Tag Archives: W.B. Yeats

THE SWEETNESS OF FRIENDSHIP: NEW ORLEANS / NEW YORK CITY (April 2015)

Friends keep us afloat in this world.

Pianist / composer Kris Tokarski is a dear friend I’ve not yet met in person; the same is true for videographer / free spirit Kelley Rand.  Together with the fine tenor saxophonist Rex Gregory they conspired to give me a delicious gift.

Recently, Kris and I were in conversation online about his upcoming gig (April 23, 2015) at the Bombay Club in New Orleans in duet with Rex . . . and the subject of the 1956 quartet session, PRES AND TEDDY [that’s Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones] came up.  I told Kris my story about seeing Teddy in person at a shopping center in 1971 and asking him to autograph my record, which he did, speaking only two words, “Thank you.”

Half-facetiously, I said to Kris that he and Rex should play LOUISE, one of the great lyrical songs from that session — one rarely performed by jazzmen, Bix and Tram being a notable exception.  I thought that would be the extent of my cyber-meddling, until Kelley dropped this gem at my feet.  Don’t miss the spoken dedication:

How lyrical, how joyous.  And connoisseurs of improvisation will note that Kris and Rex know the places where one could insert an easy cliché, a glib quotation; they nimbly dance around such temptations to create something light and heartfelt.

I’m both honored and delighted — by the lovely music and the generous intent behind it all.  And if you subscribe to Kelley Rand‘s YouTube channel, there are more videos of Kris and friends . . . . and I know other surprises are on the way.

The other instance of what I call Love in Swingtime — after the Ellington performance — came during a Sunday afternoon appearance on April 5, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City by Tamar Korn, that celestial butterfly of song; Ehud Asherie, piano; Rob Adkins, string bass.

I had told Tamar, whom I count as a dear friend and cosmic marvel, of some rough times I had been having, and she was compassionate and sympathetic. When she began her set, I expected nothing more to come of her affectionate concern, but when she launched into that wonderful bit of optimistic philosophy, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, she delivered a great gift at :27.

I was and am immensely touched, and the memory of this moment has made me more buoyant ever since.  Yes, the people at Mezcal are talking, but the music — that bright spiritual beacon — cuts through:

“Say my glory was I had such friends.”  W.B. Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited.”

May your happiness increase!

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LESTER YOUNG AND THAT OTHER WORLD

This rectangular slip of paper — with only eleven letters signed by his own hand by one of the gods of creation — makes me feel a deep sadness. Lester Young, one of the most inspired individuals of the twentieth century, is so much larger than his signature on a withholding tax form.  It’s almost like imagining Prometheus in chains to think of Lester having to sign forms so that money could be taken from him, having to pay taxes.

I think this brightly creative person was also one of the most delicate creatures: consider his sadness, which isn’t always so evident in his late playing.  Even though he was tall, physically powerful, his spirit was airborne and thus shackled by the mundane demands of this world. I am not retelling the stories of what happened to him in the United States Army, but here is evidence of an unusual man being required to do the usual:

PREZ TAXES

The President, forced to be ordinary.  Are we surprised that he seems to have willed his life to be over so quickly?

Had we known Lester Young’s sorrow, could we have taken it on ourselves and lessened his pain?  Could his friends and the people who insisted that he sign forms have loved him more, have helped him to be free?

I do not know, and perhaps it is presumptuous even to speculate.  But for a moment I imagine a youthful, ever buoyant Lester Young, going his own way in a world exist where he did not have to rush, could wear soft shoes and make pretty sounds?  Poets and martyrs, Yeats said, more or less, do not live in the world of bankers.  Lester tried to make our world and his  brighter, less painful.

His sound lives on; his music still floats.

May your happiness increase!

BISHOP BERKELEY SWINGS IT, or WHEN JAZZ MIRACLES HAPPEN BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: BENT PERSSON, JENS LINDGREN, RENE HAGMANN, GAVIN LEE, THOMAS WINTELER, MARTIN SECK, FRANS SJOSTROM, MALCOLM SKED, MARTIN WHEATLEY, JOSH DUFFEE (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party 2012)

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, by John Smibert

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, by John Smibert

I was thinking about the Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), Bishop of Cloyne, the other day: I had read about him in W. B. Yeats’ celebration of the intellectual and powerful figures of the Irish past.  What appealed to me was the notion that objects have to be perceived to exist: in whimsical form, the question is “How do you know that your books exist once you leave your house and can no longer see them?”  Is a table “there” if we are not perceiving it?

