonderful Dawn Lambeth, who seems to float and glide, bending notes and reshaping them, but never obliterating the melody. And even at this tempo, you can hear the emotion of the lyrics.  And the band surrounding her is the epitome of swing: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, recorded at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.  That’s Ray at the piano; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Kim Cusack, clarinet — and guest star Marc Caparone, cornet:

There are far worse things than being driven crazy in this fashion.  See you at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, Novemner 23-27.

May your happiness increase!