The first part of this gloriously swinging presentation, with Marshal Royal, Snooky Young, Ross Tompkins, Herb Ellis, Michael Moore, Jeff Hamilton, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Ray Brown, and Jake Hanna (! ! !) can be found here and it is dazzling.
THREE LITTLE WORDS (Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Warren Vache, cornet; Dave McKenna, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Cal Collins, guitar; Jake Hanna) / MY FOOLISH HEART (Scott) / ALONE TOGETHER (Cal) / I’M OLD FASHIONED (Warren) / THE END OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP (Dave) / TEA FOR TWO (ensemble) / Add Marshal Royal, alto saxophone, Snooky Young, trumpet, JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE:
Music so lovely, so expert, doesn’t need explication. Just sink deep into the waves of melody, invention, and swing.
The Concord Jazz record label released its first issue in 1973 at a time when new jazz record labels were blossoming (I think of Norman Granz’s Pablo and Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro, among others). Concord had a particular sound and cross-generational approach: elders like Flip Phillips, Woody Herman, Nat Pierce, Harry Edison, Jimmie Rowles, Rosemary Clooney, Al Cohn, Buddy Tate, alongside newcomers Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache.
The “Concord Jazz All-Stars” also performed in concert, and we are fortunate that some of that material was preserved in video as well as audio form. Here’s the first quarter of an evening performance from July 17 at “Le Festival International du Jazz a Antibes Juan-Les-Pins 1979.”
Marshal Royal, alto saxophone; Snooky Young, trumpet; Ross Tompkins, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Herb Ellis, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
MOTEN SWING / STARDUST (Marshal) / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL (Snooky) //
Add Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Warren Vache, cornet. C JAM BLUES //
LOVE YOU MADLY Tompkins, Ray Brown, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums //
“Concord” means harmony, and that is true of this music. And there’s a Part Two to come.
Thanks to Scott Hamilton, yes, the Scott Hamilton, for his kind encouragement.
I don’t think JAZZ LIVES’ readers will need an introduction to this wonderful band. Eddie Condon would have called this band SONS OF BIXES. And they are! (In a nice way, mind you.) Warren Vaché, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Bob Wilber, reeds; Dick Wellstood, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Jake Hanna, drums; guest Wild Bill Davison, cornet, who also talks about Al Capone with an interviewer at the end. (Bill hadn’t been able to warm up properly for his first chorus of MONDAY DATE but was in wonderful form a few minutes in.)
The music: AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / BEALE STREET BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (Vaché-Allred) / MOOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES (Wilber-Bucky-Milt-Jake) / add Wild Bill, Warren out: MONDAY DATE / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME (don’t miss Bill’s Hackett-coda!) / Warren returns: LADY BE GOOD / Encore (Wild Bill out): HINDUSTAN //
Incidentally, the music is billed as “Chicago jazz,” and I suppose that is evident in some of the repertoire choices. But if you take away all the labels — “Nicksieland,” “hot jazz,” “Mainstream,” the music stands on its own, with masterful players regarding the past with affection and skill while completely being themselves. And, with no disrespect to the elegantly hot front line, WHAT a rhythm section! Make sure that fragile items nearby are secured because you will feel turbulence of the best kind throughout the cabin.
I could watch and listen to that all day. What a blessing that it was performed, recorded, and preserved, and that Warren and Bill are still with us, making music.
There is a school of thought, one I don’t subscribe to, that traces the course of hot music as a series of inevitable dilutions. I won’t name names, but this stance points to the great Originators (primarily African-American) and then their disciples (racially diverse) and the end result, watery and Caucasian, amateurs with straw boaters and striped vests, reading music. True, some of the purveyors of this particular genre of jazz have strayed from the intensity and expertise of their forbears (they are the amateurs, asking on Facebook for lead sheets for HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT because they can’t learn it in performance or from recordings) but it isn’t universally true that everyone born after a certain date can no longer “play that thing” with fire and individuality.
