Tag Archives: Western Swing

GOLD IN THOSE GROOVES (Los Angeles, 1938)

Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, singer, composer, bandleader, film star

Everyone reading JAZZ LIVES could, with not much effort, compile a list of a dozen well-known and rewarding jazz recordings.  Your list might be entirely different, but I feel that we would recognize the names of most, if not all, of the entries. But what continues to delight me is the wonderful music to be found on recordings that don’t get any attention, those beneath the surface of the collective attention.

One such record is a recent purchase from eBay, and it’s repaid its original price (perhaps $2.99?) a dozen times over, even though its star, Oklahoma-born “Pinky” Tomlin, would not be at the top of many people’s lists.

The record isn’t listed in Tom Lord’s or Brian Rust’s discography, although the records Pinky made with (among others) Joe Sullivan and Joe Haymes are. Make of this what you will, but two sides made at the same session — SMILES and THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET — are listed (and thus certified as Official Jazz Records) although they are less memorable: I bought that disc also from eBay.

The orchestra is directed by Harry Sosnik, and features Pinky with Mannie Klein, trumpet; Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; Claude Kennedy, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Slim Jim Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums.  It was recorded in Los Angeles, April 23, 1938.

Those are illustrious names; some readers will notice that the band is close to the group that accompanied Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer on their version of the Gallagher-and-Shean vaudeville routine in July of that year: the evidence here. I suspect that more than a few worked in radio and were known as the best “studio” musicians on the West Coast.  The one unknown in this band, pianist Kennedy, I found out through reading Pinky’s autobiography, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (his best-known composition) was a friend and musical colleague of Pinky’s from Oklahoma.  (Just because you might be wondering, Truman Tomlin got his nickname early on because of his complexion.)

I wonder if this session was another of Jack Kapp’s crossover ideas, joining hot jazz, swing, and Western swing, to support Pinky, already well-known on radio and films.  Had Kapp noticed the success of Maxine Sullivan’s LOCH LOMOND, a swing version of a traditional song, or Ella Logan’s efforts (in all those cases, no composers to pay)?

But enough words.  Feast your ears (and, yes, there is authentic surface noise, because the original owner of this record played it often).

RED WING:

RED RIVER VALLEY:

These sides are fun, and that comes from their ease, the sweet balance between Pinky’s sincere Oklahoma voice, not trying to “get hot” except for the one upwards Bing-meets-Louis scat phrase on RED WING.  He’s telling us stories, and he’s completely earnest but never stiff.  Sosnik wasn’t always so swinging on other Deccas that bear his name, but the arranged passages are right on target, and it’s especially pleasant that the endings on both sides aren’t histrionic, but wind down gently.  Secrest plays beautifully, but it’s the band that charms me — its unsung heroes being Perry Botkin and Spike Jones, who certainly swung.

“It’s not in the discography, so it can’t be jazz.”  But it’s rewarding music.

I find myself charmed by Pinky: he seems guileless, someone who is being rather than acting.  Two more examples: one, from a 1937 film, where he, like Bing, seems to say to a viewer, “I’m on the screen, singing, and putting clothing into a trunk.  But you could do this, too.”:

Two decades later, Pinky faces Groucho, his essential sweetness intact:

A few words about THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  I read in Pinky’s autobiography how the song was a spur-of-the-moment creation that grew from the casual phrase that was its title.  But it has deep jazz credentials: Ella sang it early, and later in life, when she and Pinky were together at some public function, went out of her way to express her gratitude.

Three versions, each showing the song’s durability and emotional appeal.  First, Carl Switzer:

Helvetia, Connie, and Martha:

Garnet Clark, Bill Coleman (“from brown to rosy red”), June Cole, George Johnson, Django:

May your happiness increase!

CREATING BEAUTY: THE THRIFT SET ORCHESTRA

Festival promoters, swing dance bookers, people who love good music, beautifully played, take note!

(If John Hammond were alive, this band would already have a contract with English Parlophone, be playing at Smalls Paradise, and be broadcasting over WEVD . . . but it’s 2014, and we have to make such things happen for ourselves):

KRAZY KAPERS (take 1):

and another set of KAPERS:

Who are these Swing miracle-workers?  Why, they are the Thrift Set Orchestra, a band based in Austin, Texas.  At their site, you can read the biographies of the individual musicians and learn more about the group. I don’t see a place where one can request an autographed picture of the TSO, but soon that will be necessary, as jazz and swing dance fans coast-to-coast get the message.

If the Thrift Set Orchestra looks familiar to you, it might be because I posted two versions of their THE MOOCHE in honor of the band and of Ellington’s birthday here.

What makes them so special? I have to put them in context. There are many other youthful jazz bands out there devoted to the music of the Swing Era (and by that I do not mean formulaic versions of IN THE MOOD for dancers), and they all serve a useful function.  But few of them play as convincingly and with as much inventiveness as the TSO.

Some bands execute transcriptions of the original arrangements and recorded solos splendidly (no harm done there); other bands offer their own improvisations (likewise); some bands woo audiences with energy and vintage clothing or snappy uniforms and Art Deco stands (visually appealing for those who like spectacle).

But for me the deepest question is always: “What does the music sound like if I close my eyes?  Does it please my deepest self?”

I know it might seem odd, but for me, the test for a new CD is the car — my Old New Car with a decent sound system.  Driving somewhere with a previously unheard disc in the player, I can’t read the liner notes or check who’s soloing on track six.  I can only listen. And my response to the TSO disc was nearly ecstatic. I played it once, then again. And in the next few days I played it every time I drove, even for a five-minute errand. Driving on a main street in a suburban business district, I made sure to lower my windows so that everyone could hear the TSO put their own stamp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, BLUE DRAG, or HELLO BABE. No one came over at a stop light to ask the source of this joy, but I am convinced that I did some good, even subliminally, by offering this swinging beauty to innocent bystanders. Spreading joy to children who have never read a book about improvisation.  “Mama, that man had music coming from his car!” “Hush, child! We’re going home right now.”

Back to the sounds. The TSO is a compact, energetic, and accurate jazz-swing orchestra, with players who can read and improvise in an idiomatic yet loose manner, and who can swing convincingly on their own solos. Their ensemble playing is authentic but not stiff, the solos inventive and personal. The band echoes Ellington and Bennie Moten, but it has its own Western Swing spiciness too.  The CD offers a pleasing mix of classic songs and originals, as well as less familiar Thirties evocations (not copies) of Freddy Taylor, Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jean Goldkette, informal sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s featuring Bill Priestley on cornet. Guitarist / vocalist Albanie Faletta sings deliciously on BLUE DRAG, and trombonist Mark “Speedy” Gonsalez plays Roy Eldridge’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR marvelously as a feature for the lower-register horn, getting every note splendidly in place. David Jellema’s cornet shines throughout, nimbly evoking early Hackett, and he adds his clarinet to the ensemble when a trio is called for. The two-man sax section of Graulty and Doyle, switching horns, is absolutely a model — and their soloing is individual yet idiomatic in the best way.  Anchored by Hal Smith’s perfect drumming (you could listen to any of these tracks for the drumming alone and be refreshed), the rhythm section rocks — no pianists need apply.

The overall sound of the band is both light and intense, and there is no hint of pretension or stiffness. They don’t sound as if they can’t wait to get back to their post-Coltrane modal studies. The rhythm section is powerful but never obtrusive, and the horns glide from lyrical solos to speaking gutty truths through their horns (trombonist Mark could be our generation’s Snub Moseley, and we welcome him!).  The TSO, in addition, has the sound of a working band: people who are used to playing together and who enjoy each other’s musical company.

Had this CD had simply been expert recreations of recordings, I would have been far less enthusiastic.  Although eleven of the tracks here display some allegiance to recorded performances, each of them has small delicious surprises: brief horn solos where one wouldn’t expect them, a brief horns-only passage in SUNDAY; the welcome presence of a banjo on HELLO BABE; friendly adjustments, adaptations, and inventions: new touches that seem just right, something that Foots Thomas or Bill Challis would have liked just fine.  Witty musical ingenuity rather than idolatrous museum-quality reproduction is the result.

And in case you are someone with a record collection, muttering, “I’d rather hear the originals,” the TSO has some new originals to offer you, danceable melodies with memorable lines — most of them taking a single melodic phrase and moving it around in the best Waller style to create tunes that don’t leave your head.

The musicians are David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, soprano, alto, clarinet; Lyon Graulty, tenor, clarinet, vocal; Albanie Faletta, guitar, vocal; Westen Borghesi, banjo, vocal; Ryan Gould, string bass, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, performing NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / SURE FINE / BLUE DRAG / SHAGTOWN JUBILEE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / SNOWBOUND IN A CABIN / SUNDAY / SUGAR / HELLO BABE / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / KRAZY KAPERS / HANG ON EVERY WORD / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM / THE MOOCHE.  Good sound from sessions recorded July 2013.

You can purchase the CD here for $15 plus $3 shipping.

original

I predict a brilliant future for the TSO. I’m delighted they exist. We need them — a musical embodiment of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

And as for its band name — the Thrift Set Orchestra, here’s what its creator Jonathan Doyle told me: “The name came from a thought around the idea of the economy of size of the orchestra, or maybe about an economy of musical style. It might have been about recycled culture too, finding clothes and records in thrift stores and putting all of the styles from the different eras together as one pleases, embracing beautiful and interesting things from the past that have lost value in contemporary society.”

The TSO embodies a beautiful philosophy in their music.

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND HELPING OF DELICIOUS HOME-COOKING: THE BRAIN CLOUD at THE JALOPY THEATRE (April 26, 2013)

Big flavors.  Never genetically modified.  Nothing artificial.  Sweet and savory.  Real pleasure.  Intensity and delicacy in one.

Here’s the first set that the Brain Cloud (featuring Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Andrew Hall, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Kevin Dorn, with guests Noam Pikelny, Rob Hecht, and Michael Gomez) created at Brooklyn’s Jalopy Theatre on April 26, 2013.

And more!  As before, notice the delight this band takes in making the familiar new and lively, and creating its own classic tunes and performances:

WE ARE NOW!:

MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME:

IN THE BEGINNING (Tamar’s own “gospel tune”):

LONESOME ROAD BLUES:

I dedicate this post and the one before it to the loving presence of Tadek Korn.

May your happiness increase!

THE BRAIN CLOUD ENERGIZES BROOKLYN! (April 26, 2013): THE FIRST SET

The BRAIN CLOUD is a cooking Western Swing-plus band composed of Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, electric mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Skip Krevens, guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums — and for this splendid CD release concert on April 26, 2013, at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, they were joined by guests Noam Pikelny, banjo; Rob Hecht, fiddle; Michael Gomez, guitar.

Dennis and company are deeply into the music — but they are not “playing old records”; rather, they bring their own idiosyncratic personalities to the material.  And even if you are not terribly receptive to “Western Swing,” fearing that the first word overwhelms the latter, I urge you to put your preconceptions in the bathroom medicine chest and simply listen — I predict you will be delighted.  Jazz fans will hear echoes of Floyd Smith and Charlie Christian, of Count Basie and Benny Goodman — all synthesized in the most natural way in 2013 music that has an arresting but loving impact.

Here’s the first set.

ALMOST TO TULSA:

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN (what witty lyrics!):

TRIGGER BLUES (featuring an impromptu duet between Tamar and Andrew, with hints of MY DADDY ROCKS ME):

The classic I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, with Rob Hecht and Noam Pikelny joining in:

The very sweet MAIDEN’S PRAYER:

I SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN:

Patsy Cline’s love-lament I’VE GOT YOUR PICTURE:

SUGAR BLUES, with Michael Gomez joining in:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

The concert was uplifting in the nicest ways — worth the walk in the darkness over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway!

I should point out that this was also a CD release party, so don’t let the videos produce forgetfulness . . . the new CD, OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, is a delight that stands alongside the videos for pure pleasure.  You can order OUTSIDE LOOKING IN as a CD, download, or vinyl record (why not get all three and be safe?) at braincloud.

THE BRAIN CLOUD

May your happiness increase!

ROCKING WITH DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD (at the Jalopy Theatre, March 25, 2011)

Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud is a hot band.

Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.

There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores.  Is that sufficient recommendation?

The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.

Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn.  Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn.  Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.

At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet.  I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.

Here’s what we saw.

As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band.  Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:

Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:

Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?  I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:

The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:

I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):

Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:

I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:

Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:

RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:

A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:

Florists take note!  Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):

The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:

The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:

And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):

.

What a wonderfully spirited band!  And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .

The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger.  May I offer a safer solution?

Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.

Illustration by Jillian Johnson

DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD IS HAVING A PARTY! (Friday, March 25, 2011)

Mark it down!

The BRAIN CLOUD — Dennis Lichtman’s twenty-first century hot Western Swing band — is having a party to celebrate the release of their debut CD on Friday, March 25, 2011.  It will be held at the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn, beginning at 10 PM.  Dennis says that the show will feature the full six-piece band plus special guests — and that the new disc will be on sale there for only ten dollars.  A winning combination!

This band rocks.  Even if your tastes run more to MILENBURG JOYS than to Bob Wills, it’s all the same.  I hope to be there . . . but you’d better make plans for yourselves!

For the Brooklyn-phobic among us, those of us lost in the darkness or wondering if Thomas Wolfe was right, the Jalopy Theatre is not at the end of the earth.  Here’s their website:

http://www.jalopy.biz/performance.php

I believe you could take the F or the G subway down to Carroll Street and walk south to 315 Columbia Street . . . asking the hipsters as you go by whether you are on the right path.  (Any path that leads to the BRAIN CLOUD is the right one.)

Here’s a video of an earlier incarnation of the CLOUD performing Mel Powell’s MISSION TO MOSCOW at the Jalopy Theatre, June 2010:

FIFTY-SECOND STREET WEST (Cafe Borrone, Oct. 15, 2010)

Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.

Now imagine that scene with additions.  A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers. 

And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time.  Bob Wills is coming through the door, too. 

Did this happen?  If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented.  But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.

Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band.  For twenty years of Fridays, mind you.  And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.

And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion.  Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends.  As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn.  The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.

A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire.  In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors.  In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes.  But GAUCHO is superbly different.  The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good.  Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness.  Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.)  And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly.  The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.   

Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:

And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip.  (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!)  This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly: 

How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:

Here’s a  delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:

The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext).  At what other site do band members dance with the audience?  I ask you!  And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:

Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone: 

And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:

I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity.  Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.

P.S.  And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for.  I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!