Tag Archives: Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

PARADISE FOR STRINGS: MARTIN WHEATLEY’S IMAGINATIVE WORLDS

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

I know Martin Wheatley as an astonishingly talented player of the guitar, banjo, electric guitar, ukulele.  I’ve heard him on a variety of recordings as a wonderful rhythm player and striking soloist, and had the good fortune to see him in person at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2015.

One facet of his talent is as a virtuosic ukulele player (and arranger for that instrument): a 2010 solo performance of THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER:

Here’s Martin on electric guitar from the November 2015 Party in a salute to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, with Lars Frank, Martin Litton, Enrico Tomasso, Richard Pite, Henry Lemaire:

From that same weekend, here are Emma Fisk, Spats Langham, Henry Lemaire, and Martin doing their own evocation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France on J’ATTENDRAI:

Here’s Martin on banjo in 2010 with the Chalumeau Serenaders — Matthias Seuffert, Norman Field, Nick Ward, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked — performing A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

And there’s more.  But the point of this blogpost is to let you know that Martin has made a truly imaginative CD under his own name, called LUCKY STAR — a musical sample below:

Martin says of LUCKY STAR, “Quite a mixture of things, lots of my own compositions and some standards.  Some solos –  plenty of overdub extravaganzas.  All me apart from Tom Wheatley (one of Martin’s sons) on bass.”

Solo efforts that have a good deal of overdubbing might suffer from sameness, because of the strength of the soloist’s personality, but not this CD: Martin is seriously and playfully imaginative.  And when you open the disc and read the instruments he plays, you know the disc is expansive, not constricted: guitar, tenor guitar, Hawaiian guitar, lap steel guitar, soprano / tenor / baritone ukulele; tenor / five-string / fretless banjo; moonlute, mandolin, octophone, percussion, keyboard, vocals.

The five standards are IF DREAMS COME TRUE, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR, MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, and MY SWEET.  I couldn’t tell absolutely which instruments Martin is playing on any track, but I can say that DREAMS sounds like a one-man Spirits of Rhythm, with a swinging bass interlude by Tom after Martin’s absolutely charming vocal (think Bowlly crossed with McKenzie, Decca sunburst edition); CHILLUN is Pizzarelli-style with more of the same swing crooning intermingled with virtuosic playing — but no notes are smudged or harmed, and there’s a cameo for Hawaiian guitar at a rocking tempo.  LUCKY STAR begins with harp-like ukulele chords and Martin picks up the never-heard verse, turning the corner into the sweet chorus in the most light-hearted sincere way, and MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE follows — a quiet instrumental masterpiece, a hymn to secular devotion. MY SWEET — beloved of Louis and Django — begins with serene chiming notes picking out the melody delicately and then builds into a rocking vocal / guitar production worthy of the QHCF — ending with waves rhythmically yet gently coming up the beach.

I’ve given these details because if I had heard one of those tracks I would want to know who the fine singer and the fine guitarists were, and I would buy the CD. They are that delightful.

But that survey would leave out the majority of the disc, Martin’s original compositions: STARGAZING / ON THE BANKS OF THE WINDRUSH, FAR AWAY / EPPING FOREST / GOLDEN HILL / THE OTTER / BRUNTCLIFFE / FOUND & LOST / COLONEL FAWCETT’S UKULELE / IN THE MERRY LAND OF UZ / X.  They aren’t easy to describe, much less categorize.  I hear lullabies, rhapsodies, inquiries, echoes of Hawaii, of Weill and Broadway shows, of Bach and modern classical, Forties film soundtracks, harp choirs, Scottish folk music, bluegrass, birdsong and forest sounds — all immaculately and warmly played.  Words fail me here, but the journey through this CD is rather like reading short stories or being shown a series of watercolors — nothing harsh, but everything evocative.

Martin told me, “Over the last seven or eight years I’ve returned to writing music and wanted it to have an outlet, which it wouldn’t get on gigs.  Although jazz is what I do, I have other musical interests and have played other sorts of music in the past. Without making any self-conscious attempts at ‘fusions’ I’ve tried to allow it all to come out – English folk tunes, Psychedelia, classical music – especially English 20th century, Hawaiian music, doubtless others. I don’t know how evident any of those is but they’re in there somewhere!

It probably is evident that most of it is romantic – Bruntcliffe, for example, I wrote as an organ piece to be played as entrance music for my wedding to Lindsay in 2011.  Most of it is less specific.  One piece with something of a programme is Colonel Fawcett’s Ukulele. Aside from punning on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it was inspired by reading about Colonel Percy Fawcett and his habit of playing his ukulele to the natives he encountered in the Amazon.  What he played and how they reacted is unrecorded.  It’s an amazing tale.  The obvious conclusion is that he was deluded in his belief in the Lost City of Z and its civilization from which we could learn; however, we know that with no more certainty than we know what he played on his ukulele.”

A technical note: “Overdubs were done usually to a guide track which is not heard on the final mix (pulling up the ladder after climbing up!).  This allows for a steady pulse and changes in tempo when required.  Wayne McIntyre, the sound engineer, did a terrific job.”

“If anyone would like a copy please contact me. £10 incl p&. Hope you like it!”

Find Martin on Facebook here.  If it’s not evident, I recommend this disc fervently.  It’s original yet melodic, lyrical, sweet and rocking.

May your happiness increase!

 

LUCKY STAR

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“SECOND REUNION”: THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS ON DISC and LIVE

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The debut CD of this wonderful hot band, A HOT REUNION, on Herman Records, came out in 2009.  So the second one is long overdue, and I am happy to report that it is here, and as delightful as its predecessor.  (I am grateful to Trygve Hernaes, the band’s enthusiastic guide and supporter, for enabling me to hear them on disc before I’d met them all in person.)

The band, the Union Rhythm Kings, is a wonderful hot hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish musicians — Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Lars Frank, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar.  For the geographers keeping score, Kris, Lars, and Morten are from Norway; Bent, Frans, and Jacob from Sweden. The band even has its own Wikipedia page.

What sets the URK apart (and above) many other “traditional” jazz bands is the excellence of their solo and ensemble work, expert and impassioned, and free from cliche.  They are inspired by the original recordings and arrangements, but they bring their own energy to the repertoire.  They’ve broken free of the Jazz Museum.

On this disc, much of that repertoire is comfortable Morton, Ellington, Armstrong, Luis Russell, and Beiderbecke — but the URK takes pleasure in Jack Purvis and obscure Morton. Thus, CLARINET MARMALADE, CROCODILE CRADLE, DAVENPORT BLUES, SARATOGA SHOUT, HUMPTY DUMPTY, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE, I DIDN’T KNOW, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, MILENBERG JOYS, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY, SANTA CLAUS BLUES, BLUES OF THE VAGABOND, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, DUSKY STEVEDORE.

I’ve listened to them with great pleasure at their recent annual appearances at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I have some performance video from November 5-8 to share with you — which will embody the band’s virtues better than paragraphs of enthusiastic prose.  The great young drummer Nick Ball helps out on all these performances.

Here are four from their Sunday-evening concert:

DAVENPORT BLUES:

BLUES OF THE VAGABOND:

HUMPTY DUMPTY:

CLARINET MARMALADE:

and four from the Thursday-night pub session:

In honor of the Luis Russell band, SARATOGA SHOUT:

For solitaries everywhere, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

and these last two (with Bix in mind), with Thomas Winteler sitting in for Lars:

SORRY:

JAZZ ME BLUES:

The URK discs (beautifully recorded), can be obtained from Sonor Records AS,
Postboks 4275, NO 7436 Trondheim, Norway.  Information at email: sonoras@online.no.  Price: NOK 200 or USD 25, packing and postage included. Payment via Paypal, to the email address above.

May your happiness increase!

“EAST COAST TROT”: THOMAS WINTELER, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, DUKE HEITGER, KEITH NICHOLS, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICHOLAS D. BALL at the 2015 MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 7, 2015)

NYC foot traffic

I’ve been back in New York for eleven months now, and it does move at a fast pace now and again.  I still don’t walk at a proper Manhattanite tempo, but I’m getting back into tempo.  So when I was at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 7 of this year and heard Thomas Winteler announce the next song as EAST COAST TROT, I thought, “They’re playing my song.”

Originally, it was an etude for two clarinets (Johnny Dodds and Junie Cobb), piano (Tiny Parham) and the irreplaceable Eustern Woodfork, banjo.  This session offers a splendidly enhanced ensemble: Thomas Winteler and Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nicholas D. Ball, washboard.

Trot along!

And just to show the phenomenal emotional range of this  group, I would point readers to the performance that took place just before the TROT — an immensely soulful reading of BLUES IN THIRDS.

Great things happen at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and will happen again in November 2016 . . . from the 4th to the 6th.  Details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUES IN THIRDS”: THOMAS WINTELER, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, DUKE HEITGER, KEITH NICHOLS, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICHOLAS BALL at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 7, 2015)

CAUTION BLUES

Let us begin at the beginning: Earl Hines’ composition, called CAUTION BLUES, offered as a piano solo in 1928:

and the next evocation, a 1940 trio of Hines, Sidney Bechet, and Baby Dodds for Victor.  Hines remembered Bechet as being “evil” that day yet repeating, “I want to play Hines’ tune,” which he did, by then titled BLUES IN THIRDS:

Both those performances — one for solo piano, the other for a trio — are full of variations: improvisations on the theme, variations in timbre and dynamics, and an impressive compositional variety.  So, in its own way, is this magical performance from our century — November 7, 2015 — at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party held in Newcastle, England, not a month ago.  The inspired participants are Thomas Winteler, clarinet / leader; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Keith Nichols, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nicholas Ball, spoons.  Yes, spoons — and since Nick is a beautifully imaginative percussionist, hear the variety of sounds and effects he obtains from what we take for granted in the silverware drawer.  Notice, please, how no one chorus is exactly like the one before or after it, and how this performance — without getting louder or faster — builds and ascends to something like true majesty:

A glorious performance — the sort of thing that has happened regularly at this party and its predecessors.  And I guarantee it will happen again in 2016.  Details to follow.  And, this just in!  The next Party will take place at the comfortable Village Hotel Newcastle, Friday, November 4 to Sunday the 6th.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE I’VE BEEN, AND WHAT I HEARD (November 5, 2015)

There won’t be much prose in this blogpost: a seventeen-hour travel day has a way of overpowering ordinary cognition (Newcastle to Amsterdam to New York to home, including a taxi, two planes, two airports, a shuttle, and a drive home in rush hour).

But I wanted to let the JAZZ LIVES faithful know that I hadn’t decided to abandon them or the blog.   I will have something to say about the glorious cabaret evening that singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton put on in Hay-on-Wye.  And I assure you I will have much more to say about the Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, which is still ringing beautifully in my ears.

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

But music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker reminded Earl Wilson. So here’s a sample from the Thursday, November 5, 2015, after-hours jam session at the Victory Pub in the Village Hotel Newcastle . . . on RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

The energized participants are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Thomas Winteler, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Nick Ball, drums:

The Party will go on in 2016, but it needs you to survive and flourish.  So do make a note of that, in honor of hot jazz, in honor of Hoagy and Bix too.

May your happiness increase!

BEHIND THE SCENES: BENT PERSSON, THOMAS WINTELER, GRAHAM HUGHES, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, MALCOLM SKED, HENRI LEMAIRE, NICK BALL (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, Nov. 8, 2014)

“How do they do it?” is the question, uttered or thought, that we all ask when we hear our admired jazz musicians sing or play as part of an ensemble.  “How do they know where to go?  Even when they have music in front of them, how are there no collisions?”

WB 2014 photo for rehearsal

The answers are deep and not easy to put into words.  Professionalism is part of it, a common language, experience with hours of practice (solo and with others), the great gift to improvise.  It’s deeply intuitive, and the only analogy for non-musicians might be, “How do we know what to say — if, in fact, we do — when among people we don’t know?  How do we know how to be part of a conversation, how to follow the general threads of thought and feeling?”

One of the great pleasures of what is now called the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (colloquially known to its friends as “Whitley Bay”) is that, because the music can be complicated, and the musicians don’t all play with one another regularly, there are hours of open rehearsals.  People like myself can sit in the Village Hotel ballroom and watch and listen for hours.  I do it with my camera, because once in a great while a band catches fire are plays gloriously, as if the musicians were in a back room in a Chicago nightspot.

Late last year, after the 2014 Party was over, I’d sent one of the rehearsal videos to trumpeter Bent Persson — it was a Bechet tribute with Thomas Winteler on clarinet and soprano saxophone, Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Henri Lemaire, guitar and banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass and string bass; Nick Ball, drums — and asked him if he thought it could be shared with the public.  The song was ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES, which contains a labyrinth of instrumental breaks.  This year, Bent said I could go ahead and post it.

It is, of course, a rehearsal.  So there are long pauses.  Questions are asked. Some of this will be curious to non-musicians.  But it is a wonderful opportunity, I think, to see how — without words, magically — a performance comes together. And the rocking complete version of ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES is, for me, magical:

Words would not be terribly useful to explain what happens here — part knowledge, part empathy, part wizardry.  But I see and hear something new each time I revisit the video.

In case you need more encouragement to get yourself to this year’s Party — which starts November 5 and ends November 8 or perhaps in the early hours of the 9th — here is a list of the musicians who will be there.  Astounding, in short. I’ve left my comfortable New York nest every year since 2009 to be there, and the rewards are huge.

May your happiness increase!

“BIX OFF THE RECORD” and ON THE BANDSTAND

I confess I come late to this party — the delightful CD below was released almost five months ago — but I don’t arrive empty-handed.  The words tell it all.

BIX OFF THE RECORD

And the music is joyful — more than the solemn faces on the cover suggest.

For whatever reasons — an elusive individual who thrills his contemporaries and vanishes, a creator of inexplicable delicate beauty — Bix Beiderbecke has been the subject of more inquiry, more debate, and more mythology than any other jazz musician.  I stand back from such diligence, although I admire its limitless energy.  What fascinates me is the music: the music Bix created and its reverberations after his death.

Many “Bix tributes,” to my ears, are laboring under burdens even before the first note is played or recorded.  Audiences sigh more fervently than they ever did for the young Sinatra when the first cornet notes of the SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo launch into the air.  Other bands offer exquisitely accurate copies of those OKehs and Gennetts.  Just the sort of thing for those who like that sort of thing.  “Perhaps if we can summon up GOOSE PIMPLES note for note, Bix will never have died?”

But BIX OFF THE RECORD is a more imaginative project.  It doesn’t seek to say, “What would Bix have played had he been on Fifty-Second Street alongside Hawkins in 1944,” or “Let’s score Bix for string orchestra.”  Rather, it imagines a lovely, plausible alternate universe where Bix, in the recording studios more often (although never enough) got to play and record songs he would have known, was known to have played, among his peers and contemporaries.

Enough words for the moment?  Hear sound samples herethree full tracks from the CD, ending with a touching cornet-piano duet on MEAN TO ME.  Aside from the brilliant (although honest) recorded sound, the first thing you will notice is the band.  No one is imitating Lennie Hayton, Bill Rank, or Min Leibrook.  The musicians — not tied to the original Bix oeuvre — are free to roam within the conventions of the genre, but not stiffly or formally.  And rather than having this session be a feature for the heartening cornet of Andy Schumm, it features everyone, with delightful arranging touches that make the result more than “Let’s blow on DINAH for five minutes, solos for everyone.” Each performance has sly, sweet, effective glances at other Bix recordings and recordings of the time.  It’s truly uplifting fun, not a class trip to the Museum of Jazz.  And you can’t read the very fine and informative liner notes by Julio Schwarz Andrade here, but they are worth the price of admission.

The Lake Records Facebook page is full of good things, including news of a new duo-release by Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham called WE WISH THAT WE WERE TWINS, a title both enticing and philosophically deep.

But back to Bix — in his century and in ours simultaneously.

I said I came to this party with gifts, and here are two.  On November 7, 2014, eleven months ago, a sextet assembled on the bandstand of the Village Hotel Newcastle Inspiration Suite — where the glories of the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party took place — to play some of the songs that would be explored on the CD above.  Messrs Duffee, Sjostrom, Boeddinghaus, Porro, Kompen, and Schumm, if you need reminding.  I was there with one of several video cameras and (although there are heads intermittently in the way) the sound of the band was thrilling.  Here are two selections from that evening’s offering.

One, a pop song of the day much beloved by Bix (an improvisation on its chords and its intent became FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C), I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN:

Then, Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES as if imagined by the Wolverine Orchestra:

These two performances are, I hope, inducements for those who can to hie themselves to the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — the Whitley Bay party appropriately renamed for its beloved, intent, humorous founder — which will start on Thursday night, November 5, 2015, with a concert / jam session by the exalted Union Rhythm Kings, and end somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, leaving us all weak with pleasure. Here is all you need to know to make that state of being yours. See you there in a month’s time!

And just because it is possible to do so . . . here is the brilliantly screwy surrealistic Fleischer Screen Song (1931) of I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN — primitive karaoke through a distorting lens:

May your happiness increase!