Tag Archives: West Village

DEEP SONGS AT THE EAR (Sept. 26, 2010)

It was another elevating night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street). 

Nothing could spoil the collective merriment — not the fact that the subways were perversely unpredictable, not the untrained owner with the overeager dog who knocked over a beer and nearly ruined one of Jon-Erik Kellso’s antique mutes, never meant for a lager-bath. 

No, when Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson (tenor and soprano this time), Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary join forces, it’s a delightful and always surprising musical encounter.  And (later on) they were joined by Bob Barnard (trumpet), who’s always inventive.

But the highlights for me were the imaginative musical conversations that the quartet and quintet embarked on — each player having his say but deeply listening to what his peers were doing and being inspired by it. 

Bear in mind that these are highlights — for those of you seated at home, savoring this experience, it’s only a shadow of what really goes on at The Ear Inn. 

After an energetic I DOUBLE DARE YOU, the EarRegulars chose something that has now become mildly unusual — the pretty Ray Noble ballad THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS played at a slightly faster tempo, reminiscent of what Ruby Braff might have done with this lyrical melody:

LIPS like those need a good long time:

Jon-Erik handed off the trumpet chair to Bob, who dove right in to a Louis-inspired CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN, with Scott, Matt, and Pat in truly hot pursuit:

Music for two trumpets!  Jon-Erik called for “a rocking blues,” and Bob stayed on for a lengthy BEALE STREET BLUES:

Making BEALE STREET talk:

Irving Berlin’s sweet A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY got a swinging exploration:

SLEEPY TIME GAL began with a lavish reading of the melody and became even more lovely:

Isham Jones’s ON THE ALAMO gave the quartet a chance to stretch out and explore:

Too good to draw to a close too quickly:

What lovely songs!

PERFECT SWEETNESS (March 14, 2010)

Last night at The Ear Inn, I kept thinking of Emerson’s lines from “Self-Reliance”:

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great person is one who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

I saw this acted out in front of me for two joyous sets of jazz, as Pete Martinez, clarinet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neil Miner, bass, pretended that a noisy crowd and a rainy night didn’t exist. 

They didn’t glower at the young woman near me, talking loudly to her friend while she twiddled away at her glowing BlackBerry; they took no notice of the man at the bar (I couldn’t see him) whose dialogue with his buddy was unceasing and tediously vulgar; they improvised singly and collectively as if none of this mattered.  And it’s a tribute to their love of their art and their focus that it didn’t. 

Matt was exhausted, having just flown in from Zurich with no sleep; Harvey was continually trying to find a place to play and not get entangled in the parade of oblivious people in the narrow corridor in front of the band; Pete was placed by the door, which opened and shut more than I would have liked.  Only Neil had a small sanctuary, and he was pressed in among pipes and a low ceiling. 

Here are three performances by an even-tempered, good-humored, spiritually uplifted and uplifting quartet — another casually brilliant version of the Ear Regulars, keeping their independence while improvising collectively, offering us perfect sweetness.  I know some of the people in the room heard it; I hope that even the talkers got some subliminal blessings from this group.

Here they do that most brave thing — a rhythm ballad which, you’ll notice, didn’t keep the level of conversation down.  It’s I COVER THE WATERFRONT, perhaps appropriate to the rain and the Ear’s proximity to the river. and a quiet homage to Billie, Louis, and Lester:

In the second set, someone called for ‘DEED I DO, always a bright message of affirmation:

And, right after it, a “Dixieland classic,” a “good old good one,” JAZZ ME BLUES, neatly and comfortably sitting somewhere between 1927 and 2010 in the place where Bix and Don Byas trade solos:

Inspired jazz conversations throughout — as well as Pete’s bright-yellow hot sound, echoing Ed Hall but not copying him, as well as Harvey’s old-time-modern approach to his cumbersome horn.  Matt didn’t let tiredness get to him, spinning out long, ringing solos, and Neil reminded us, once again, of the beauties of the acoustic string bass in this idiom. 

Emersonian, and transcendental, too.

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT, OR JON-ERIK’S PLUNGER MUTE (April 27, 2009)

I hadn’t been to the Ear Inn for some time, and was suffering Ear-deprivation, so I was intent on being there last night for a session with the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Chuck Wilson on alto sax, Joe Cohn on guitar, and Pat O’Leary on bass.  The good news is that they were all happy and in fine form, joined almost immediately by trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  (I knew it was a good omen when Victor’s iPod found its way to Billie Holiday’s 1942 “Wherever You Are,” a recording I thought I’d only hear in my apartment.)

A jaunty SUNDAY began the proceedings, then a properly huggable version of JUST SQUEEZE ME, followed by a truly quick STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY which cried out for dancing in the narrow aisles, a “groovy” COME RAIN OR COME SHINE (an O’Leary suggestion that worked mightily), a twelve-minute jammed BLUES, and a romping SOME OF THESE DAYS.  Chuck soared and preached, his style encompassing the sweetness of Hilton Jefferson and the lemony tang of post-Parker mainstream wisdom; Harvey once again showed how his compact, sleek style fits anywhere; Joe was a lucent soloist and a dedicated rhythm man; Pat was eloquent and inventive.  Little touches shone: trades between Jon-Erik and Harvey on the blues, Pat’s double-stop punctuations behind Chuck in that same performance.

But I’ve left the most memorable detail for last.  You know that Jon-Erik is a great passionate player who doesn’t coast.  Not everyone knows how witty he is.  Few know that he is also capable of hilarious social commentary as well . . . . through his horn.

The Ear is filled (blessedly) but not always with people who are in touch with the music.  Last night there was a good-hearted gentleman standing at the bar, enthusiastically clapping along with the band, although a bit behind the beat.  But he was trying.

Next to him, for most of the first set, was a pretty young woman of substantial build, her hair blonde, her short dress white in honor of the summer heat.  She was very much amused by her own conversation and that of her ladyfriends, and her amusement came out in a walloping five-beat laugh that could have been heard in the last row of a Broadway theatre: “HA HA HA HA HA!” (pause) “HA HA HA HA HA!” and so on.  I don’t deny anyone pleasure, but she was as loud as the band. Beginning JUST SQUEEZE ME, Jon-Erik equipped himself with his plunger mute — an adventurer going into the dark forest.  When it came time for his solo, the blonde was in full voice — but Jon-Erik played her laughter back at her, “WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH!”  Perhaps half a dozen people in the Ear (in addition to the band) got it, but his mockery was brilliant.  A dangerous satirist lurks among us, disguised as a jazz trumpeter.  Watch out!

THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS

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As fond as I am of the West Village, I can’t say that Grove Street is architecturally distinguished.  But it is memorable for the landmark shown above — Arthur’s Tavern — where pianist Bill Dunham has led the Grove Street Stompers for forty-seven years of Monday nights.  By even the most stringent calculations, that’s over seven thousand sets of loose improvised jazz, over seven thousand brief renditions of “Mood Indigo,” the song that the Stompers use as their closing theme.  I’ll leave it to Bill, who is charmingly gregarious, to list the great jazz players who have been regulars or guests in that astonishing long run.

Last night was a particularly unusual Monday for me: my college had closed itself down because of the snow, and I was unexpectedly free to hear some live jazz.  I hadn’t been at Arthur’s for some time, so I decided to visit an old haunt.  Bill had told me that his front line was going to feature cornetist Randy Reinhart and clarinetist Joe Muranyi, which was an inducement to brave the cold winds.  Bill would be on piano, and regulars Peter Ballance (trombone and general keeper-of-decorum) and drummer Giampaolo Biagi would be there.  Bassist Tim Ferguson and pianist-visitor Ron Ferry completed the dramatis personae.

The Stompers are a home-grown jazz band in the finest old style: drawing on a wide variety of material, they take medium-tempo jogs through spirituals, pop tunes, Tin Pan Alley classics, Condon and Armstrong favorites, and jazz evergreens.  Last night, “Dixieland” was represented by CHINA BOY, CHANGES MADE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?, I FOUND A NEW BABY, JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and a few more.  But the band’s range is happily broader: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, WININ’ BOY BLUES, OUT OF NOWHERE, and MY BUDDY lit up the place.

A word about “lighting up the place.”  The Tavern should be seen not only for the music, but for its general decor.  On the wall above my head, signs wishing me a Happy Halloween were much in evidence; over the bar’s cash register was a sign reading CLOSED, and strings of brightly colored lights — Christmas, probably — are always on.  The wine list is, shall we say, limited, but the amiable waitress was busy supplying everyone’s alcohol-related needs.  I was fortunate to be among friendly Spouses: Sonya Dunham and Nina Favara (Mrs. Reinhart) who were listening intently and cheering the band on.

And the music?  Well, the Stompers are the very antithesis of slick.  Yes, there is an occasional lead sheet passed around in case someone in uncertain about the chords on the bridge, but any arranging is done in the heat of the moment.  Last night, Randy decided, as he always does, to act as a prime mover, and he drove the band, choosing to play brass eight-bar trades with trombonist Peter, to leap into solos as if his life depended on it, to show off his beautiful command of the horn from bottom to top, mixing Berigan and Fifties Mainstream with delicacy and fervor.  Joe Muranyi, who’s seen many ensembles come and go, including Louis’s, was in fine quiet form, showing off his lovely chalumeau register.  The regulars — Bill, Peter, and Giampaolo — aren’t fancy, and their solos are concise, but they’ve got the feeling.  And Tim Ferguson, someone I’d not heard before, kept everything in good order and took nice resonant solos.

This musical convocation takes place from 7-10 on Monday nights, and worth the trip — just south of the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square subway stop.  The Stompers won’t necessarily be there for another forty-seven years, so you might well want to visit.

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