I present nearly an hour of wonderful hot jazz performed at the 1990 Bern Jazz Festival — the A+ team — in a tribute to Wild Bill Davison and his world, his approach, his repertoire, and by extension, a tribute to Eddie Condon and his world, and a whole way of approaching pop standards.
Energy and lovely singularity of sounds, in solo and ensemble, is vivid throughout. Glowing music, no tricks, no comedy, played by masters. Warren Vaché, cornet; Eddie Hubble, trombone; Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Ralph Sutton, piano; Dave Green, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums. NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / TIN ROOF BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / VIPER’S DRAG (Ralph) / BEALE STREET BLUES / BLACK AND BLUE (Bob, Kenny) / AS LONG AS I LIVE:
So hot, so swinging: although the repertoire is familiar, there’s no trace of staleness or over-familiarity. When you get through listening to the singular horn soloists, delight in that steady ferocious rhythm team, and then listen to how the great ones construct ensembles from chorus to chorus. I imagine not only Bill and Eddie, Anne and Phyllis, smiling approvingly, but also Milt Gabler and George Avakian . . . as well as legions of delighted fanciers.
And the exclamation point was so well-deserved, with Warren Vaché, cornet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; John Allred, trombone; Ralph Sutton, piano; Gray Sargent, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums. Bern, Switzerland, 1997.
As Uncle Jake used to say, “Pay attention.”
“This band doesn’t rehearse; we just play,” says Warren. And so they do, spectacularly.
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / AFTER YOU’VE GONE (Allan) / VIPER’S DRAG (Ralph) / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU (John) / WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME (Gray) / NOBODY KNOWS (Warren – Ralph) / FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (Jack) / LIMEHOUSE BLUES (Jake) / BLUES:
What swing, what proficiency, what delight, individually and collectively. An amazing band, a memorable performance . . . and I don’t usually get hyperbolic, but I do here.
I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.
These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!
You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.
Here’s the menu:
LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd
IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi
A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi
DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade
JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz
A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.
I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve. Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power. The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.
But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone. Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece. Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter. The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:
EPHIE RESNICK, 1959: This band, which played in the waterfront loft of painter Maurice Bugeaud, featured Danny Barker on banjo, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Walter Bowe on trumpet and Ephie Resnick on trombone. Photo by Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.
This is the third in a series of celebrations of the singular trombonist, pianist, composer Ephie Resnick that began in July 2020. The earlier posts — words and music by Ephie — are hereand here. Ephie continues to be a born seeker and explorer — someone who wants to live in the moment rather than contemplate the glories of the past from a seated position — so although he was pleased by being brought to light, it was less important to him than the work.
Response to the posts about Ephie was enthusiastic, and I started to reach out to the musicians he had played with during his years in England: most were eager to say something about this man they think of as frankly irreplaceable. Without involving Ephie in any of this, I collected reminiscences and admiring glances, which I offer below. Ephie deserves this and much more.
Let’s hear Ephie and the wonderful pianist Fergus Read in 1997 (who died young, sadly) creating and recreating WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR:
Simon Da Silva:
Ephie was always so encouraging and friendly to me, I loved playing with him.
Ephie was a real positive influence on the guys he came across in London and even now when his name crops up a surprising number of us remember playing with him or hearing him play and warm recollections ensue on his individuality and his little quirks but mostly of how his ideas were always fresh and new and his never ending enthusiasm. Regrettably I only played one or two gigs with him but his effect on opening my musical vision was immense. I remember chatting to him when the age old subject of musicians and families came up and how he intimated that it’s often a stark choice and warned me to be careful that families don’t get in the way. For an Italian descendant like me the family is important but his philosophy helped me in making the right choices so I am now one of the lucky jazz musicians who are able to combine the two.
Here’s part one of Ephie and Marty Grosz in duet, THE END OF INNOCENCE [ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, RUNNIN’ WILD, STRUT MISS LIZZIE]:
Ephie played a gig with the Merseysippi Jazz Band once and on the tune Mood Indigo he had nowhere to go as all the available harmonisations has already been covered by the front line. So he added a major 7th to the harmony with astonishing and memorable effect – recalled by the leader many times since to me!
Another time at a regular gig in Shere in Surrey – he was accosted outside while he was having a smoke of one substance or another! All I could see was this rather tall lady – I think it was a gregarious jazz singer who had sat in – towering over Ephie talking at him with great passion. When I asked Ephie if he knew the lady – he looked at me and said ‘Apparently!’
Final one, recounted by Warren Vache. In hospital recovering from his car accident, he built up a collection of teddy bears by his bed which the nurses all found very sweet. Turned out this was the only way he could get his weed into the hospital!
I was the bass player in Chas’s band and it’s lovely to hear Ephie’s voice again and to know that he has fond memories of those times.
He and I would often share a ride to gigs when we’d have long discussions about all sorts of topics and as a relatively young man and much less experienced musician I learned so much from him about music but also about all sorts of other things and will always be grateful. He gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when he said ‘All you can do is behave like a gentleman’. It was helpful in the stress of my failing marriage at that time and has been useful to remember since.
Ephie is a truly wonderful player but an inexperienced non-jazz audience would occasionally struggle to follow some of his solos . There was an occasion when the band was booked to play for a very up-market wedding – the reception would be held in a beautiful country hotel overlooking the River Thames but the actual wedding ceremony beforehand was to take place in a lovely rural field on the other side of the river with a small vintage steam launch to ferry the guests across in batches. Chas’s six piece band would at this point be divided in two, with three musicians playing to the guests already in the field whilst Ephie, Candy the banjo player, and I were to play on the boat as it delivered more guests. On our first number Ephie played a mind-blowing cutting-edge solo but Candy and I saw that the passengers looked somewhat mystified. When the tune ended to noticeably muted applause Candy said diffidently ‘ Um..Ephie, this is a wedding…’ to which he responded ‘ Oh, you think we should just play nice toons? ‘ ‘ I think so..’ she said. After which Ephie played some of the loveliest mellow jazz I’ve ever heard, to a very appreciative audience. And we played at that hotel on countless subsequent occasions.
Thank you Ephie.
Part two of THE END OF INNOCENCE [DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY, and AVALON]:
We got on really well and when he was in London we used to get together and play standards along with bass and drums on a PC program called Band in A Box. He said the drummer on it was much better than a lot he had worked with. I don’t know if he told you but I recorded his second CD at my flat in London and he was on my second CD, ALMOST STRAIGHT AHEAD. It was recorded in 1997 at my flat. Ephie said that the ballad he was featured on was the best thing he put on record.
[Editor’s Note: Here is the Bandcamp link for that CD, still available. MAINSTREAM MAGIC and MAINSTREAM MAGIC both feature Jimmy and Ephie in a quintet setting — extraordinary music. “Nice toons” indeed.]
I only met him a few times as I joined Chas’s band late-on but we did a few gigs together. I have very fond memories of our brief encounters and really loved his playing – creative, adventurous and inspiring. He was kind and encouraging of my own efforts (on sax) and that was a lovely thing coming from the great man.
I didn’t meet Ephie that many times. I remember playing with him probably 20 years ago (at least) — the main thing I recall is the filthy hollowed out carrot that he used to smoke dope through. And his tunes, which were somehow old and new at the same time and also in the tradition whilst being very personal in style.
I played in Chas McDevitt’s band in London when Ephie was in it, and he and I also did a few gigs in other bands and as a duo (I’m a guitar player). Ephie used to come to my house and we’d work through some musical things, but I was a young man at the time, too wrapped up in my own problems to really learn from Ephie as much wisdom, musical and otherwise, as he had to offer me, which I very much regret. It’s wonderful to know that he’s still around and playing, and great to hear his voice again – although I could almost hear it just reading the interview, because, as in music, his phrasing is so personal an idiosyncratic.
Part three of THE END OF INNOCENCE: [ODJB ONE-STEP / MISS BROWN TO YOU / WOLVERINE BLUES / DON’T BLAME ME / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME]:
Ephie Resnick is a superb musician and a wonderful, remarkable man. He wouldn’t agree with me of course, but it’s true. I am so lucky to know him. This year, we’ve been in touch more than in previous years; partly due to the global shutdown, and the need for us to stay in closer contact, but it’s also because we have work to do.
We’ve been talking on the phone and exchanging compositions by mail. We talk about what we feel is important in music. We affirm each other’s efforts (a word that Ephie liked to use when I first knew him). It’s ‘work in progress’: a bit messy, a bit incomplete, but there’s substance there. When I called him a few days ago, I told him I would like us to record some of this material – and hopefully in the not too distant future. We recorded some standards back in February (just before the lockdown), and although the results were promising, I think we’d both like to record again, this time with more original material.
Some of the original material will be co-written. I’ve already worked on one of his tunes, which has quite a chromatic and contemporary feel to it. I had been talking to him about the principles of George Russell’s music, which I find fascinating. This is hard to explain down the phone and in letter, but I feel that Ephie has taken the essence of some of these principles on board, and worked them in his own beautiful way. He’s sent me another tune which sounds almost baroque in places – this is the next one to work on. He also sent me a beautiful melody without chord changes. This is also something we’ve talked about. Giving the melody freedom without specific harmonic constraints. For the melody to stand up in its own right. In a recent letter he wrote: “I’m seeing that making melodies for me is easier than making chords. I was using chords to make melodies but I’m how reversing the process’. After quite a fallow period, I now feel motivated to compose again. I needed inspiration. And being mailed scraps of notated paper has done just that. Some of the phrases are hard to make out (his eyesight is not too good), but there are plenty of gems. That’s the important thing. He’s still making the effort. I’ll work with them, send them back and we’ll see where things go from there. My own compositions have so far been based on well known standards: All the Things you Are and Out of Nowhere. But my aim has been to make the melodies very different to what you might expect from these sequences: ‘In the cracks,’ Ephie might say. Don’t follow the your regular path; explore outside it. This is a central part of Ephie’s musical outlook and what makes him such an engaging musician. Make notes work that shouldn’t, make your lines unexpected. In his last letter, Ephie almost apologised for not sending me anything recently – ‘My piano is being repaired’ he explained. ‘My chord sense is still primitive, so I need the piano to test out new sounds’. I’m glad to say he now has his piano back.
At 92, Ephie still has his young soul. It’s how he keeps being creative. Sometimes when I talk to him I think of him as being younger than me. There’s never a feeling of ‘I’ve seen it all’; instead, a simple openness to learn and move forward. He chooses not to dwell too much on the past, prefers the present and, even at this uncertain time for everyone, looks a little to the future. This is driven by his desire to learn, grow, and improve. And he has always been very generous and supportive towards anyone who is trying to do the same. He is a wonderful friend and mentor.
I first met Ephie in London in the early 1990s when he was performing with Chas McDevitt’s band. My friend Candy Prosser who played banjo in the group, told me I must come down and hear him. Although there were things I didn’t ‘get’ about his music (and that is still sometimes the case!), the impact that Ephie made on me that day was profound: that youthful energy and wonderful sense of swing; his ability to create extraordinary lines that no other trombonist would attempt. The risk taking and ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of the best kind of jazz. And the soulfulness. And when the set finished, I was introduced to one of the most warm, polite, and humble human beings I’ve ever met.
This is not to say Ephie doesn’t have directness of approach and an ‘edge’ on occasion. He’s mellowed a little now, but when I first knew him, he was always keen to observe young musicians and to ‘tell them’ something about their playing. He could be abrupt. His observations and comments were, I think, often linked to his own ongoing development. Muscular tension was one preoccupation which he said had hampered his trombone playing, and he was always keen to observe it others! I remember him telling one young trumpet player not to push himself up on his toes when he played – ‘It’s tension – you have to relax’. He was always telling me to keep still when I played (I hope I move a little less now). Most younger players were grateful for this directness, but sometimes he could push a little too far! One story, concerning my friend Candy (mentioned above), sticks in my mind. After her apparent reticence to learn chord sequences from memory, Ephie decided, mid tune on a gig, to turn her chord book over! After the tune had ground to a finish, Candy, never one to mince her words, said ‘Ephie, don’t you EVER do that again’, to which he impishly replied “Ahhhhh..you’re angry. That’s WONDERFUL!!!’
Shortly after first meeting him, I introduced Ephie to a fellow trombonist and friend of mine, Mark Bassey. For the next couple of years, probably every fortnight or so, we met up at my parents place in North London. It was a workshop – a time for comparing notes, playing jazz standards (three trombone counterpoint!), improvising freely, and even playing Corelli string trios! This last activity was not only challenging as a reading exercise, it was wonderfully instructive on how to phrase and play melody; something that Ephie does beautifully. More recently, I’ve reflected on the classical influence in Ephie’s music. The compositions he has sent me recently certainly have that feel about them. It should be noted that he studied classical trombone at Julliard, 1946-9, and at the same time, was going to hear Bird and Diz at the original Birdland!
A great example of Ephie’s strong sense for melody appears on a Kai Winding Trombones record (1960), a group which I believe he toured with quite extensively:
Kai’s and Ephie’s solos are so different. Kai’s solo is buoyant, bubbles along in lovely relaxed, boppish manner. But Ephie’s entry (after the piano solo), is in full-voice. The opening melody, which underpins the whole solo, could almost be a symphonic theme. After a bustling quaver passage he refers to this theme again, before hitting one of the fattest top F’s I’ve ever heard a trombonist play on record. It swings so wonderfully. It’s loud – not in a tasteless way; a jubilant and affirming way (there’s that word again). I wonder what the other trombonists in the group thought? You can’t compare it to anyone else. This solo has stayed with me. In fact, the opening melody inspired one of my own compositions.
Ephie’s stay in London during the 90s touched many UK musicians. Just being around him could do that. Listening to him, observing him and taking delight in the way he went about things, gave you something of substance to take away. Something that the best conservatoire course could never give you. Something that wasn’t always easy to quantify, but something you could digest for years. He still affects me in this way. It’s often to do with the way he says something, his sincerity and love of the musical process. One of the things I love about his music is that it doesn’t fall into any stylistic bracket, something which I feel has become rather a problem for jazz today. I have heard him in a wide variety of musical contexts, and yet he always sounds like Ephie. This all embracing approach is so healthy. It has no bounds and keeps him exploring. These explorations are done solely on piano now. He ‘threw the trombone out’ over ten years ago and has since been focusing on the keyboard. He has found this very liberating – it represents a new chapter in his musical life and the music is just as engaging as it has always been. Although physically Ephie says he is ‘falling apart’ (he is actually in pretty good shape), he is proceeding musically as he has always done. His work is his lifeblood. I’ll be speaking to him soon having completed a new composition and looking out for his next envelope through the mailbox!
Afterword . . .
Let’s end with a Frolic — Ephie and Fergus Read in 1997, performing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:
As I was compiling this blogpost — which would not have been possible without all of Ephie’s friends — someone I explained it to said, “Michael, that sounds like a memorial service. How wonderful it is that Ephie is around to read all those great tributes!”
The last of five splendid performances that took place at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2008, celebrating the hot music of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, enlivened in the present moment by Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass. The first four performances: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, SWEET SUE, and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) can be savored here.
And the inspiration, although not on the original Hot Record Society label:
And here we go!
All I will say is that these informally-captured treasures have been in the Official JAZZ LIVES vault for a dozen years. They haven’t gotten stale; in fact, their flavors seem richer today than ever. Bless them all: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud, Steve Smith (HRS record producer), Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Wilber, Joe Boughton, family, and friends . . . even the people crossing in front of me with plates of food and Styrofoam cups of coffee, because they, as the audience, made Jazz at Chautauqua possible. Days gone by.
The scene of the gorgeous music, and now, the poignant memories:
Where it happened!
The reality, as created forty-eight years later, by Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass:
How lyrically they swing out — and before noon, no less. For those of you who slept late (in a manner of speaking) here you can enjoy the first three songs performed that morning: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, and SWEET SUE.
My title . . . in my suburban town, parking meters ornament the sidewalks except for a very few oases. And municipalities such as mine are always looking for more money, so when I moved here in 2004, a quarter bought me sixty minutes on the meter. A few years ago, the Code Enforcement people decided that this was too generous, and now I’d need two quarters for the same time. Love, or even a trip to the pizza parlor, became twice as costly. But still worth the price.
The title of the song. Exhibit A:
But also Exhibit B:
I prefer the latter, perhaps because I was trained by the late — and very much missed — John L. Fell, who would type WDYINO for the famous song about New Orleans. Life is too short to spell everything out, and you can always ask.
Finally, when my hero Vic Dickenson, very late in his life, sang ONE HOUR, when he got to that phrase, he would very clearly and vehemently hold up two fingers so that everyone could see that sixty minutes would be insufficient for “I’d love you strong.” You can see that performancehere — a small masterpiece.
One more performance from 2008 exists: see you and it tomorrow.
I was there, among admired friends. And the music was spectacular.
In German, it’s JAZZ IM RATHAUS — Jazz at the Town (City) Hall — but given that Louis’ 1947 Town Hall Concert shaped my life, I realign the words as tribute. The Dramatis Personae is on the green cover.
April 9, 2016. Photograph by Elke Grunwald
This was the thirtieth annual concert, a series featuring, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ralph Sutton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Bob Haggart, Mark Shane, Danny Moss, Chris Hopkins, Jake Hanna, Rossano Sportiello, Antti Sarpila, Butch Miles, Ken Peplowski . . . . All of this happened because of Manfred Selchow, known to his friends as Mannie, a deep jazz-lover, author of beautifully comprehensive studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson. He’s the serious man below with both hands on the check, but don’t let that somber visage fool you: he is a warm and easy fellow.
But music is what we’re here for — two rousing selections from the final concert of the April 8-10 jazz weekend at the Rathaus. The first, LADY BE GOOD, is full of gratifying solos, ensemble telepathy, uplifting surprises. That’s Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophones; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Bert Boeren, trombone; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Bernard Flegar, later, Moritz Gastreich, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano — doing crowd-pleasing handoffs. AND 1936 Lester! (Wait for it, as they say.)
The encore, PERDIDO, evokes JATP, with Matthias, Engelbert, Helge, Nicki Parrott on string bass; Bernard, Niels, Stephanie, Paolo, Rico, Menno, and Bert:
Someday, sweethearts, we shall meet again. And thanks for the lovely sounds.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
Although I am slowly learning my way through New Jersey, I had never ventured to the town of Hopewell — until I learned this past September that both Larry McKenna and Warren Vache would be playing with pianist Phil Orr at the latter’s Thursday-night sessions, JAZZ ON BROADat the Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn— a delightfully friendly place with good food and a solicitous staff.
Warren Vache and Danny Tobias
The outside (in nice weather):
The inside (welcoming in any weather):
The collective personnel on these performances is Phil Orr, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Warren Vache, cornet; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Angelo DiBraccio, alto saxophone.
and a little commentary from Warren, between songs (with Danny and Larry playing supporting roles in this improv):
JAZZ ON BROAD will be continuing in Spring 2020, so keep yourself informed if you are anywhere near. I hope to visit the Bistro again because their menu emphasizes homestyle Hungarian cuisine (I couldn’t video and eat goulash simultaneously, something I regret).
These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies. They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.
You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:
This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.
I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August. I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo. They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.
The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile
I apologize to all concerned: because of being overwhelmed and a filing system that I keep in my overwhelmed head, this third part of a glorious afternoon got away from me for a bit. But all is not lost! And hereis the music created in the first and second sections.
I don’t know who took the picture of Warren (left) and Danny (right) but it is quite nice:
However, it leaves out the rest of the heroes: Philip Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass. Here are the four remaining performances — quiet mastery by artists who really know and feel what heartfelt improvisation is:
A Tobias original (based on a song about soporific nature) dedicated to the much-missed Tony Di Nicola:
Harold Arlen, always welcome, as is Danny’s playing the Eb alto horn:
A gorgeous TOO LATE NOW:
And the real national anthem:
What beautiful warm inspired music these heroes make.
I love that I live about an hour from the jazz-metropolis that is New York City, but I will drive for hours when the music beckons. It did last Saturday, when brassmen Danny Tobias and Warren Vaché joined with Philip Orr, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Pat Mercuri, guitar, for a wonderful afternoon of acoustic improvisations at the lovely 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Centerin Ewing, New Jersey. (101 Scotch Road will stay in my car’s GPS for that reason.) Here’s some evidence — thanks to the very subtle photographer Lynn Redmile — to document the scene:
and the two Swing perpetrators:
It’s an immense compliment to the melodic swinging inventiveness of this ad hoc quintet, that their music requires no explanation. But what is especially touching is the teamwork: when portrayed in films, trumpet players are always trying to outdo each other. Not here: Danny and Warren played and acted like family, and a particularly loving branch. They have very individual voices, but if I said that the approving ghosts up in the rafters were Ruby Braff, Joe Wilder, Kenny Davern, and Tony DiNicola, no one would object. Phil, Joe, and Pat listened, responded, and created with characteristic grace. Thanks to Bob and Helen Kull, the guiding spirits of the 1867 Sanctuary, for making us all so welcome with such fine music.
It was a memorable afternoon, and I wish only that this was a regular occasion, to be documented by CD releases and general acclamation. We can hope.
I have a dozen beauties to share with you. Here are the first four.
Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, and someone in the band breaks into song, most effectively:
Another Berlin treasure, CHANGE PARTNERS:
Edgar Sampson’s paean to hope, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:
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.
The 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 videosof 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.
I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet. My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion. (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)
He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.
I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.
“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:
and this, Joe’s great melody:
A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .
Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:
He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny. He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:
But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility. He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.
A short, perhaps dark interlude. Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?” It’s a splendid question. In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.
Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today. The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make. He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama. But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz. He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public. So he never became mythic or a martyr. Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now. He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78. Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.
But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that? He can cover the keyboard. And he swings. His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”
One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY / MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976. “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:
Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:
And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:
For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial. Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017. Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.
Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake. Perculate on THIS:
I had heard a great deal about the lyric troubadour Jimmy Mazzy (also a wonderful banjo player, raconteur, songhound, and more) but had never encountered him in person until late August. It was a phenomenal experience. No, it was two phenomenal experiences.
Jimmy was part of the Sarah Spencer Quartet: Sarah, tenor saxophone and vocals; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba — playing a gig at the wonderful Sarah’s Wine Barin Ridgefield, Connecticut. (Facebook calls Sarah’s a “pizza place,” which is like calling the Mona Lisa a smiling lady.) More about Sarah’s below.
And more about the saxophone-playing / singing Sarah Spencer in a future blogpost, with appropriate audio-visuals.
Sometimes the finest music is created when it appears no one is paying attention: the live recordings, the music that’s captured while the engineers are setting up or in between takes (WAITIN’ FOR BENNY and LOTUS BLOSSOM are two sterling examples that come to mind). In a few instances, I’ve brought my camera to the soundcheck or to the rehearsal because the “We’re just running this through” ambiance is a loose friendly one — shirtsleeves and microphone-adjusting rather than the musicians’ awareness of tables of expectant listeners. In that spirit, I offer Jimmy’s seriously passionate version of Lonnie Johnson’s TOMORROW NIGHT.
I think you see and feel what I mean about Jimmy as a passionate singer / actor / troubadour. If a maiden had Jimmy beneath her balcony, serenading like this, she would know that he was offering his whole heart to her with no restraint and no artifice yet great subtle powerful art. Those of us in the audience who aren’t maidens and perhaps lack a balcony can hear it too.
But Jimmy is a sly jester as well — totally in control of his audience (even though there’s a long, drawn-out “Ooooooh, no!” from Carrie Mazzy, Jimmy’s wife, at the start of this anthropological exegesis):
Jimmy Mazzy, two of a kind. And more. Irreplaceable.
And there will be more from this session. Now, some words about the delightful locale: Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut, features world-class jazz music on the last Sunday of every month. But that’s not the whole story: Ken and Marcia Needleman are deeply devoted to the art form, and they’ve been presenting it in style since 2009. Ken is a guitar student of Howard Alden’s, and he decided that he wanted to bring top jazz musicians to perform in an intimate setting (with excellent food and fine acoustics). They found kindred spirits in Sarah and Bernard Bouissou, restaurateur and chef of Bernard’s, one floor below the wine bar.
Thus the Jazz Masters Series began in February 2009, and I’ll mention only a double handful of the musicians who have played and sung to enthusiastic audiences: Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Gene Bertoncini, Dick Hyman, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Shane, Frank Wess, Scott Robinson, Harry Allen, Warren Vache, Ken Peplowski, Dan Levinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Rufus Reid, Jay Leonhart, Cameron Brown, Matt Wilson, Akira Tana, Joe LaBarbera, Mike Mainieri, Cyrille Aimee, Karrin Allyson.
The food critic who writes JAZZ LIVES wants to point out that the food was wonderful and the presentation delightful. Sarah’s Wine Bar would be a destination spot if the only music was the humming heard in the kitchen.
But right now I want to hear Jimmy sing TOMORROW NIGHT again.
Fats Waller and Alex Hill wrote one of the most irresistibly encouraging songs I know, a sweet spiritual paean to optimism, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL. I thought it would be fitting to let you hear as many versions of it as I could find.
Ellington, with a friendly vocal by Chick Bullock (1931):
Fletcher Henderson, arrangement by Benny Carter (1930):
Red Nichols with Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman:
Lou Gold and His Orchestra:
Now, for some of my favorite intersections — living hot musicians playing beautiful swing classics:
Marty Grosz and his Optimists:
Jeff Barnhart and friends at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:
Michael Hashim with Claudio Roditi:
Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band with Viktoria Vizin:
Howard Alden and Warren Vache:
Rebecca Kilgore with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, featuring Marc Caparone, Bobby Gordon, Chris Dawson:
Another version from Jeff Barnhart and a British band with Nick Ward:
And an earlier version from Marty Grosz and his Philosophers:
There is a wonderful 1931 recording of Bill Robinson, singing and tapping. Here is Bojangles as a marionette, invented and manipulated in the most extraordinary way by Bob Baker. Initially it might seem perverse, but I came to marvel at it. If you see this as demeaning, Robinson’s wife liked this and encouraged Baker to keep it in his show:
I was excited to see that so many versions are accessible to us, and perhaps I got carried away. But I love this song, its message that music can make everything right, and I love the ways that the music itself blossoms in so many contexts.
I don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.
Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins. In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase. And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing. (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.
The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.
I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:
Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.
Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)
I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.
And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.
Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.
Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.
One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”
Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”
Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.
Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.
And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.
Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.
If you go to thechannel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.
The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Hereyou can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.