Swing that music

October 12, 2016

Fans of Swing Era music believe it to be as alive today as it was when it first burst upon the popular music scene, and there are many musicians around who are happy to prove them right. That this style is still so popular is quite remarkable when set against the thought that 21 August 2016 was the 81st anniversary of Benny Goodman’s breakthrough dance date at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. However you look at it, eight decades is a long time.Benny Goodman - Copy Benny’s band that night was cheered by an unexpected and eager audience that had been growing in the Pacific time zone for months and in the course of the next couple of years their numbers doubled and redoubled first all across the country and eventually around the world.

Although only newly in the public’s consciousness, this new development in jazz that was labeled ‘swing’ had been heard before that night in 1935 because the style had been evolving since the late years of the previous decade. Bands leading the way included those of Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell, Fess Williams, Erskine Tate, and Chick Webb, with arrangers Don Redman, Edgar Sampson, and Fletcher Henderson among those importantly involved. From the late 1930s onward, Goodman’s benchmark style was built upon the work of arrangers such as Henderson and Jimmy Mundy. Playing their charts were skilled sidemen, among them trombonist Red Ballard, saxophonists Hymie Schertzer and Art Rollini, pianist Jess Stacy, bassist Harry Goodman (Benny’s brother), and guitarist Allan Reuss. Soloists appeared who were important in building the band’s fan base, although Goodman himself was always firmly in the spotlight. close up detail of a woodwind clarinetAt the time of the Palomar date the band’s most exciting soloist was trumpeter Bunny Berigan, although he left the band a few weeks later. Changes brought in trumpeters Ziggy Elman and Harry James, tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, and, of significant importance to the band’s style and popular appeal, drummer Gene Krupa. His predecessors, Stan King and Sammy Weiss, were skilful dance band drummers and on earlier recordings do everything right. But on later dates Krupa adds that indefinable something that inspired the rest of the band, which in turn electrified audiences and helped make the band the popular powerhouse it was to become.

On 16 January 1938 the band appeared at Carnegie Hall, an occasion recorded (on a single overhead microphone) but not released until the early 1950s, by which time LPs had arrived.bg-ch This album has never been out of circulation and as the years have passed reissues have benefited enormously from improvements to the sound quality. Not at all surprising is the fact that music from the Swing Era turns up often in films and on television, in dramas and documentaries. Of the music played on these occasions Benny Goodman’s is one of the most common; notably Sing, Sing, Sing the Louis Prima piece that became synonymous with Goodman and Krupa, thanks in large part to the climactic moments of the Carnegie Hall concert.bg-ch-jasmine Unfortunately, Benny did not care to share the spotlight with anyone else and Krupa’s personal popularity, which had grown steadily since the Palomar dance date, brought about his departure from the band a little over a year after the Carnegie Hall concert.

So has this music of a bygone age been forgotten? Not at all. Indeed, in some quarters it is just as alive now as it was then. The long ago departure of jazz from the dance floor and in to the concert hall has meant that one of the key qualities of swing style has been sometimes overlooked. This is the fact that most of the music was composed, arranged and played for dancing. It should not be at all surprising therefore that Goodman’s music has had a lasting appeal among dancers, an appeal that is still going strong today. Among the gatherings for fans of dance of this kind is Lindy Focus in Asheville, North Carolina, where musicians and dancers and teachers assemble for a lively festival. The musicians who have played at this venue include local resident and bandleader Michael Gamble, who leads The Rhythmic Serenaders, and Jonathan Stout, leader of the Lindy Focus All Star Orchestra.

Michael Gamble The Rhythmic Serenaders (Organic OR 16552)

On this highly entertaining album, Michael Gamble draws upon music linked to several key names from the Swing Era. For example, he presents Billie Holiday’s composition Fine And Mellow as well as other songs with which she is associated, including What A Night, What A Moon, What A Boy and Back In Your Own Back Yard. Then there are A Mellow Bit Of Rhythm, written by Mary Lou Williams for Andy Kirk’s Clouds Of Joy, Sweets, by Harry Edison for Count Basie’s band, a couple of songs played by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Scottie and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, while Goodman is represented by way of songs recorded by his sextet and big band: I Never Knew, Seven Come Eleven and Pick-a-Rib.gamble The Rhythm Serenaders assembled by bass player Michael are clarinetists and saxophonists Keenan McKenzie and Paul Consentino, trumpeters Gordon Au and Noah Hocker, trombonists Lucian Cobb and David Wilken, pianists Craig Gildner and James Posedel, guitarists Jonathan Stout and Brooks Prumo, and drummers Josh Collazo and Russ Wilson (who sings on two tracks), while vocalist Laura Windley appears on four tracks.

Throughout, there are fine solos from both Keenan and Paul and also by other members of the collective. These other soloists include James, Jonathan and Noah on Slidin’ And Glidin’, Seven Come Eleven (a theme originating with Charlie Christian) and Sweets, while Craig and Gordon are heard on I Never Knew. Gordon also solos on Fine And Mellow, providing an effective bluesy accompaniment to Laura’s introspective vocal. Everyone with a liking for the swinging music that captivated audiences way back when – and especially those who like to dance – will enjoy this album. And neatly completing the circle that embraces these eight-decades of swing, this recording session took place in Asheville’s Isis Music Hall, which first opened in 1937.

For more on Michael Gamble, contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music.

This album is available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.

Elsewhere on this site there is more on Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa – just follow the links.

Over the years there have been several books on Benny Goodman, notably D. Russell Connor’s bio-discography, BG On The Record, and his sequel, Benny Goodman: Wrappin’ It Up, as well as Benny Goodman and the Swing Era by James Lincoln Collier and Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman by Ross Firestone. There is also one in the Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz series, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Catherine Tackley. My own book on Goodman is very brief – it was part of a series of monographs on key jazz figures – and it is long out of print (although still around on the Internet for pennies). I mention it only because it is especially dear to me as it is the only book of mine to be translated into Japanese. (I confess I skipped the proofreading stage.)bg-japan

Jazz CD Reviews – late September 2016

September 30, 2016

Carol Bach-y-Rita Minha Casa/My House (Arugula)

Lithely swinging, Carol Bach-y-Rita sings a pleasing repertoire that mixes standards, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, ‘Tis Autumn, Nature Boy, a show tune, Love Look Away, a jazz classic, A Night In Tunisia, with some lesser known songs, including The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines (Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus), and While My Lady Sleeps (Bronislaw Kaper and Gus Kahn), as well as some original compositions by Carol and Mike Shapiro.SB305 Layout-Template.indd The music is thus rich and varied and Carol performs with flair and imagination, supported throughout by like-mind instrumentalists who together form the group named Jazz Bliss. They are Bill Cantos, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, John Leftwich, bass, and Mike Shapiro, drums. Fluent in several languages, Carol is drawn not only to jazz but also to the music of Brazil, an interest that is evident from the manner in which some of the songs are arranged in styles that display the rhythmic intensity of that country’s dance music. An album that will appeal both to lovers of jazz singing and those who favor the music of Latin America.

Dyad (Eric Olsen & Lou Caimano) Plays Jazz Arias (Ringwood RR 3)

On recent albums, this duo has turned for inspiration to the masters of classical music. While in less certain hands, this ‘jazzing the classics’ style can be questionable, with pianist Eric Olsen and alto saxophonist Lou Caimano the result is high quality music. Here, Eric and Lou take lovely melodies, some of them thoroughly familiar regardless of where the listener’s taste might lie, and build upon them inspired improvisations.dyad-plays They are joined by Randy Brecker, who plays trumpet on one track and flugelhorn on one track, and Ted Nash, who plays tenor saxophone on two tracks. The pieces heard here come from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Verdi’s Otello, Massenet’s Thais, Delibes’ Lakmé, Samuel Barber’s Vanessa and there are two from Bizet’s Carmen, the stirring Seguidilla and the sinuous Habanera. Beautiful music, reinvented with taste and respect by two immensely talented musicians.

Masumi Ormandy Sunshine In Manhattan (Miles High MHR 8626)

Surprisingly, given her light and fluid vocal sound, Masumi Ormany is 77 years old and with this début album she fulfills a lifelong dream. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Masumi’s age, her chosen repertoire comes from the Great American Songbook. Among the songs, performed with gentle sincerity, are They Can’t Take That Away From Me, As Time Goes By, I’ll Be Seeing You, and On The Sunny Side Of The Street. masumiThe core trio supporting Masumi is pianist-arranger Lee Tomboulian, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, and they are joined by guest instrumentalists Paul Meyers, guitar, Freddie Hendrix, trumpet, Sara Caswell, violin, and on an especially attractive version of Misty, veteran tenor saxophonist Houston Person.

Steve Heckman Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute (Jazzed Media JM 1074)

Many years after his death, John Coltrane remains a compelling influence on tenor saxophonists (and on players of other instruments) and he is also remembered with reverence by audiences. Certainly, Steve Heckman has been influenced by Coltrane although he has successfully avoided becoming an imitator.heckman Here, Steve presents a live set recorded at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California, where is accompanied by Grant Levin, piano, Eric Markowitz, bass, and Smith Dobson V, drums. Eight of the ten tracks are compositions by Coltrane and while he would often extemporize at considerable length, Steve quickly gets to the heart and soul of the music. On some tracks, Steve also plays soprano saxophone, as did Coltrane. Fine performances by a highly skilled instrumentalist.

Natalie Cressman & Mike Bono Etchings In Amber (Cressman Music)

This entertaining duo presents a set of original compositions, all of which highlight their instrumental, vocal and composing talents: Natalie Cressman sings, Mike Bono plays guitar. Six of the songs have Mike’s music and Natalie’s lyrics, while three have words and music by Natalie. nat-cressThe duo’s playing and Natalie’s singing have a lightly textured sound that contrasts effectively with the slightly melancholic air that surrounds some of the lyrics. Some of Mike’s compositions were written as instrumental works, thus presenting Natalie with musical challenges, which she meets and surmounts with fine results. Both of these musicians are active not only as a duo but also with several other groups in the contemporary mainstream and some on the edges of the avant-garde. A pleasant and always engaging musical excursion by two thoughtful and thought-provoking young musicians.

Music Soup Cut To The Chase (Chicken Coup/Summit CCP 7025)

Perhaps Greece is not a country that springs readily to mind when thinking of jazz in Europe, but this trio ably shows that in reality jazz is where you find it. Together for a decade, Music Soup originated with the meeting of the musical minds of organist Evgenia Karlaft and guitarist Nestor Dimopoulos, here joined by drummer Vagelis Kotzabasis to form the core trio.music-soup These three are joined by horn players Dimitris Papadopoulos, trumpet, Dimitri Vassilakis, tenor saxophone and Antonis Andreou, trombone, and drummer Anastasis Gouliaris replaces Kotzabasis on one track. Although heard mostly on organ, Evgenia plays piano on some tracks and she also sings. All the music heard here is composed by Evgenia and Nestor and is richly varied, including intimate ballads and punchy up-tempo pieces that call to mind organ-guitar bands of earlier years, although here given a thoroughly modern makeover. Worth looking out for.

Also just released is Michael Gamble The Rhythmic Serenaders (Organic OR 16552), which will be reviewed shortly.

For more on Masumi Ormandy, Steve Heckman, Natalie Cressman & Mike Bono, Dyad, Carol Bach-y-Rita, Music Soup, and Michael Gamble, contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music.

Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.

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