Tag Archives: William Faulkner

BEAUTIFUL HEROISM: LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS” (1942)

“It isn’t how you succeed; it’s how you recover when you don’t.” (Source unknown.)

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS was written by Gene de Paul (music) and Don Raye (lyrics) for an Abbott and Costello film.  Most listeners know it from versions by Coltrane, Miles, Billie, Chet, and a few big bands — Benny, Harry, Earl — that recorded it when the song was new in 1941.

But how many know Louis Armstrong’s heart-stopping, human, and touching version from 1942?  It will come as a surprise to most — except if you heard it on the radio — an April 1 broadcast from Casa Manana in Culver City, California or on the CD on Gosta Hagglof’s Ambassador label.  (I wish Louis had recorded the song again, fifteen years later, with Russell Garcia — I can hear it in my mind’s ear.)

This is one of Louis’ great big bands — and I presume the dark arrangement is by Joe Garland, who loved the lower register (you can hear his bass saxophone in recordings from this period): Louis, Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye; Prince Robinson; Joe Garland; Luis Russell; Lawrence Lucie; John Simmons; Sidney Catlett.

Louis doesn’t start the performance off, which gives the dancers some time to enjoy what I will call Swing Menace, sounds that don’t feel reassuring or optimistic, backed by Sidney’s tom-toms.  The first thirty seconds or so tell us that what’s coming isn’t a comedy, but something much more threatening: if we’re with Abbott and Costello, hilarity is going become doom.  Over the trombone section, the muted trumpets sound alarms.  Danger!  Danger!

The clarinet soloist (Cole? Prince?) who takes the bridge allows some light to shine in, but that heavy brass still warns us that the way is dark.  (Please listen, now or later, to Sidney Catlett, master illuminator and spiritual support, shaping and supporting the soloists and the orchestra.)

Almost two minutes have passed (and how beautiful the band sounds) before the modulation into the key for Louis’ heartfelt vocal.  This is serious stuff, the chronicle of the heart learning but only after being wounded.  He’s so deeply into the song, even though the lyrics pass by at a dancers’ tempo: hear what he does with “kissing,” something he enjoyed in real life.  For the bridge, he’s nearly at the top of his vocal range — earnest and endearing.  “What I’m telling you is the truth,” he sings.  What follows is majestic and of, so human — with Sidney saying, “I know, Brother!” every beat.  I won’t explain it except to say that Louis begins his solo an octave higher than a more prudent player would . . . .

Hear and marvel.  “That’s the one!”

And, true professional, he returns to sing the remainder of the chorus before the band takes it out.  To attempt the impossible and then recover with grace . . .

Late in life, when William Faulkner was asked by an undergraduate how he would rank himself among the novelists of his generation, he said that artists should be measured not by what they accomplished, but what they tried to do.  I already place Louis above other mortals: these five minutes are more proof.

Here‘s Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful little essay on this performance — so worth reading (Ricky feels Louis deeply and always has facts to stand on).  Like Ricky, I want to applaud when this recording is over.  Then I play it again.  Try it.

May your happiness increase!

THE MELODIES LINGER ON (Part One): JOE WILDER, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2009)

I could introduce this post in several ways: a reference to Irving Berlin’s THE SONG  IS ENDED in my title, a memory of Faulkner’s character Gavin Stevens, “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past,” or perhaps Shelley:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—

All true.  But I’d prefer to start with the mundane before presenting magical vibrating sounds.  I have spent more than a month in the emotion-charged task of tidying my apartment.  No sandwiches under the bed — in my world, food gets eaten — or inches of dust, since I do know how to use standard cleaning tools (even when I neglect to).  It is more a matter of sifting through things that had been put into piles “for when I have time,” which I now do.  And I was rewarded by objects I once thought lost coming back to me of their own accord.

One such delight is an assortment of videos, created but now often forgotten, that I had shot at Jazz at Chautauqua: I’ve shared some of them already: fourteen such postings since February 2018: search for “Chautauqua” and they will jump into your lap.

But here are three “new” previously unseen masterpieces from the informal Thursday-night session at Chautauqua — by a quartet of subtle wizards of melody, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass.  And Joe Wilder, not the young hero of the Fifties but — if possible — more subtle, more deep, more able to touch our hearts.

The videos aren’t perfect.  The piano could have been tuned more recently.  Heads are in the way, some famous, and the image I achieved with that camera is not perfectly sharp.  DON’T BLAME ME ends abruptly and incompletely — my fault.  But I marvel at the music and hope you will also.

‘DEED I DO, where Joe leaps in exuberantly:

JUST SQUEEZE ME:

I am saving the closing two performances from this session for another post: it would not be right to choke you with an excess of beauty all at once.  And when I think about the blessings of the second half of my life, I include the friendly respect of the musicians here — the gracious living trio and Joe.  When I think that Joe spoke to me, wrote to me, and laughed with me, my joy and awe are immense . . . but he extended the gift of his warm self to so many, I know I am not unique.

This post is sent as a gift to Solveig Wilder.  And it is dedicated to the memory of Ed Berger and Joe Boughton, each of whom made beauty possible.

May your happiness increase!

I DON’T QUITE KNOW WHAT IT IS, BUT IT SOUNDS LOVELY: JON DE LUCIA, “AS THE RIVER SINGS”

As someone used to listening to jazz — first a narrow slice, then broadening and deepening — like most listeners, I am familiar with what I am familiar with.  I appreciate known melodies, improvised on in a variety of ways, as well as beautiful sounds, and I am not too embarrassed by my occasional inability or unwillingness to appreciate what others call jazz.  Sometimes, though, I hear something different, created by musicians I respect, and I am emotionally drawn to it.  I take it seriously and try to figure out “what it is,” and sometimes fail.  But in this case, my ears and my emotions tell me that the music is beautiful and worthy, even though I don’t quite know what to call it.  (Categorization can get ugly, as if I was trying to wear the jeans I wore ten years ago.)

I met the saxophonist / clarinetist Jon De Lucia in 2016, and have followed him to several gigs — in an intimate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn; a few sessions at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s beautiful Drawing Room; most recently to Sir D’s Lounge, also in Brooklyn.  Jon asked me if I’d like to hear the music on his new CD release, AS THE RIVER SINGS, recorded in 2014.  I listened to some of it online and said yes.  On this disc of twelve compositions by Jon, he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, Sruti Box, alto clarinet, flute; he’s joined by Greg Ruggiero, electric guitar; Chris Tordini, string bass; Tommy Crane, drums.

as-the-river-sings-cover

Before you read on, you can listen to a few selections here.  Wisely, I think, Jon has not provided a programmatic narrative of what the music is “about,” so we are free to hear.  Each track seems part of a larger suite of dance melodies, or dancing ones.  I hear Irish keening and island rhythms; the dancing underpinnings also reminded me of Anglo-American pop/dance music of the second half of the last century.  Without being a self-conscious rhythmic travelogue, the suite moves gracefully from rhythmic idiom to rhythmic idiom, encouraging the listener to feel, to muse, to sway.  Floating melodies, chiming sounds, music that one can listen to in many ways and be moved by it.

The quartet is delightfully egalitarian, so melodies and patterns are passed around and the variety is always entertaining.  Jon is a virtuoso who knows the wonders of restraint.  His tone is rewarding in itself — I think of the coinage that Darl Bundren, in a William Faulkner novel, uses to describe the ideal temperature for the water he is about to drink, “warmish-cool,” to describe Jon’s playing and his approach to his instruments and our ears.  His melodies and improvisations gently have something to tell us, but they are subtle, never banging loudly on our door.  And they sink in to our consciousness in quietly memorable ways.

I write this not only to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers towards some rewarding music on disc, but to announce the CD release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.  Jon and Greg Ruggiero, Sean Smith, and Billy Mintz — all heroes! will play two sets, at 8 and 9:30.  The Facebook event page is here.  And the salient details are that there is a $10 cover; reservations are recommended; Cornelia St. Underground, 29 Cornelia St., near West 4th St in Manhattan.

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION (September 2016)

judges-gavel

I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging.  Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.

Permit me to explain.  From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Consider these — randomly chosen — delights.  Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions.  Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business.  Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE).  Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice.  Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL.  A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING.  A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply.  Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too.  Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans.  Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.

I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.

Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp.  Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.

So there you have it.  I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.

My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:

May your happiness increase!

ONE MORE FOR MISTER MIKE: “NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”: MICHAEL McQUAID’S HALFWAY HOUSE ORCHESTRA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Oct. 28, 2012)

If “Mister Mike” isn’t someone recognizable to you, would you kindly take a minute and read this?  It would mean a great deal to many people, and (to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie) “No him, no this.”

In a rollicking tribute to the under-acknowledged Halfway House Orchestra, a memorable amalgam of hot and sweet, Michael McQuaid leads his ebullient troops onwards at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (this session recorded on Oct. 28, 2012): Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael and Stephane Gillot, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Spats Langham, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass / brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

PUSSY CAT RAG (with Stephane acting the part of Leon Roppolo):

LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

SQUEEZE ME (with the authentically wrong verse):

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

IT BELONGS TO YOU:

SNOOKUM:

LOVE DREAMS:

I WANT SOMEBODY TO LOVE:

JUST PRETENDING:

If you’ve wondered why people are so passionate about the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, this music should be convincing on its own.  But please notice: the best international musicians diving deep into under-explored but rewarding songs and repertoire.  Other festivals provide their own blend of pleasures, but Whitley Bay is and has been remarkable for just this . . . a vivid embodiment of Gavin Stevens’ words in a William Faulkner novel: “The past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past.”  Especially not when it sounds like this!

And, as always, tickets are on sale to the 2013 Party, that hot cornucopia, here.

May your happiness increase.

“WHERE’D YOU GET THOSE EYES?”

Daryl Sherman knows the answer to that question, and so much more.  Here she is, having the time of everyone’s life, on June 8, 2009, at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, paying tribute to Johnny Mercer — with the able help of Wycliffe Gordon, who also seems to be enjoying himself. 

The song (music by Harry Warren) comes from an otherwise frail movie, GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong sang it to a horse, conveniently named “Jeepers Creepers.”  This must have been one of those films where Faulkner, Huxley, or Fitzgerald had nothing to do with the screenplay.  But the equine clamor Wycliffe invents late in his solo is obviously a tribute to Louis, the film, and — dare I say it? — his own brand of horseplay.

If you’d like to hear more of Miss Sherman and Mister Gordon paying tribute to Mister Mercer, check out Daryl’s new Arbors CD — it’s a beauty!

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Here’s a witty, deep meditation on art and creativity.

Charlie Parker told the reed player Bobby Jones: “First you master your instrument, then you master the music, and then you forget about all that shit and just play.”

Surely this applies equally to Faulkner and Kandinsky, Louis and Dave Tough. I would like to carve this axiom over the doors of the college where I teach, but I am sure that the Board of Trustees would object to the naughty word at the end.

I’m grateful to Dan Morgenstern for bringing these lines to my attention. (Dan deserves our thanks for a million other gifts, but this is his most recent one.) Dan knows a good deal about mastery — how the great artists worked so hard to achieve it — and has worked just as hard to catch it on paper.