I’m not about to propose that the jazz fans’ Vocalions and Brunswicks vanish as soon as the collectors leave the music room; I don’t want to face the possible responses, nor do I want to start massive panic.  But for jazz devotees, the Bishop’s ruminations take on an intriguing shape: the subject being the music we know exists or once existed which is inaccessible to us.  When we read somewhere in a Whitney Balliett profile (I believe his subject was Illinois Jacquet speaking) of a 1941 West Coast jam session where the rhythm section was Nat Cole, Charlie Christian, Jimmie Blanton, and Sidney Catlett, we know on the basis of all the evidence of individual recorded performances that this would have been beyond our wildest dreams.  But it is made all the more extraordinary is that we weren’t there.  It thus takes on the magical quality of the Arabian Nights.

Another manifestation of this idealizing of what we can’t reach (a larger human principle, perhaps) is the idea that musicians are playing magically when we are not in the room — when the concert is over, when the club is closed.

It may not always be true, but here is some evidence — recorded with permission at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — that miracles happen when no one except the musicians (and someone with a video camera) is around: two performances from one of the rehearsals that took place before the Party officially started — on Thursday, October 25, 2012.

This session was devoted to the Louis Armstrong Hot Choruses (and Breaks).

LOUIS HOT CHORUSES

If you’ve never heard of them, they are perhaps another illustration of what would have pleased the Bishop so.  In the middle Twenties, music publishers were beginning to notice that amateurs would buy music books that proposed to help them play as their idols did.  I believe that the first jazz musician so honored by having his solos transcribed for other players to emulate and copy was the often-maligned Red Nichols.  Walter Melrose, head of a Chicago music publishing firm, engaged Louis Armstrong to create hot choruses on popular songs — most often from the Melrose catalogue — and hot breaks.  Louis was given a cylinder machine and blank cylinders; he played solos and breaks, which were then transcribed by pianist / composer Elmer Schoebel.  The cylinders?  Alas, to quote Shelley, “Nothing beside remains.”

But my hero Bent Persson has  been considering, playing, exploring those choruses and breaks for thirty years and more — in the same way that Pablo Casals kept returning to the Bach cello suites.  The transcribed solos and breaks, in themselves, seem almost holographic: yes, this is Louis; no, this is only a representation.  But Bent has done superhuman creative work in blowing the breath of life into those notes.

Here are two musical rewards for your patient reading.  I first met Bent in person at the 2009 Whitley Bay jazz extravaganza, after having listened to his recordings since the middle Seventies, and he has grown to accept my shadowing him with a video camera — the results, I tell him, are for the feature-length documentary.

I positioned myself in the center of the room while my shirt-sleeved heroes worked their way through a selection of the Louis Hot Chorus material.  They were, in addition to Bent, Jens Lindgren, trombone; Gavin Lee, Thomas Winteler, Rene Hagmann, reeds (with the astonishing M. Hagmann doubling trumpet); and a rhythm section of Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcom Sked, sousaphone; Martin Seck, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums.

These are two of my favorite things, to paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein II.

Here is CAFE CAPERS — and if you need any evidence of how the band is enjoying itself, watch Thomas, Jens, and pay special attention to the moving sneakers of M. Hagmann — and that’s even before Bent becomes our superhero with rocking support from Josh:

Then, SPANISH SHAWL, with the band rocking from the start — with wonderful reed playing, blazing outings from Jens, Rene, and Thomas, Josh, Henri, Frans and Gavin, before the key changes and the band romps home.  “Very good!”:

To me, “Very good!” is rather like the Blessed Eddie Condon muttering, “That didn’t bother me.”  Not at all.  May your sneakers always be as happy as those of Rene Hagmann.

P.S.  Magic like this happens very frequently at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — click here to learn how you, too, can get in on the fun in November 2013.  Aurelie Tropez and Jean-Francois Bonnel will be there.  Jeff Barnhart and Daryl Sherman, too.  And Bent and his Buddies.

May your happiness increase.

RYAN TRUESDELL PRESENTS “CENTENNIAL: NEWLY DISCOVERED WORKS BY GIL EVANS”

Most tribute recordings or projects labor under several burdens.  The musicians who made the original recordings are, in most cases, no longer alive and playing . . . .although one could make the case that Louis playing POTATO HEAD BLUES thirty years after its issue, Ellington revisiting IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, Billie singing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO in 1952 . . . are all paying tributes to their earlier selves.

But, in general, artists who choose to “play old records live” in the studio or in concert have the towering presence of those accessible sounds to deal with.

Some tribute projects attempt to impose a modernist sensibility on established repertoire and style . . . with results that require equal parts love, understanding, and daring to pull off — STRANGE FRUIT remixed over techno rhythms wins points for novelty, but to me it feels blasphemous.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project has none of these self-created burdens to carry up the mountain.  For one thing, Truesdell, a composer and scholar, did not — as others have chosen to do — assemble an orchestra to reproduce recordings everyone knows well.  Rather, he took as his starting point ten compositions — only three of them Evans’ originals — that Evans had arranged but (in most cases) had not recorded.  The details of Truesdell’s discoveries and research are contained in the intriguing and immensely readable booklet for the CENTENNIAL CD. (In my life as a literary researcher, I spent many hours filling in the gaps and appreciating the warmth of otherwise unread first-hand materials — unpublished manuscripts of Frank O’Connor’s short stories and Yeats’ poetry, letters between O’Connor and William Maxwell, between Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner . . . and I immediately saw that Truesdell was honest and searching in his investigations.)

For a number of sessions, he assembled a series of dream orchestras, featuring saxophonists Steve Wilson, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson; brass players Greg Gisbert, Laurie Frink, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes, rhythm section players James Chirillo, Joe Locke, Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson, Lewis Nash; singers Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles, Luciana Souza, and many other brilliant musicians.

Initially I was intrigued by the project because I so admired the Evans arrangements for Claude Thornhill and the work he did for Miles Davis, most memorably MILES AHEAD and PORGY AND BESS.  The Evans sound I cherish suggests floating clouds, many-hued, that are ever-changing,never static, leaving impressionistic traces as they move across our consciousness.  About the Evans who organized lengthy electric-flavored orations devoted to Jimi Hendrix compositions, I know little.

But once the disc arrived, I was initially delighted by the perceptive diligence Truesdell showed in the research that got him and his orchestras to perform these otherwise “unheard” works.  Some might say that his efforts are no different from a conductor faced with a score of a “new” work, but Truesdell has managed to balance the pull of individualism — assembling an orchestra of mature soloists and section players who can create appropriately within an idiom without offering pastiches of others’ solos — and staying faithful to what is written in the score.

I knew I had to write this post when there were certain tracks on the CD –THE MAIDS OF CADIZ, HOW ABOUT YOU, DANCING ON A GREAT BIG RAINBOW, BARBARA SONG, and — most memorably, WHO’LL BUY MY VIOLETS? — that I wanted to play over and over.  I had been hesitant at first — did I know Evans well enough to appreciate this music?  Would I find it too outre for my well-nourished narrowness?  I need not have worried: the music’s beauty broke through any imagined walls.

This CD honors Evans’ essential spiritual brilliance without getting confined within an idea of “repertory” that is ultimately imprisoning.  I found much to love in this music . . . and I will keep and replay this disc into the future.

For more information about the project, the CD, and future appearances by Truesdell and his master musicians, click here.  Many pleasures await!

May your happiness increase.

A MEMORIAL SERVICE TO CELEBRATE MISS BARBARA LEA (April 16, 2012)

We miss Barbara Lea, who died at the end of 2011.

Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson has planned a memorial service for Barbara — full of deeply felt music and tart stories in honor of “The High Priestess of Popular Song.”

It will take place on Monday, April 16, 2012, at 7:00 PM, at St. Peter’s Church (54th St. & Lexington Ave., New York City), with Barbara’s good friend, singer Daryl Sherman, as host.  The performers and speakers will include Bob Dorough, Steve Ross, Marlene VerPlanck, Ronny Whyte, Melissa Hamilton, Jack Kleinsinger, George Wein, Joyce Breach, Roger Schore, Jan Wallman, Karen Oberlin, Lewis Chambers, Sue Matsuki, Tedd Firth, Harry Allen, Annie Dinerman, Dick Miller, The Speakeasy Jazz Babies, James Chirillo, Boots Maleson, David Hajdu, and others.

W.B. Yeats writes “Say that my glory was I had such friends.”  I hope to see you at the memorial service — to let Barbara know just how much she is loved, missed, remembered.  And although memorial services remind us that the object of our affections is no longer with us, we go out thinking of that person with something deeper than funereal gloom.

EIGHT BARS FOR TESCH and HOORAY FOR “TESCHOLOGY”

The brilliant clarinetist and saxophonist Frank Teschemacher died in 1932 — and today, March 13, we celebrate his birth.  Ordinarily I don’t indulge in too much of “Z would have been 107 today,” because there are living musicians and living music to celebrate . . . but for Tesch, I can’t help but break my own rule.

Serious, high-strung, educated . . . Tesch seems an unlikely explorer, but he was obviously looking for new sounds: his solos leap at the listener with raw energy, a kind of divine fearlessness.  Here he is with Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Gene Krupa, on July 28, 1928, for OH, BABY!

And even though the online world is full of scraps and debris, wonderful enterprises emerge — who would have thought of a blog entirely devoted to Tesch, with photos I had never seen?  But here it is: teschology

Wild Bill Davison’s plaint — after Tesch had died in an auto accident in Bill’s car — “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” (or words to that effect) has, I think, been misread as coldness . . . but the question has never been satisfactorily answered.  And it raises a larger question.  I miss Tesch, although I was born well after his death, and he lived — by the usual measures — far too short a life.  But I wonder: did he accomplish all that he was meant to do in those years?  Who can tell?  And I think of a line from Yeats’ elegy for Major Robert Gregory, “What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?”

Gone, gone, gone.

JAMES, CHARLES, SALVATORE: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Nine)

Say that my glory was I had such friends,” writes W.B. Yeats.  If we’d never heard a note of Leo McConville’s playing, never seen him in the Walt Roemer and his Capitolians short film . . . we would know him as a man admired and respected by the finest creators in his field.

See for yourself.

JAMES MELTON is hardly a Jack Purvis man of mystery, but he had more than a handful of careers — as the “hot” alto player in Francis Craig’s 1926 band, as a radio personality beginning in the next year, then an opera star.  Melton was a lyric tenor with a light, high voice — and all the formal hallmarks of that style: the exact enunciation, the rolled R — a style that became less popular when the crooners of the late Twenties came to prominence.

Melton is also known, oddly, to jazz fans, as having led a 1929 session of sacred songs that featured Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto, even though a measure of his jazz fame might be that my edition of Brian Rust’s discography has a Melton entry in the index that lacks a page number.  Did Leo meet him on the radio in the late Twenties?

CHARLES MARGULIS has much more presence to jazz listeners for his trumpet work with Jean Goldkette and with Paul Whiteman — but he continued on as an impressive soloist into the Sixties, and he can be heard on recordings with pop artists (Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte) as well as his own trumpet showcases.  John Chilton notes that Margulis had a chicken farm in the Thirties: I imagine Charles and Leo discussing the intricacies of the best feed, which breeds gave the most reliable output, and so on.  But here he is, completely urbane:

And the prize, as far as I am concerned — EDDIE LANG (born SALVATORE MASSARO) — one of the most distinctive instrumental voices of his era, in ensemble or solo.

The career that Lang might have had if he had not died on the operating table in 1933 is hinted at in these two film appearances.  The first finds him in the BIG BROADCAST with Bing Crosby, performing DINAH (off-screen) and PLEASE (very much a part of the scene).  And from the less-known A REGULAR TROUPER, he accompanies Ruth Etting on WITHOUT THAT MAN!

Although Lang would not be alive today, I can imagine him accompanying a pop or jazz singer on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW or the HOLLYWOOD PALACE.

More to come . . . !

Two postscripts about Charles Margulis: the Bixography Forum (a treasure-house of information, occasionally a hotbed of controversy) offers a 1962 conversation with the trumpeter:

http://bixography.com/MargulisHolbrook/A%20Conversation%20With%20Charles%20Margulis.html

And just to show that Margulis had great fame into the second half of the last century, here is a picture of one of his long-playing recordings: