The music may not go ’round and ’round, but at the moment my collection certainly extends itself from room to room. Because I can envision myself moving house, as the Brits say, I have been slightly more energetic in my tidying, although Marie Kondo would have walked away in despair a long time ago (Marie: what happens if so many things “spark joy”? Hmmmm?)
A few days ago I noticed three cassette boxes that have been on a bedroom windowsill for some time. One was empty and unlabeled; another was Frank O’Connor reading “My Oedipus Complex,” a souvenir of a past life, and the third, mildly waterlogged and soiled, but with its tape safely inside, was this:
I recognized it as a gift from the late Joe Boughton, which, since Joe left us in 2010, already made it an artifact. Joe was a concert and jazz-party impresario (“Jazz at Chautauqua” among other delights), a record producer, but most often he was a collector and enthusiast who brought a tape recorder to many gigs and traded tapes of his favorites. Our tastes ran in the same directions, and when I had obtained something I knew he would like, I would send him a cassette of it, and he would send me one of his homemade anthologies. (We never called them “mixtapes,” but each of us had cars with cassette decks.)
I didn’t know if the tape would play, but it did, and I can share with you the most remarkable portions . . . saved from the recycling bag that holds disposable plastics.
First, four performances captured on home-recorded acetates, radio broadcasts of Ed Hall’s Sextet from the Savoy Cafe, Boston, WMEX, Nat Hentoff, m.c. May-June 1949: Hall, clarinet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Kenny Kersey, piano; John Field, string bass; Jimmy Crawford, drums. CHINA BOY / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (glorious Vic) / S’WONDERFUL into program closing / THE MAN I LOVE //
And a mysterious bonus, mysterious because Joe didn’t type in any data about it, BACK HOME IN INDIANA, by (audibly) Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; others not known. My friend Sonny McGown, a fine listener and collector himself, wrote in quickly, “The version of Indiana sounded familiar to me and I recognized the clarinetist as Ernie Caceres. The recording is from an Eddie Condon Associated transcription session of 24 October 1944. Others listed for this particular tune on the session date are Kaminsky, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Condon, Bob Haggart, and George Wettling. What a band!”
Then, Ralph Sutton at Sunnie’s Rendezvous in Aspen, Colorado, 1960s, playing Willard RobIson’s I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA.
Thank you, gorgeous improvisers, and thank you, Joe, for sharing the music with me . . . so that more than a dozen years later, I can share it with you.
This post is for my dear friend, the fine young trombonist Joe McDonough, who worships at the Teagarden shrine. A few days ago, I began to collect orts, fragments, and holy relics (from the treasure house of eBay and elsewhere) for him, and for you. Along with Louis, Sid Catlett, and Teddy Wilson, Jack was one of my earliest jazz heroes — and he remains one, memorably. Wonderful pieces of paper follow below, but no tribute to Jack could be silent. Although there are many versions of his hits in his discography, he made more superb recordings than many other players and singers. Here’s one of his late masterpieces, a sad song that reveals Jack as a compelling actor in addition to everything else. The trumpet is by Don Goldie:
and an early one, with support from Vic Berton and frolics from Joe Venuti:
and since we can, here’s another take (who knows at this point which is the master and the alternate?):
And the 1954 LOVER, with an astonishing cast: Jack, Ruby Braff, Sol Yaged, Lucky Thompson, Denzil Best, Milt Hinton, Kenny Kersey, Sidney Gross:
An early favorite of mine, the 1947 AUNt HAGAR’S BLUES, with beautiful work from Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, and Pee Wee Russell:
And now, some pieces of paper. Remarkable ones!
Pages from an orchestral score for SUMMERTIME (title written in by Jack):
The seller of some of these treasures has a pleasing explanation, which I offer in full:
This is the score for Jack TEAGARDEN, when he performed in bands and orchestras, throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Jack TEAGARDEN was known as the jazz singer and jazz trombonist, who was an innovator at both. He was famous for playing trombone with the best – Paul WHITEMAN, the Dorseys, Louie Armstrong, etc., etc.
Teagarden’s wife, Addie was a great personal friend, throughout the 1980s. She shared some of Jack’s personal effects, including this historic and valuable score for “Summertime”, which Jack actually used in studio and on stage. This is a genuine original score. What a great piece of jazz and musical history.
Jack’s part on trombone is designated (in a small rectangle), on each of six, large, hand-written score sheets from Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California. The front of the sheets, when closed, has the words, Summer time, which have been doodled, by Jack.
I will be selling other TEAGARDEN and Louis Armstrong memorabilia, over the next year.
Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964) was a jazz trombonist and singer. According to critic Scott Yannow of Allmusic, Teagarden was the preeminent American jazz trombone player before the bebop era of the 1940s and “one of the best jazz singers too”. Teagarden’s early career was as a sideman with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman and lifelong friend Louis Armstrong before branching out as a bandleader in 1939 and specializing in New Orleans Jazz-style jazz until his death.
At my age (77), I am beginning to sell a lifelong, eclectic, collection of unique artwork. I enjoyed this great collection. Now, it’s time to share it with others.
Is it “Milly” or “Willy”? Jack wished her or him the best of everything:
In 1936 and perhaps 1937, Jack was one-third of a small band aptly called THE THREE T’s. Here’s a page from a fan’s autograph book (selling for 449.95 or thereabouts on eBay):
in 1940, Jack either played a Martin trombone or advertised one, or both:
Some years later, the Belgian label issued BOOGIE WOOGIE by Jack — which is from his 1944 transcription sessions:
And this is a Billboard ad for that same or similar band:
At the end of the Swing Era, when big bands were dissolving and throwing their leaders into deep debt, Jack got telegrams, at least one decidedly unfriendly:
Jack inscribed this photograph to the Chicago photographer Nat Silberman:
and the newspaper advertisement for Jack’s last gig, at the Dream Room in New Orleans — where Connie Jones was with him:
At the end of the trail, Jack’s headstone with its very moving inscription, although I wonder if those sweet moving words were his idea:
Billy Hill knew how to write songs that were easy to hum (although not always easy to sing) and that stuck lovingly in our ears, memories, and hearts: THE GLORY OF LOVE, THE LAST ROUNDUP, WAGON WHEELS, EMPTY SADDLES, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?, and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. And he breaks stereotypes. He was born in Boston and died there at 41, and although he spent the most productive decade of his life in New York, another of the Tin Pan Alley demigods, he seems to have deeply understood Americana in much the same way Willard Robison did. His songs touch us.
I’ve been thinking about cabins these days. The soundtrack is his 1933 melody:
The lyrics are somewhat sad, but Hill and his peers knew, I think, that songs with a center of heartbreak — that would be repaired when the lovers reunited — were more likely to find audiences than songs saying “My baby and me, we’re so happy,” perhaps because of demographics: more people were yearning than satisfied. Or that’s my theory for the moment. However, he did write THE GLORY OF LOVE, so he was emotionally even-handed.
Here’s a version I fell in love with immediately this morning, by the San Francisco-based singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold. I am sorry I didn’t encounter her in “my California period,” because she can really get inside this song and others:
She has a most endearing little cry in her voice, and she swings. I knew I loved this performance because I am now playing it for the sixth time.
Here are my heroes Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred, from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, introduced by the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth:
Now we move to the most Honoured Ancestors. Please note that they are not presented in some value-hierarchy: they all move me deeply in their own ways.
Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:
Al Bowlly (I prefer this less elaborate version):
I ask myself, “Why are you in tears?” But I know why.
The soul’s home can be an urban apartment, or right across from the BP gas station, but with the right vibrations it can become a dear rustic haven.
For no particular medical reason aside from age-based entropy, I’ve slowed down the mad pace of recent years. At my most passionate peak of obsession and love, I flew or drove to seven or eight jazz festivals or parties in twelve months. I haven’t given up, just slowed down. One of the festivals I was sorry to miss was the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held in Davenport, Iowa, at the start of this August. I knew that — unlike the tree in the metaphysical forest — that the bands I love would play even if I were not there to video them — but still.
So I was very glad that “jazzmanjoe100” recorded the wonderful music that Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL performed at that festival. And I am delighted that “CANDC” did the same for several sets: the one most pleasing being by The Fat Babies. “CANDC” isn’t an impossible-to-pronounce word; rather, it stands for “Chris-and-Chris,” (pronounced as a rapid triplet) a Swedish pair, immaculately dressed as if going out for a carriage ride c. 1917: he videos; she dances. In general, they both light up the place.
As do The Fat Babies, the beloved brainchild (b. 2010) of string bassist Beau Sample; featuring Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, and other instruments; Dave Bock, trombone and tuba; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar; Alex Hall, drums. For this set, alumnus and guest Jonathan Doyle joined in on clarinet and tenor.
For this set, they offered their usually varied program that leans towards the esoteric, which is always a nice change. They began with a hot CHANGES MADE, and then summoned up 1926 Luis Russell (in Chicago, before the incandescent days of Red and Higgy) with SWEET MUMTAZ.
I must ask: is MUMTAZ another slang word for muggles, muta, or pot? Google has not been terribly forthcoming.
Then, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME from old New Orleans, Jon Doyle’s evocative SWEET IS THE NIGHT, and a heady — c. 1925 Henerson — MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.
Paul Asaro sings THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, which I associate with 1928 Bing; WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABE? — splitting its associations between McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and 1934 Louis. It’s followed by Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM, a reed feature on THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, a sweet LAZY WEATHER (do I correctly think of the underrated 1936 Don Redman band here?) and a closing romp with Clarence Williams 1933 HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.
And another wonderful helping.
Paul starts things off with I DON’T CARE (obviously not the case!), and then they move to the Nichols-associated SALLY OF MY DREAMS. Then Walter Donaldson’s SAY YES TODAY (memorable in the Roger Wolfe Kahn version), followed by the Tiny Parham CLARICE — a wonderful hot rhythm ballad with a tango interlude. Then, Ellington’s BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN; Paul and Johnny Donatowicz summon up Bing and Eddie Lang on DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — always a good question to ask.
Next, Willard Robison’s DEEP ELM, and Frank Bunch’s FUZZY WUZZY — talk about obscure yet delightful. Then, FOR MY BABY, a 1927 hit, mixing hot dance and romance; Paul essays TEA FOR TWO all by himself, and beautifully, echoing Don Lambert’s habit of mixing tunes with THINKING OF YOU, APRIL SHOWERS, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, FRENESI, and a few whose title proved elusive, for a wonderfully low-key display of virtuosity — where he resists the temptation to triple the tempo.
Finally MONA, thanks to Harold Austin’s New Yorkers (a double obscurity to me), and Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, based on DIGA DIGA DOO — precious to me in its 1933 incarnation and in its 2017 one: the final chorus is my idea of jubliation.
Quite a good deal of beautifully played hot and sweet music indeed. What makes this band notable, for me, is their mastery of the late Twenties – mid Thirties hot dance sound (with arrangements that summon up the original records and in some cases, build on their glories), soloists who are convincing on a jungle romp or a danceable ballad. But the band as a whole sounds so good: their intonation, their voicings, so people used to listening for the hot sixteen bars also find themselves admiring the ensemble. As I do, as you will.
To some of my readers, neither name in my title will be dramatically familiar. I plan to change that quickly in this blogpost. First, here’s Conal Fowkes:
He is a magnificent pianist (and, yes, a string bassist, singer, composer) at home in many genres. And in demand! You might have seen him playing and singing as Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. If you go to hear Woody and his band, Conal will be there. If you’re in search of down-home rock, Conal is the man: often with John Gill’s Yerba Buena Stompers, having a fine time on PINEAPPLE RAG or HEEBIE JEEBIES. Conal also shows up alongside banjoist Eddy Davis and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson (they just captivated an audience at The Django last Saturday night) . . . and if you were around New York in the glory days of The Cajun, Conal was there — as is only right — regularly. Of late, I’ve seen and captured Conal with Barbara Rosene and with trumpet hero Danny Tobias.
Here‘s Conal’s website where you can find out about his other film appearances, his recordings, his gig schedule. What his site won’t tell you, I will: he is one of the kindest and most reliable people on the planet, just the fellow you would want around when you need help. (One, at a festival, he quietly told me that my clothing was unzipped where it should not have been — without embarrassing me. THAT is a true nobleman.)
Conal is a modest fellow (although his talent is in no way “modest”) who is just as happy to be a splendid sideman. So he isn’t always issuing solo CDs, which is a pity. But he did step into the limelight for slightly under an hour at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, as solo pianist and in duet with the irreplaceable Dawn Lambeth. I’ll share those duets in future posts, but a lengthy Conal solo on a first-rate piano is a major event.
The texts for Conal’s mellow sermon come from the hand of the gifted and unusual American songwriter / pianist / singer Willard Robison . . . whom some of you will know for OLD FOLKS; A COTTAGE FOR SALE; ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO, ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, and many others. Mildred Bailey loved Robison, as did Ralph Sutton and Jack Teagarden, and in our own time Matt Munisteri has performed his works with deep understanding and feeling.
But here’s Conal. He is an artist with many sly, subtle personalities — appropriate to the material he is creating — but the personalities come out of the same deep roots: lyrical singing melodies, a sweetly propelling rhythmic sense, a delicate touch, and a willingness to serve the song rather than to stand in front of it, obscuring our view.
It doesn’t get better than that — those dozen minutes of gentle searching music.
This is the second portion of a Saturday night performance at the Jalopy Theatre, one of those musical evenings I don’t think I will ever forget, featuring Craig Ventresco, Meredith Axelrod, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Matt Munisteri, Jerron Paxton, and Tal Ronen.
And here are six more magical performances by Dennis, Tamar, and Matt in varying combinations. No posturing, just deep feeling for the particular idiom of each song,great unaffected expertise, a sweet intensity.
Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK:
Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY:
Willard Robison’s WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING:
RISONHA (by Luperce Miranda, the Brazilian mandolinist and composer, 1904-1977):
TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING (from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys):
SO BLUE (a gem by De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson 1927):
WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? (thanks to a late King Oliver record):
The CD I present to you is a good idea whose time has come — growing out of the inevitable amusement one would have at a jazz duo CD titled THE BOB AND RAY SHOW. No Elliott or Goulding, just Schulz (cornet, vocals), and Skjelbred (piano) in duets recorded in 2009 and 2013.
Here’s how the duo sounded — on a slightly crowded bandstand — on May 26, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival:
The songs on this wonderful CD, each one with singular associations, are ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO (Robison, Bix, Whiteman, Crosby); WININ’ BOY BLUES (Mr. Morton); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (everyone from Bessie Smith onwards); SHOE SHINE BOY (Louis, Basie, and Bing); SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA (again Louis, Earl Hines, Don Redman); BECAUSE MY BABY DON’T MEAN ‘MAYBE” NOW (Bix, Whiteman, Bing); PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Bing, Louis, and almost everyone else from Billie to Dick Wellstood); MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND ( Clarence Williams into the twenty-first century); ‘TIL TIMES GET BETTER (Jabbo Smith); REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Bix and Tram, also Dick Sudhalter); I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Bix and Jimmy Rushing); MONDAY DATE (Earl, Louis, and more); KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Fats, Ruby Braff, and more); OH, BABY! (Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Krupa, and more); WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Bing, Louis, and many others); WEATHER BIRD RAG (King Oliver; Louis and Earl; Braff and Hyman, and more).
The tempos chosen for this disc are primarily pretty Medium Tempos, reminding us of the infinite variations possible in that sonic meadow, the results neither soporific nor hasty.
I imagine that the improvising duet of cornet and piano goes back to the late eighteen-hundreds, when that brass instrument was a feature of homegrown ensembles and pianos were in many parlors. On record, I think of Oliver and Morton, first in a long line including Louis and Earl, Ruby and Ellis, Ruby and Dick, Sweets and Earl, a long series of trumpet duets with Oscar Peterson . . . a lineage continuing as I write this.
The duo of Schulz and Skjelbred is special — for its consistent pervasive lyricism. Many of these pairings have a playful acrobatic quality, with one of the musicians saying to the other, “Oh, yeah? Top this!” Some of the playfulness becomes cheerfully competitive, assertive or even aggressive. The two players trot along through each song as friendly equals, neither trying to overpower the other. Bob and Ray aren’t out to show off; they like beautiful melodies and the little surprises that can be found within even the most familiar song. Hear, for instance, Skjelbred’s harmonic surprises and suspensions that he offers early in the video of SHOE SHINE BOY.
One of the pleasures of the disc is the easy, ardent yet understated singing of Bob — he is known to burst into song when the mood and the material are appropriate during a session of his Frisco Jazz Band, but I find his vocals particularly charming: a Crosby mordent here or there. His singing — clear, unaffected, gentle — is the expression of his cornet playing, which is a model of middle-range melodic improvisation. (In it, one hears a spring-water clarity out of Bix and Hackett, then a Spanier-intensity when Bob takes up the plunger mute.)
Bob’s partner in these explorations, Ray Skjelbred, continues to amaze and delight: his off-center approach, original yet always elating, his rollicking rhythms, his bluesy depths. Ray takes risks, and his playing is deliciously unpredictable, but it is always in the groove. (With headphones, I could hear Bob say, softly, “Yeah!” at a felicitous Skjelbred pathway — over the rough road to the stars.) Yes, that’s a Sullivan rattle, a Stacy octave, or a Hines daredevil-leap you are hearing, but it’s all transformed in the hands of Mr. Skjelbred, who is one of the finest orchestral pianists I will ever hear — but whose orchestra is shot through with light and shade, never ponderous.
And this is not a disc of two great soloists who happen, perhaps against their will, to find themselves asked to become members of a team and do it with some reluctance. It’s clear that Bob and Ray are musical comrades who look forward to exchanging ideas, celebrating the dear old tunes while making them feel just like new. Incidentally, the disc offers — in the best homage to George Avakian — an example or two of judicious overdubbing, with Bob both singing and playing at once. . . . something we would like to hear and see in real life, but he hasn’t managed such magic on the stand. Yet.
The thoughtful musical conversations Bob and Ray have on this disc are emotionally sustaining. Each performance has its own dramatic shape, its own structure — more than a series of ensemble / solo choruses — and I would send copies of this disc to all the young musicians in and out of this idiom. And a test: I would ask purchasers to pick out what they think is the most “overplayed” song on the disc and listen seriously to the Bob-and-Ray version, to see what magic can be made when two earnestly playful masters go to work on rich materials. Not incidentally, the sound on this disc captures all the nuances without any engineering-strangeness, and the neatly comprehensive liner notes by drummer / historian / writer Hal Smith are a pleasure.
You can hear musical samples here(go to the “CD” section — this disc is at the top of the page). Even better, you can search out Bob or Ray at an upcoming gig and press some accepted local currency into one or the other master’s hand. As I’ve noted, Ray is touring California (that’s San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Menlo Park, Sonoma, and back to San Francisco) between July 8 and the 14th, so you can have the double pleasure of hearing him live and purchasing a CD.
Unlike the shows put on by Elliott and Goulding, I didn’t find myself laughing while I was listening, although I was smiling all the time, at the beautiful, wise, mellow music. Get yourself some.
This video celebrates one of many interlocked triumphs. For one, the wonderful elastic small group known as the EarRegulars (most often spotted on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, from 8-11 PM) made their maiden voyage to Europe. They recorded a CD — something the faithful, like myself, have been waiting for . . . for a number of years) and they performed, as a justly featured ensemble, at the 23rd International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival.
Here’s one of their performances — captured with many cameras in rapt silence (as opposed to the homespun videos I’ve shot at The Ear Inn) of a song always associated with Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Eddie Lang — SINGIN’ THE BLUES (by J. Russell Robinson, Con Conrad, Sam M. Lewis, and Joe Young. Matt Munisteri, vocal and guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass:
Recorded at the Bohém Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 28, 2014. More info about the Bohém Festival here.
Now, the beauties of that performance will be evident to anyone willing to sit still and listen. But a few things need to be said. One is the sustained sweet delicate understatement shown by all four players, singly and as an ensemble. No one weeps or carries on; no one has to step to the microphone and sing or play LOOK AT ME, I AM SO UNHAPPY. They trust themselves, and they trust the power of the notes and words to convey the complex messages of this song.
And — rather like the Willard Robison songs of which Matt is the master — the sadness has a slight tinge of wry self-awareness. I’m singin’ the blues, my baby is somewhere else, life is so sad . . . but I am going to make something beautiful out of my sorrows.
And since 1927, when Bix, Tram, and Lang (among others) recorded SINGIN’ THE BLUES, it’s been one of the most imitated recorded performances in classic jazz. Notice, please, that the EarRegulars are not in the business of xerography, of necrography, of exact reproduction. They know the recording; they could play the solos, but they have faith in the music . . . to carry them to beautiful new places that echo old glories.
Three New Beauties from the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — recorded on October 26 and 27, 2012 — living advertisements of what the musicians and the Party-givers do so superbly.
Part of a rousing tribute to the power behind the throne, Lil Hardin Armstrong (pianist, composer, bandleader, inspiration) — a song named for her young husband, PAPA DIP. It’s performed here by Bent Persson, cornet; Stephane Gillot, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass.
YOU RASCAL YOU has serious Armstrongian associations, although the performance here takes its impetus from the magnificent series of 1932-33 recordings by the “Rhythmakers,” ostensibly led by Billy Banks or Jack Bland — but really driven by Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Lord, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pops Foster, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton and other luminaries. At the Classic Jazz Party, the New Rhythmakers kept things hot — Andy Schumm, cornet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field, clarinet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, tenor; Martin Seck, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums. This video also contains a sweet, sad memento: the voice and right hand of our much-missed Mike Durham introducing the band and cracking wise (as was his habit). Thank you, Mike, for everything:
After all that violent heat, something rueful seems just right, so here is Cecile McLorin Salvant’s melancholy reading of the Willard Robison song A COTTAGE FOR SALE, with the empathic assistance of Norman Field, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Spats Langham, guitar; Alistair Allan, trombone; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Litton, piano; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:
We don’t have to end on a wistful note. I have three more 2012 delights to post and many more from 2013 . . . and (with a Nick Ward drum roll) the 2014 Party is happening this November 7 through 9 — details here.
You can learn all about it — the accomodations, pricing, concert themes . . . I’ll content myself my lingering over the list of musicians who will be there:
Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Duke Heitger (USA), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Enrico Tomasso (UK) / Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK) / Reeds: Jean-François Bonnel (France), Mauro Porro (Italy), Claus Jacobi (Germany), Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Thomas Winteler, (Switzerland) / Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Martin Litton, (UK), Morten Gunnar Larsen (Norway), David Boeddinghaus (USA) / Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK) / String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France) / Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Malcolm Sked (UK) / Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Debbie Arthurs (UK) / Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden) / Violin: Emma Fisk (UK) / Vocals: Janice Day (UK), Debbie Arthurs, (UK), Spats Langham (UK).
More evidence of what everyone should know: that guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Matt Munisteri is blazingly yet subtly inventive in many kinds of music, transforming everything he touches into something sharp and new yet always full of the deepest human spirit.
Here he is with bassist Danton Boller and pianist Matt Ray at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City on October 3, 2013.
Much of the music performed that night was composed by Willard Robison — someone who, like Matt, turns a satiric eye on our rush to delude ourselves while offering us comfort in his melodies and hope that happiness and enlightenment are possible.
But the show wasn’t an archivist’s self-indulgence immersion in “the old stuff,” reproduced exactly from aged discs and crumbling pages.
Matt is far too imaginative for that, so each of the Robison songs was like a jewel in a new setting: I knew the melodies, but thought, “Wow! I have really never heard that song before.”
The same was true for Nick Lucas’ PICKIN’ THE GUITAR, reminding us how brilliantly Matt plays that much-abused instrument. The Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF (which we usually associate with Willie “the Lion” Smith and O’Neil Spencer) receives a sharp modernist edge thanks to the new lyrics from Rachelle Garniez and Matt.
Matt was beautifully and wittily accompanied by pianist Matt and bassist Danton. They swung and provided just-right commentaries and eloquent solos: this wasn’t three musicians together for the night behind their music stands, but a true band, a conversation among equals, rocking us towards deeper insights.
I have been thinking about Willard Robison a good deal the past few days. For good reason, mind you: I was asked to write some notes for a forthcoming release on the Nif Nuf label of trumpeter Bob Barnard and friends playing Robison. Vocals of a most beautiful kind by Bob’s niece Rebecca; other musicians including Jo Stevenson and Andrew Swann.
I don’t know enough about Robison’s life to say much about it, but his beautiful intriguing music seems to divide into the Inspirational — WAKE UP CHILLUN, WAKE UP; ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO; TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the Affectionate — LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN, OLD FOLKS, and the Desolate / Lonely — ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, LONELY ACRES IN THE WEST, A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and his last great hit, DON’T SMOKE IN BED — circa 1948, and a success for Peggy Lee (whose version strikes me as too light-hearted for the song’s depths).
Matt Munisteri, who has made a deep study of Robison’s music as well as a beautiful CD of it, could add more titles to my list, but I am not intending to be comprehensive at the moment. Details of his strikingly fine CD here.
I know nothing of Robison’s emotional or marital life. I know he had great success in the Twenties and early Thirties, and he lived into his early seventies, but there is a deep strain of nearly hopeless melancholy in his work.
Where other writers were incessantly writing about the possibilities of Romance (think, for instance, of PENTHOUSE SERENADE), Robison is drawn to the emptied, the vacant, the mournfulness of a house when one’s partner has left. (Yes, there was the non-Robison 1931 song IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE, where the singer sees the belongings (s)he and spouse have so cherished up for sale in a window — but that singer is able to say, “Let’s get back together again and we’ll reconstruct that dream.”)
Robison’s songs — at least these two — sound as if the shared hopes have been shattered. I know that Larry Conley wrote the lyrics for COTTAGE, but I think the despair is not only Conley’s.
Here, although at a jaunty tempo, is Robison himself singing COTTAGE, with verse, in 1930. Be it ever so humble, there’s no home any more:
“Our little dream castle / With everything gone” is a definite way to begin a song — no optimistic extenuation possible. The tempo is far from dirgelike, and in 2013 we are long familiar with the beautiful ballad medley, but the lyrics remind us that what we are witnessing in the empty cottage is a death — not the death of a person, but the death of hope and love as embodied in a marriage.
Conley knew something either about domestic agriculture or had read a good deal of English poetry to draw on the images of lawns turned to hay, roses overrun by weeds — the untended garden as sign of a broken compact, an irreparable rip in the fabric of loving order. And the brief bridge presents a terrifying reality, where the singer can see the face of the absent spouse in every window but no such welcome is possible as the singer approaches the actual, desolate dwelling.
Robison was a light-voiced, gentle singer. I leave it to his friend Jack Teagarden to record the absolutely definitive version of this song in 1962. (I find the beautiful arrangements by Russ Case and Bob Brookmeyer slightly busy but so intuitively perceptive — although I would have liked to hear Jack backed only by Ellis Larkins or Jimmy Rowles):
And COTTAGE is emotionally less powerful than the song that has struck me at the center of my being ever since I heard Jack’s recording of it, DON’T SMOKE IN BED:
I do not know the circumstances that led up to the writing of that song. With thoughts of a recent posting connected to Marion Harris on my mind, whose death echoed the song’s title — I am sure that more than one spouse / partner told the other, “For God’s sake, don’t do that! You’ll kill yourself if you do that!” But DON’T SMOKE IN BED is about so much more than fire safety.
Whether you hear the song as the expression of the woman who leaves the note or the man who tells us of the event, it is absolutely heart-stopping as a record of a long-time marriage that has failed so irrevocably that no recourse is possible except for one partner leaving while the other is asleep.
And what hits so hard is that the woman (let us say) who is telling her husband, “I am gone. Do not try to follow me, look for me, find me. I am leaving behind ‘my old wedding ring,’ a severing more decisive than any divorce proceeding — can speak to her obliviously sleeping spouse with colloquial rueful tenderness: “Remember, darling, don’t smoke in bed,” as if she were simultaneously concerned about his welfare while finding it impossible to live with him, look out for him, take care of him one day more.
The singer calls the sleeper, “old sleepy head,” which could be read as deeply affectionate at best, slightly mocking at worst — but it is a sobriquet more tender than many of us have heard in arguments. But what follows is — although casually stated — final: “I’m packing you in / Like I said,” which says that this is not a single marital argument that has escalated but the end of a long series of them, where the possibility of one partner leaving has often been discussed.
Did Robison know such an incident? Did one of his friends, male or female, walk away from a relationship with such power and such regret, perhaps leaving a note and a ring? Did some spouse — playfully or with great seriousness — say, “One day you’re going to wake up and I’ll be gone. And when that happens, I hope you’ll stop smoking in bed. I can’t stand you, but I don’t want you burned to death.” Did someone wake up to find his / her partner gone? Was it Robison himself?
I don’t know.
But I do not think anyone writes such a song without having personal experience — heard or lived-through — to base it on.
And I know that it is bad scholarship (even though I am thirty years’ out of graduate school) to ascribe biographical details to art. But. By 1962 Jack Teagarden was happily married — but with the wreckage of several marriages behind him. Is it too much to hear world-weariness, despair, and knowledge in his voice? I think not.
The way Teagarden arches his voice to deliver “Don’t look for me,” part cry, part croon, suggests a sorrowing song underneath this performance that the notes themselves cannot notate or contain — echoed by the way, glorious and anguished, that Don Goldie’s trumpet rises at the end of his solo.
Bless Jack Teagarden, trumpeter Don Goldie, Willard Robison, and Larry Conley for giving us such dramatic experiences — passages through sorrow and loss in the form of music that make us shiver with sadness and recognition.
“With these few goodbye-words . . . . the end of our story is told on the door.”
The ever-surprising guitarist, singer, composer Matt Munisteri is coming to California for his first gigs in this state. He and the fine bassist Todd Sickafoose will playing at DUENDE in Oakland on June 24, 2013 (that’s TONIGHT — Monday) at 9 PM . . . . and you can buy tickets ($10) here.
DUENDE is at 468 19th Street in Oakland: phone 510.893.0174.
Having seen and heard Matt in a variety of contexts — the EarRegulars, with Catherine Russell, with Whit Smith, with Bucky Pizzarelli, with Matt Glaser, with his own band Brock Mumford, in his show devoted to the music of Willard Robison — I know that he always offers a cornucopia of surprising and gratifying music — his own compositions, tunes you wish you knew better, hot jazz, roots music — nothing by-the-numbers.
And here is his website, so that if you’re not near Oakland, you can still climb aboard.
Sometimes there is a perfect marriage of an artist and the material (s)he chooses or stumbles upon. I think of Lester Young and the slow blues; Louis Armstrong and the songs of Harold Arlen; Lee Wiley and SUGAR . . . you can continue my list or compile your own.
One such remarkable pairing — lively and sad, wry and deeply ethical, sardonic and hopeful — is that of guitarist / singer / improviser Matt Munisteri and the body of work composed and sung by Willard Robison. Serious songhounds know Robison immediately for OLD FOLKS, A COTTAGE FOR SALE, ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO, and several others, but it took Munisteri to bring him back to life for us in all his multi-faceted surprising glory. Robison is simultaneously philosophical and goofy, spiritual and naughty . . . and his playful, profound spirit animates his music and lyrics. He has found the perfect person to levitate his art from the flat surfaces of sheet music and shellac discs in Munisteri, whose art is anything but one-dimensional.
I’ve written enthusiastically about Matt’s new Robison CD — the one we’ve been waiting for! — here.
But right now what I am suggesting is that anyone within reach of downtown Manhattan saddle up the pony, rent a car, hitch a ride, get on the bus . . . and go to Joe’s Pub for the official CD release show in slightly over a week — that’s Tuesday, July 10. I’ve heard Matt perform the Robison material live, and he is brilliantly cutting his own new paths through this surprising world.
Here are the details! JOE’S PUB is at 425 Lafayette Street in New York City — easy to reach by public transit. The show begins at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 on the day of the show and $18 in advance. Joe’s Pub now has assigned seating and I expect the show to sell out, so don’t be caught short with a mournful look . . . stuck outside while the sweet music happens within. And this is the link to Buy Tickets
I know that I am not the only person who has been waiting for the first CD to document Matt Munisteri’s heartfelt study of composer Willard Robison’s music. The disc is finally here — STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON, VOLUME ONE. To listen to tracks from this disc, please click here. But we now have an occasion where all the pieces come into delightful alignment: a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 10, 2012, beginning at 7:30 PM. Matt will be joined by Matt Ray, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Danton Boller, bass; Mark McLean, drums.
I’ll have more to say about the CD itself — one of the most rewarding efforts I have on my shelves — but here’s Matt on Robison:
During the mid 1920′s Willard Robison was working as a pianist and arranger with many of the stars of the new jazz vanguard when he went into the studio and recorded a string of startling recordings which almost certainly made him the prototype for the American 20th century’s most abundant and everlasting artistic archetype: The singer/songwriter. Before the deluge – before there was Hoagy, or Johnny Mercer, or Randy Newman, or Mose Allison, or Brian Wilson, or Van Dyke Parks – Willard Robison wrote, orchestrated, conducted, and sang his own utterly unclassifiable music and lyrics in a series of pioneering and timeless recordings between 1924 and 1930. His songs told of odd rural loners, wild open landscapes, revival camp meetings, preachers, and the devil (always the devil) and employed a complex and surprising harmonic and melodic language which, while referencing the new jazz – along with classical, ragtime, blues, and even old time country music – emerged at once as a fully realized and completely original American voice.
Yet, in the years since 1930, and in the 42 years since Robison’s death, not one of these ground-breaking recordings has ever been re-issued after its initial release as a 78 record. Robison is virtually alone among seminal and much-recorded American musical innovators: the LP era passed him by; the CD era passed him by; the digital download era has thus-far passed him by. As Robison slipped deeper into alcoholism and an increasingly itinerant life the big companies who owned his music subsequently shelved these strange “unmarketable” works to the vaults, where they remain to this day. But this could soon change, and Matt Munisteri’s new CD “Still Runnin’ ‘Round in The Wilderness” may prove a catalyst for a long overdue interest in this timeless body of work.
Lauded for his fiery guitar chops, literate humor, and “pre-war heart” (The New Yorker), the likewise unclassifiable ace guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Matt Munisteri has spent over a decade hunting down, transcribing, and performing these lost masterworks, refracting them through his own individual prism of 20th century American music. In the process he has not only finally brought these tunes to light, but has imbued them with an organic and riveting beauty in which jazz improvisation, folk traditions, and popular song co-mingle.
Matt Munisteri has worked with many notables across the jazz and roots-music spectrum, including Mark O’Connor, Steven Bernstein, Loudon Wainwright, Jenny Scheinman, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Catherine Russell, and Geoff Muldaur. His 2003 release “Love Story” won the number two slot in Amazon’s Best Jazz CDs of The Year. Recognizing a rare kindred spirit, Munisteri became obsessed with Robison’s music around 2000, and the hunt for old 78s, worn tapes, acetates, and sheet music over the past decade has produced as many remarkable stories as the songs themselves tell. With a crew of top NYC musicians he has re-imagined Robison’s songs, culled from their original recordings, as a body of work rightfully freed from the trappings of era or idiom.
The music was recorded live over two days, with all the musicians in a 15X18 foot room, with no isolation by John Kilgore – this is truly “Live” live, with nowhere to hide, and the resultant interplay among these master improvisers is the listener’s gain. The musicians include: Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals, banjo; Ben Perowsky – drums; Danton Boller – bass; Matt Ray – piano; Scott Robinson – C melody sax, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet; Will Holshouser – accordion; Rachelle Garniez – guest vocals.
What Matt has done with and for Robison’s music is startlingly rewarding. It would have been one thing for him to consider his role as musical archivist only: find the obscure sheet music and 78s, and present them, either as cleaned-up copies of the original discs OR as reverent recreations in 2012 by musicians interpreting Robison as if he were Dvorak.
That in itself would have been a splendid project, because listeners like myself would have been able to hear Robison songs they didn’t know (in addition to the “famous” ones: A COTTAGE FOR SALE; T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, T’AIN’T SO; LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN). But Matt knows that archival reverence has its limitations, so both the CD and his live performances have successfully gotten at the heart of Robison’s music creatively. Another artist’s deference to “the material” might have made it seem distant — museum pieces behind glass. Munisteri’s Robison, imbued with the force of two strong personalities, comes into the room and demands our attention. Now.
I know that “re-imagining” makes some listeners nervous: will the original music that they know be stretched out of shape by artists eager to impose their own personalities on it? Will SUNSET CAFE STOMP reappear to a samba beat with sampling?
Matt’s imagination is deep but nothing of the sort has happened here. What he has done is to present Robison’s music through his own lens — wry, soulful, amused, sad — presenting it by singing and playing, alone and with congenial musicians. The result is a new window into a series of intriguing worlds, where ethical truths are offered with sly wit, where deep feelings have sharp edges. The CD is masterful and repeated playings have only shown me its expanding vistas. And I’ve learned so much about Robison from Matt’s incisive writing in the notes.
I propose that anyone who can go to the show and buy the CD: both will be rewarding experiences. And if we send out the right sympathetic vibrations, perhaps Volume Two will follow soon.
That dark-haired fellow at the keyboard in the videos that follow is James E. Dapogny, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus and professor emeritus of music (theory) at the University of Michigan School of Music, where he taught from 1966 to 2006. Professor Dapogny has done extensive scholarly work on Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson. Professor Dapogny’s study of Johnson’s work, in particular, came to fruition in the large-scale reconstruction of DE ORGANIZER and THE DREAMY KID, two Johnson operas (the first with a libretto by Langston Hughes) once thought to be lost.
But the dark-haired fellow is also Jim Dapogny, a stomping pianist whose solo and ensemble playing are instantly identifiable — he is his own man whether tenderly exploring a ballad or stomping the blues. And he is a peerless ensemble pianist — like Basie or Ellington, James P. or Fats, he knows just what to play to push the group without overpowering it. (I hear the barrelhouse pianists of the Twenties and Thirties — think of the blues pianists and Frank Melrose, then add on the traceries of Hines and Stacy, the force of Sullivan, a deep-rooted stride with surprising harmonies.)
But Jim is also a delightful arranger and occasional composer. The arrangements you’ll hear on the performances below are so splendid: you can hear them subliminally (horns humming behind a solo, playing a melodic line sweetly) or you can admire them out in the open. But a Dapogny performance is never just a string of solos: he thinks orchestrally as a bandleader as well as a pianist. You’ll also hear a sly exchange between Jim and Marty Grosz about the arrangements — not to be taken entirely seriously: “I know every thing I know from Marty’s records,” says Jim. “That explains it,” retorts Marty.
Both the man and the music are gratifying, full of surprises. I never took a class with the Professor, but I’ve learned a great deal in his informal onstage seminars at Jazz at Chautauqua (to say nothing of his recordings — another post in itself).
This set was called TUNES FOR JOE in honor of the late Jazz at Chautauqua commander-in-chief Joe Boughton, who favored lovely and sometimes obscure repertoire in favor of a themeless blues, SATIN DOLL, or SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, which would make him horrified — he actually left the room when these things happened.
In this set, the players are Jim Dapogny, piano and arranger; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, reeds; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The set begins with BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE, familiar but not often played. Hear Jim’s comping behind Scott’s solo, Pete’s splashing cymbal behind Jon-Erik. And the whole performance has a lovely shape and balance between the written passages — played with great swing — and the solos that explode out of them:
COUNTRY BOY (not COUNTRY BOY BLUES by Willard Robison), a paean to rural life, beautifully pastoral from its first notes. What a pretty song! (Composer credits, please, Professor D?) And I hereby christen the trumpet player formerly known as “Jon-Erik” as “Bunny Kellso.” Dapogny’s coda is worth waiting for, too — this band knows how to take its time:
THAT THING — courtesy of Roy Eldridge, a close relative of the Henderson band’s D NATURAL BLUES, brings what Jim calls “malice,” or what Dicky Wells called “fuzz” to the Chautauqua bandstand — so well. The piano interlude is both climbing and musing, and the brass solos suggest Mister Cootie and Mister Vic — great accomplishments. Hear the rock this band gets in the last ensemble chorus!:
Finally, a nod to Old Chicago — with a dance that’s easy to do / let me introduce it to you — SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE. Memories of Tesch and Condon, of Frank Chace and Don Ewell, too. If this is “Dixieland,” give me more, especially the overall texture of the band and the reed “conversation,” Kellso’s lead, Barrett’s commentaries. Pete Siers plays that hi-hat behind a leaping Kellso in the best Catlett / Tough manner — blessings on his head:
Wonderful music — solos and ensembles that look back lovingly to the past but imbue it with energy and individualism. Jazz, not nostalgia — very much alive, even if the repertoire is apparently “historical.”
Why the Italian title? “At the end, go back to the head,” more or less — instructions to the player or singer to return to the opening when the piece is “over” once. For me, those instructions have a special meaning. These are the final video performances I will be posting from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua: I know I’ll be returning to these and others for edification, spiritual uplift, and great fun. What a swell-egant party it was! And special thanks to pianist Jim and Professor James for yet another rocking seminar in lovely improvisation.
It might sound too close to THE GODFATHER, but I think of Jim as CAPO, too — in the old Italian sense of “head,” or “chief.” He is someone special.
Those lines come from Willard Robison’s THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC, and the sum up the experience I — and a receptive audience — had last night at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York. Matt Munisteri sang and played both electric and acoustic guitars, aided by Danton Boller on string bass and Ben Perowsky on drums — with a late cameo appearance (two songs) by guitarist Julian Lage.
It was a lovely evening, and Matt both performed and reimagined a dozen of Robison’s songs perfectly — his singing a mix of tenderness and amusement, his playing a marvelous offering of textures: twangy notes and assertive dissonances, a rhythmic rocking whether the trio was in 2/4 or 4/4 — ranging from thunderous opening chords to lullabies. Danton Boller was a swinging foundation, every note a pleasure in itself, whether he was creating chiming harmonies or walking the pulse. And Perowsky was a perfect sound-receptor in the manner of Sonny Greer: what he heard, he echoed, he anticipated, he commented on — never losing the thread of the music.
I can’t wait for the Munisteri CD of Robisonia!
Last night, Matt began with one of Robison’s “syncopated sermons,” STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS, which opened with minor-key vamping over Ben’s brushwork, then segued into a sweet but emphatic lesson about finding one’s life purpose by being aware of other people (always a pertinent message).
I’LL HAVE THE BLUES UNTIL I GET TO CALIFORNIA was a delicious mixture of optimism about the Golden State and a lover’s hope to be reunited.
Robison loved to quietly suggest to his listeners that they could find joy in being kinder human beings, but he had a satiric streak — one of his sly, naughty folktales is REVOLVING JONES (where one must listen very carefully to the verse to understand the chorus): Jones, before he dies, instructs his wife not to take a lover after he’s gone, or else he’ll turn over in his grave . . . and you can see where the song is headed. With a wink, Matt delivered the tale of infidelities to his Brooklyn hearers.
Another piece of sweet Nature-worship was I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA . . . which (not for the first time) led me to wonder just how much of the folk-poetry Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer are justly celebrated for comes straight from Robison. MOONLIGHT, MISSISSIPPI had a couplet that Mercer would have been proud to write — describing the languorous cadences of speech in this “whistle-stop town,” the lyrics point out, “Like corn on the cob, it’s mighty sweet on the ear.”
Appeals for building funds never charmed me, but WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING (anticipating Habitat for Humanity) was a rocking exhortation: we were ready to pick up hammer and nails and begin constructing something!
TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the tale of a syncopating man of the cloth who swings the organ while telling his congregation what they need to know, “You’ll never get ahead if you try to keep your brother down,” was uplifting — and also reminiscent of music I’d never heard: Fats Waller said that his dream was to go out with a big band behind him and preach sermons. He would have grinned so happily at the music I heard last night.
Many evenings of improvised music hit a peak and then trail off: this one climbed and soared. Matt picked up his acoustic guitar for a solo trilogy (and I noted that Danton and Ben stayed there and listened admiringly) of three sweet songs I associate with Mildred Bailey: an instrumental chorus of OLD FOLKS, a deeply tender GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, and (what I think of as the evening’s masterpiece) a reading of LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN that was loving without being mawkish, amused without being in the least emotionally distant.
COUNTRY BOY BLUES was one of Robison’s satires — where the singer has been taken advantage of by an urban vamp, having let “a shoemaker’s daughter make a heel of me.”
Matt and Julian Lage had a good time with the closing songs — echoes of a Mississippi revival meeting in THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC and a reinvented T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO which began in funk territory before moving into the light.
It was a wonderful evening, with so much to admire in Robison: his earnestness and goodness of heart mixed with a Frishbergian sharpness and awareness of life’s little hypocrisies. And then there was Mr. Munisteri, humming along with his solos, rocking the blues, creating sweet music throughout. And he is a peerless singer, sincere or sly or both at the same time.
As I said, I can’t wait for the CD. You might want to investigate Matt’s recorded output while you’re waiting, though . . . !
May I recommend something to the tristate JAZZ LIVES audience? It’s an evening of music coming this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, beginning at 8 PM. Guitarist / singer / songwirter / thinker Matt Munisteri will be presenting THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON along with friends Matt Ray on piano and Danton Boller on bass. Barbes is an intriguing spot in Brooklyn, New York: their site is Barbes — and they are located at 376 Ninth Street (corner of Sixth Avenue) in Park Slope; their phone is 347.422.0248. Barbes is — for the geographically anxious — reachable by the F train, which should calm us all.
Matt Munisteri is well-known as a fine guitarist to JAZZ LIVES — creating looping down-home solos and playing rocking rhythms — and as co-founder of The EarRegulars. But Matt rarely sings at The Ear Inn, so the evening at Barbes will allow us to hear him: a mixture of earnest and sly, heartfelt and ironic. Matt Ray creates note clusters that seem like small stars; Danton Boller is a great swing melodist. This trio would be worth the trip to Park Slope on their own collective / individual merits and voices, but since the subject (and the musical text) is Willard Robison, it will be an extra-special evening.
If people know of Robison at all, it is for his jazz connections — with Bix, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, and other luminaries in the Twenties. Later on, his songs were sung in the most touching way by Mildred Bailey. A few became unforgettable pieces of the musical landscape: OLD FOLKS, A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and DON’T SMOKE IN BED. Robison was so popular that he made many recordings as a vocalist, pianist, bandleader, and composer; he had his own radio show.
But I fear that he has been misunderstood as a folksy poet of rural pieties — go to church, keep your hand on the plow, tell the truth. He did have strong moral beliefs and he did weave them into his songs, but I never find a bar of Robison’s music didactic or preachy.
And there is a sharp wit under the surface; his melodic lines often go in unexpected directions, and his “folksiness” is very expertly crafted. And he is very deep: listen to ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM for one example.
Although Robison died in 1968, he has found someone who not only loves but understands him in Matt Munisteri — a romantic with a sharp eye for the absurdities of the world, a city boy who knows what it is to burn wood in a stove for heat. And even better: this appearance at Barbes is a preview, a coming-to-a-theatre-near-you for Matt’s CD devoted to Robison that will be released next year.
Skip the office party; don’t go to the department store. I’ll see you at Barbes!
Lee Wiley continues to fascinate us. Her husky voice, her physical beauty, the legends of her personality, her sexuality. But she now exists purely as a disembodied sound, a beautifully posed still picture. How many people saw and heard her in her prime, or at the 1972 Newport concert that was her last public appearance?
HERE is an astonishing rarity — not known to exist before now — a minute of Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy on film. In high definition, no less:
This brief collection of film clips (originally silent) is given to all of us through the immense generosity of Josh Rushton, son of bass saxophonist, clarinetist, and motorcyclist Joe Rushton.
The film was taken in California in 1943 — before Lee and Jess embarked on their unhappy marriage and brief musical partnership. The other couple is Joe and Priscilla Rushton. Josh told me, “The bookend shots of just Wiley and Stacy are probably from around June 1943 in San Francisco, and the ones with my mom and dad are probably from October 1943 on the roof of a Hollywood hotel near the penthouse exit.”
This is the only film footage discovered so far of Lee — who looks lovely and slightly plump, her hair dark, resembling the actress Patricia Clarkson. If there are skilled lip-readers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, they can decipher the dialogue for us. And if there are readers skilled in couples counseling, they can certainly say something about the Wiley – Stacy union through the couple’s gestures and body language. Jess looks and acts like a man smitten; Lee seems much more intrigued by the camera, although if they had been happily married for decades, we would interpret this film more optimistically. (The parking sign needs no explication but makes me nostalgic for 1943.)
For the camera, Lee and Jess enact flirtation, playful happiness, and romance, although the enactment soured quickly. But I would be thrilled to see that couple coming down the sidewalk to me. Jess remained a handsome fellow but never looked better than he does here. And Lee, simply walking or swaying back and forth, shows why she captured hearts without singing a syllable of Gershwin or Robison.
We have still got a crush on her!
(Note: the sardonic soundtrack, Lee singing the E.Y. Harburg – Harold Arlen DOWN WITH LOVE, is a contemporary addition to the silent home movie. The rueful comment at the end comes from Deane Kincaide, who knew the couple well.)
I’ve been playing the music of Willard Robison often these past few weeks: the songs as performed by Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, Ben Webster, and Ruby Braff. He was an extraordinary American composer, creating melodies that sound so simple but aren’t (they lodge in your memory on one hearing) and lyric poems that celebrate goodness, steadfast vision, love of the country — without ever being preachy. If Robison’s name isn’t familiar, OLD FOLKS is, as is A COTTAGE FOR SALE, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, and GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER.
Robison’s greatest exponent today is the most admirable singer, guitarist, and scholar Matt Munisteri. And if you know Matt only as a rocking player — co-founder of The EarRegulars — you have wonderful surprises in store, for he is also a fine composer himself who understands the depth of other people’s music.
Here he is performing a Robison song that deserves to be better known — TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN:
Deep feeling but never heavy-handed or didactic.
Matt has put together a Robison program and will be performing it this month: it’s something special! Here are the details:
I know Matt as someone who doesn’t approach music casually or half-heartedly, and the combination of Munisteri and Robison is going to be special — and there will be guest appearances by Scott Robinson and others.
Not to be missed!
WHAT WOULD TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN DO? HE’D CLICK HERE FOR THE MUSICIANS!
It’s wonderful to spread joy. To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.
Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM). As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.
The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular. Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists. Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet! (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)
But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.
WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat. Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:
I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside. The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it. Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:
Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:
Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it. This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically. Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!
James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor. I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me. And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble. You can hear it in their playing! (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled. And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)
The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):
And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare. And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:
One of the many pleasures of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua was hearing Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown perform in front of a live audience, and I think the performance clips I’ve posted are solid evidence of their talents. I was hoping that the duo’s new CD would provide the same experience. Sometimes, of course, magic dissolves in the recording studio amid attempts to make recordings flawless.
But I need not have worried. Petra and Andy’s new CD is splendid.
Where to begin? (Once we’ve taken in the picture of the happy good-looking couple above . . . ) The songs on the CD are DESTINATION MOON, FAR AWAY PLACES, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, I’LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU, CARAVAN, BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES, LET’S DO IT, BIM BOM (a solo for Andy), A COTTAGE FOR SALE, HOW LITTLE WE KNOW, INVITATION, ME MYSELF AND I, WITH A SONG IN MY HEART.
That song list speaks to a wide-ranging and discerning knowledge of the great songs of the last eighty or so years, a delight in itself: Porter, Ellington, Robison, Rodgers, and some delightful oddities. I know, for instance, that DESTINATION MOON is attached to a film of the same name and it even appears on a Lester Young live date c. 1950, but how many people have ever recorded it? (If you don’t know the song, imagine IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE updated to the era of fantasy rocket travel.) And BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES is associated with Marilyn Moore — but I haven’t heard it in ages. But this CD isn’t a high-toned musical archeology lesson, either.
Andy Brown, first: barring a half-dozen I admire, most jazz guitarists have become entranced, Narcissus staring at their own reflection in the shiny body of the Gibson or Macaferri, with the endless possibilities of their own technique. (You could blame Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix for this, but we’re here to celebrate.) So the notes pour out in what sound like endless streams; the fingers fly. Few guitarists seem to understand the value of space, of breathing pauses, of logical solo construction — with music delivered at an intelligible rate. Andy could cover the fingerboard, digits a blur, if he chose to. But he knows better. So his playing unfolds beautifully in its own song, no matter what tempo or what chords. He loves melody; he can swing any band several steps closer to Heaven with his chordal strum, and he is an absolutely flawless team-player, never fixated on the limelight. Accompanying a singer isn’t easy, either, but Andy is rather like a tactful, energized conversationalist at the party: he has things to tell us, he has comments to offer and support by the bucketful, but he never tries to outshine Petra.
And Petra? The first thing I noticed about Petra (before I had heard her in person) was the focus she brought to her songs. She isn’t one of these gospel whoopers; she hasn’t channelled Aretha or Billie; she isn’t a Broadway belter. All to the good, let me assure you. It means that she doesn’t overact, that she fits the word to the deed and the notes to the emotion, never smudging a lyric to appear hip, never landing in the wrong place. She can romp very happily (her enunciation is flawless, even in fourth gear) and she has a speaking presence. And before I had heard this CD, I would have praised Petra for avoiding the dramatic excesses I hear from so many singers. But then I heard her version of A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and I was just about stunned by its great dramatic range, mixing ruefulness, poignancy, and loss — without overacting so much as a hair. It was pure feeling, captured beautifully. I might never hear that song sung so heartbreakingly again.
Both Petra and Andy get first place in my imagined TALENT DESERVING COSMIC RECOGNITION category! Check out their websites — www.petrasings.com., and www.andybrownguitar.com — to find out such useful information as “May I hear some audio clips?” and, following quickly,”How can I buy these CDs?”
Psst! Want something for free? Go to Petra’s site and you’ll be able to see many more clips of this duo and other combinations . . . and you can listen to a four-tune demo CD of Petra with her RECESSION SEVEN, which is a sort of well-behaved small swing band (think Eddie Condon – Lee Wiley – Teddy Wilson – Mildred Bailey) including legendary Chicagoans Kim Cusack and Russ Phillips.
In the great stories, looking back over your shoulder is emotionally understandable. But it often ends up badly. Ask Eurydice; ask Lot’s wife.
But I am having a hard time parting from my videos of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I thought I would post yet another set, recorded at 10:30 Sunday morning, undiscovered territory for most jazz musicians, nocturnal by occupation and habit. Some of the players look unusually impassive, but even in the unaccustomed bright light, the set has an undeniable casual splendor.
On the stand were Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers — gathered together for a medium-fast one, a ballad medley, and a short romp through an ancient Good Old Good One.
Here they are, caught a few bars too late, into LINGER AWHILE, a song I always associate with the 1943 Dicky Wells recording featuring Bill Coleman, Lester Young, Ellis Larkins, Al Hall, and Jo Jones. You’ll admire Pete’s splashing cymbal work, the neatness of Dan’s solo, Scott’s winding lyricism, and the way a hidden Andy comes from nowhere:
One of the highlights of Jazz at Chautauqua is the opening ballad medley, where just about everyone is asked to play one chorus at a slow tempo of a ballad — the musicians climb on and off the stand, the rhythm section learns at short notice that the next endeavor is, say, SKYLARK in F, and everyone handles it magnificently. (It’s so much more rewarding than asking everyone to play BODY AND SOUL for twenty minutes.) Duke decided to repeat this treat in miniature, beginning with his own MEMORIES OF YOU, followed by Bob playing STARDUST, Scott weaving his way through PRELUDE TO A KISS, Andy recalling Willard Robison on OLD FOLKS, and Dan Barrett bringing everyone together to intone IF I HAD YOU. But the bad news is that YouTube wouldn’t let me post it: it ran longer than ten minutes. Grrrr. But here’s some consolation — an ideal get-off-the-stage performance, a brisk CHINA BOY, compact and hot: