Tag Archives: W.C. Handy

POSTCARDS FROM JOEL (FIRST SERIES): Cafe Loup, NYC, June 3, 2017

I hope that the imposing but warm figure in the portrait below is becoming known to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  That’s Joel Forrester, pianist / composer / arranger / bandleader / occasional vocalist.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

I’ve been making regular pilgrimages to Forrester-shrines (find out for yourself here): most regularly his Saturday-afternoon performance at Cafe Loup on Thirteenth Street near Sixth Avenue, 12:30 – 3:30.  That place has the friendly coziness (and none of the dust and clutter) of my living room — thanks to Byron and Sally, thanks to the careful people in the kitchen, and thanks to Joel.

In between sets, sometimes Joel and I talk about people, and music, and literature . . . which might have made me — not all that whimsically — characterize each performance of his as a wordless short story.  He is a writer, by the way.  But that metaphor came to seem a little too pretentious for me, and on the way home from this Saturday afternoon’s recital-with-friends, I thought, “Postcards.  That’s it.”  It has occurred to me more than once that Joel starts out on a journey of his own each time he begins to play, whether the material is his or not, and thus I could see individual improvisations as brightly-colored souvenirs from the Land of Boogie-Woogie, the visit to the Country of Cheesy Fifties Pop Tunes that have real music embedded in them, Joel and Mary’s visit to Paris, his homage to Fate Marable’s riverboat music as heard by Meade Lux Lewis, and so on.

I offer five more such delights from Joel’s recital of June 3, at Cafe Loup.

A lightly swinging blues, SWEET AMNESIA:

Soundtrack music for a short film about improvised dance, LUNACY:

Proper Kerning, CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

A visit to Fats Domino, I WANT TO WALK YOU HOME:

Gershwin and W.C. Handy play gin rummy, SUMMERTIME:

I encourage the musically-minded to come visit Joel at Cafe Loup, but something quite rare and unusual is happening later this week: the Joel Forrester Five is playing a one-hour gig on Thursday, June 29 — from 6-7 PM at The Shrine (2271 Seventh Avenue between West 133 and 134th Streets.  The Five is (are?) Joel, piano, compositions; Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; David Hofstra, string bass; Matthew Garrity, drums.  (It’s the 2 or 3 train to 135th Street.) I’ve never heard this band before, and I look forward to this gig.

May your happiness increase!

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CATLETT, COTTON, ELLINGTON, BIGARD . . . ALSO FEATURING JACK OAKIE.

I’ve been eBaying — looking at the surprises offered for sale.

First, a piece of sheet music tied in to a 1946 record date for the Manor label — with Pete Johnson, Sidney Catlett, Jimmy Shirley, and Gene Ramey.  I had never heard of the Duchess Music Publishers, perhaps an attempt to connect with a hoped-for hit record.  The arranger’s name caught my eye:

ARRANGED BY SID CATLETT

Notice that someone energetically claimed ownership of this sheet.

Then, some paper ephemera connected to the downtown Cotton Club.  I know the name is demeaning, and the club wouldn’t admit patrons of color, but with such music and those prices, one could ignore those facts:

COTTON CLUB front

Don’t forget to give the card to the headwaiter (decades before email):

COTTON CLUB rear

The Perfect Evening, no argument:

COTTON CLUB 2

And Bill Robinson:

COTTON CLUB 4

Did you know Jack Oakie was so talented? This is a publicity still for the 1934 film MURDER AT THE VANITIES, with two very recognizable musicians:

DUKE 1934 front

Ah, show business!

May your happiness increase!

“LINGER AWHILE”: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CHLOE FEORANZO, MIKE PITTSLEY, HAL SMITH, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, CHRIS DAWSON at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2012)

Here’s that lovely band again, with a youthful guest star who fits right in.  Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet / vocal; Mike Pittsley, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, and Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet / tenor.  Recorded at the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival, now the San Diego Jazz Fest, on November 23, 2012.

The tune list reminds me of an imagined Eden — Eddie Condon’s in the late Fifties.  A few old-fashioned singable pop hits of the Twenties, some “Chicago jazz,” Morton, Beiderbecke, Carmichael, Handy, Charles Ellsworth Russell.  A perfectly balanced diet: ask any swing nutritionist.

LINGER AWHILE:

PEE WEE’S BLUES:

WOLVERINE BLUES:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

BEALE STREET BLUES (how splendidly Connie — the great storyteller — sings this!):

AVALON:

NEW ORLEANS:

I’ve written a good deal about this band — whose music thrills me every time — but I’d like to point out a few things: the way Tim and Chloe intertwine, and his beautiful low register and her energies.  Marty’s unerring pulse and big fat notes! The beautiful introductions Chris creates.  How Hal keeps everyone on track, and his wonderful sounds.  Katie’s delicious acousticism!  Mike’s intelligent, intuitive ensemble work, and conversational solos.  And Connie’s poignancy. Beautiful tempos that never seem too fast or too slow: music for dancing, for dreaming, for uplifting the heart.

LINGER AWHILE isn’t just a song title here; it’s a gracious invitation into deep mysteries of beauty, accessible to everyone but nearly impossible to reproduce.

May your happiness increase.

INDOOR SPORTS IN SAUSALITO: MAL SHARPE, LEON OAKLEY, RICHARD HADLOCK, BILL DE KUIPER, SAM ROCHA, CARMEN CANSINO at THE NO NAME BAR, July 22, 2012

Some pleasurable experiences evaporate almost as soon as they’ve ended.  But July 22, 2012, was our third consecutive visit to Mal Sharpe’s Sunday afternoon gig (3-6 PM) at The No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) and the pleasure was as powerful as ever.

Mal remains a solid gutty player and his comedic improvisations (involving Thanksgiving, zippers, the NBC Red Network) are as fresh and unbalanced as ever.  But he shines greatly as a trombonist and lively singer.  Those who think of him only as a radio and television personality would be surprised at his deep immersion in hot jazz.

To Mal’s right was the jazz critic and reedman Richard Hadlock, floating behind the beat or keening on his straight soprano.  In the middle was the cornetist who could lead the troops into battle with never a qualm — someone capable of great subtleties and shadings, too — Leon Oakley.  In the back were swinging regulars Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Carmen Cansino, drums — with the eloquent bassist and eager swing singer Sam Rocha.  A band to conjure with!

After a holiday-themed introduction, the band swung into a version of LONESOME ROAD.  (It was a highly inappropriate soundtrack — the path to the No Name Bar was sunny, filled with people, and one could feast on Thai or Mexican cuisine, fish and chips, ice cream, or my choice — spicy nasturtium blossoms.  I saw no one trudging under a heavy load, but it was still a good opener.)

A nearly perverse defiance seemed behind the second song choice, too.  July, warm, sunny?  No, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

Some people in the audience were visiting from Indiana, and I had hopes that Mal would call ALABAMMY BOUND or THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but all turned politely respectful as the band swung into BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

Laying bare his soul (but keeping his green hat on), Mal called for I’M CONFESSIN’:

If Mal could Confess, it was only right that Sam could sing about ROSETTA:

The No Name Bar serves drinks that are some distance from a pot of Earl Grey, but Mal’s version of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA was suitably hot and sweet:

YELLOW DOG BLUES connected neatly with Leon’s deep interest in steam trains:

One of the young women in the audience who had come from the Canary Islands, directly, it seemed, to 757 Bridgeway, was named Maria: a good reason to call Berlin’s MARIE, even if Bunny was not in the house:

Everyone got serious for an impassioned BLACK AND BLUE, so strongly identified with Louis, Fats, and Andy Razaf:

The somber mood was quickly dispelled by Mal’s romping though an accusatory YOU RASCAL YOU, called late enough in the session so that none of the patrons would stalk out into the sunlight, offended, too early:

And Mal and the Big Money in Jazz Band told us it was time to go home with another Berlin classic, THE SONG IS ENDED:

But only for a week, as Fred Robbins used to say at the end of the 1944-45 Eddie Condon Town Hall broadcasts.  And Mal brings the Big Money in Jazz Band to the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco every Saturday afternoon, and there’s a once-a-month Thursday gig at Armando’s in Martinez . . . as well as other spectaculars unknown to JAZZ LIVES but worth investigating.

May your happiness increase. 

ATLANTA 2012: BOB SCHULZ and FRIENDS SPREAD THE TRUTH (April 20, 2012)

I take my title from the story that Wingy Manone, at the height of the “jazz wars” of the Forties, had a sign made for the club he was playing in, COME IN AND HEAR THE TRUTH.  It’s not that there is only one Truth (heaven forbid!) but the Condonite variety with roots both in 1924 and in 2012 is a very attractive thing.

Cornetist Bob Schulz knows all about that Truth, and he embodies it, too.  Here he is amidst congenial swingers at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — Russ Phillips, trombone / vocal; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums — and here are three versions of Hot Veritas for all of us to enjoy.

BEALE STREET BLUES summons up W.C. Handy, Louis, Condon, and several fine mid-Fifties Columbia sessions made possible by the master, George Avakian, happily still with us:

When Rossano started off SOMEDAY SWEETHEART (with or without the comma), I relaxed into my chair: good things were going to happen!  And they did:

And here’s Russ to sing about how one gets Spiffy when one’s Squeeze (in this case, Lulu) is back in town:

After BEALE STREET, Bob said, “That was fun,” and he wasn’t being immodest, just accurate.

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS (Part Two: May 30, 2012)

It’s easy to tell the truth . . . so I will write it again.  (If you didn’t see Part One of this happy musical evening, here it is.)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure. It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist. It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing). It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination. Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE. Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH. Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.” His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide. In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios. Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements. King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing. All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways. I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.

Here’s the second part of that wide-ranging musical offering.

The NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, which I associate with Bessie Smith and a 1940 Johnny Dodds recording:

Leadbelly’s THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL:

For Sophie Tucker, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and a thousand others — that hot jazz admonition, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Another Jimmie Rodgers evergreen, THE DESERT BLUES:

I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned Cole Porter above; here’s I LOVE PARIS:

A song by Ewan MacColl from 1949, made famous by The Dubliners, DIRTY OLD TOWN:

Lots of fun with THE SECOND LINE IN NEW ORLEANS, a rocking good time:

John evokes Bing Crosby splendidly — without imitating him note-for-note — and he performed one of my favorite early Bing romantic songs, PLEASE (it’s part of the Polite Bing Trilogy: MAY I? / PLEASE / THANKS:

And to close off the performance (they kept on, but bourgeois responsibilities called me home), they performed John’s own salute to New Orleans, THE BORDER OF THE QUARTER:

In my ideal world, Professor Gill would be both Artist-in-Residence at any number of prestigious universities with American Studies programs . . . but he would have time to lead bands regularly.  Any takers?

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS: PART ONE (May 30, 2012)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure.  It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist.  It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing).  It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination.  Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.  Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH.  Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.”  His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide.  In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios.  Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements.  King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing.  All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways.  I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.  They began the evening with a MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, which W. C. Handy then “adapted” as the ATLANTA BLUES:

One of those good old good ones that all the musicians love to play (and that includes Bix, Louis, Benny, and Basie), the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Here’s where John differs from the “traditional jazz” formula: how about the Jimmie Rodgers song T FOR TEXAS:

For the dancers (and they were at the National Underground that night), SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

If you enjoy odd intersections, I think MUDDY WATER counts as one, a song both Bing Crosby and Bessie Smith recorded in 1927:

Here’s a pretty 1931 pop tune that came back to life a quarter-century later (Vic Dickenson liked to play it, too), LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND:

And — to close off this segment — a song I’d only heard on recordings (Johnny Dodds); next time, I’ll ask John to sing WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

In my ideal New York City, John Gill is leading small hot bands like this on a regular basis.  It would take months before he and his colleagues had to repeat a song . . .  More to come!

May your happiness increase.