Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee Wasted

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee
Funky Delicacies

This is one of several reissues of classic New Orleans music put together by Aaron Fuchs and Tuff City Records and associated labels. It is available on vinyl (although with only 10 of 15 tracks). Led by Willie Tee (noted for the hit Teasin’ You) and including drummer Larry Penia, Irvin Charles on bass and June Ray on guitar, there are comparisons to be made with the better known Meters, particularly given that both groups put out riff based funk grooves, although The Gators were perhaps more vocally oriented when these sides were made around 1970. 

A portion of this is comprised of funk grooves, often built around a bass figure from Irvin Charles, like on the opening Booger Man or Gator Bait. Tee’s vocals are featured both on dance numbers like Funky Funky Twist or other songs that seem somewhat influenced by the Commodores and similar acts (one song on the compact disc version is I’m Gonna Make You Love Me). A dance number Get Up, with a girl chorus taking the vocal lead features, has some nice saxophone, possibly by Willie Tee’s brother, Earl Turbington. 

Among the additional tracks on the compact disc is a fine soul-blues, One Thrill Fool,with noteworthy guitar from Ray. A significant omission in this interesting collection is the lack of liner notes. Still, fans of New Orleans music and seventies funk may likely wish to check this out. Coming out on the sister Night Train International label is New Orleans Twist Party, a compilation from Rip Records that will have rare cuts by Eddie Bo, Professor Longhair, Bobby Mitchell and others.

I likely purchased this and this review originally appeared in September 1995  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is The Gaturs performing Wasted.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Devil's Music 1979 BBC Television

The British Broadcasting Company in 1979 presented a fascinating look at the origins and history blues, The Devil's Music. With a narration presented by Alexis Koerner, the program presented a number of filmed performances by then still living blues performers like Houstoin Stackhouse, Sonny Blake, Sam Chatmon, Fenton Robinson, Big Joe Williams, Henry Townsend and others. Giles Oakley wrote a book providing a history of the Blues under the title The Devil's Music. The soundtrack of recordings made for the series was originally available on vinyl on the Red Lightnin' label and later on a CD box on Indigo Records that I reviewed and 2004 and included on this blog in 2013,

In my review of the soundtrack I concluded "This is a fascinating collection of field recordings with some really exceptional performances interspersed with other entertaining ones. Add to this some live recordings of Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson in Europe in 1963 and one had a rather attractive box set, which I believe is bargain priced. Now if someone would only make the BBC-TV series available on dvd." While not available on DVD, the series is on youtube which I have linked here. While my CD box set review suggested there were  5 episodes there were only 4.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Original Roland Stone Remember Me

The Original Roland Stone
Remember Me
Orleans Records

When I was at the Louisiana Music Factory, I had selected a bunch of discs for purchase, and I asked co-owner Jerry Brock about anybody he would recommend. He suggested I pick up on Roland Stone, whose real name Roland LeBlanc and recorded for Ace Records in the late fifties and early sixties. Remember Me has been available for a couple years at least, but it is likely as new to you as it was to me. With Mac ‘Doctor John’ Rebennack (on piano and guitar) as part of a tight studio band that included Earl Stanley on bass, guitar and organ and some other musicians whose names may only mean something to those around New Orleans. What one gets is what the producer calls a “straight ahead R&B record.” And it’s a good one. 

Roland Stone sounds as natural and soulful opening with the Smiley Lewis rocker Go On Fool, on which guitarist Stanley takes a tasty solo, followed by a New Orleans rearrangement of the Clovers’ classic Lovie Dovie, with some great piano from the good Doctor. Mix in a couple of classy pop flavored ballads, Try the Impossible, and The Masquerade is Over, with the soul of You Can Make It If You Try. Stir in Fats Domino’s rocking Please Don’t Leave Me, with more great crescent city boogie woogie, a couple of more Smiley Lewis classics and the memorable title track from Dr. John. Quite a gumbo! 

Stone’s unforced delivery and the feeling he invests into these performances is matched by the delicious backing for an album of R&B that is readily remembered.

As indicated, I purchased this. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here in 1989 he is performing a ballad Just a Moment of Your Time.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Saunder's King - Swingin'

With respect to my recent post on St. James Infirmary which I linked on Facebook, one gentleman posted several additional versions of this 'jazz standard.' One of these was by a West Coast artist Saunders King from the forties. Born in Louisiana in 1909, Saunders King was a pioneering electric guitarist and vocalist who straddled the worlds pf blues and jazz in forties and fifties. His S.K. Blues was a hit, and an even bigger hit when covered by Big Joe Turner (and it also was performed by Jimmy Witherspoon and others). King also had a wonderful version of the Mary Lou Williams' penned What's Your Story Morning Glory, that was first recorded by Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy with Pha Terrell handling the vocal.

As a vocalist, King was very much in the vein of Terrell and Billy Eckstine, with a warmth in his baritone. And his jazzy guitar playing was an added attraction to his music. Later he would become Carlos Santana's father-in-law and he even recorded with this musical legend. He passed in 2000 after suffering a stroke in 1999. Ace Records (UK) has a fine CD of his best recordings available. Here are some of his recordings and a couple of covers.

Here is the first part of S.K. Blues.

Here is his rendition of St. James Infirmary.

Here he is playing the aptly titled instrumental Swingin'. 

Here is the uptempo B Flat Blues.

Here is a top-ten R&B hit in 1949, Empty Bedroom Blues

And here is Big Fat Butterfly, a song Dexter Gordon would sometimes perform.

Here is the Dexter Gordon doing Big Fat Butterfly

And we close with Big Joe Turner with Pete Johnson with their hit version of S.K. Blues.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Finis Tasby People Don’t Care

Finis Tasby
People Don’t Care

Shanachie, which also is the parent label for Yazoo, is best known for acoustic and world beat music. With this debut album of West Coast bluesman Finis Tasby, the label presents its first modern urban blues release. Playing and singing for over three decades, Tasby’s Texas band, The Thunderbirds, spawned a young Z.Z. Hill. Over recent years he has played with Freddie King, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker and others, and recorded some singles. He finally has his first full album, and he has obviously made friends over the years as Elvin Bishop, Mick Taylor and Vernon Reid each guest on guitar and solo, while Lowell Fulson shares a vocal on Find Something Else to Do, and wrote Just a Kiss. 

Tasby is a gritty singer and guitarist and his music is suggestive of the late sixties and early seventies recordings by Fulson and McCracklin. He also co-wrote four of the ten songs, and producer Charles Collins had his hand in another four. Shanachie describes this as a set of rocking blues, but Tasby’s gritty vocals and guitar is undercut by the vocal choruses and horn arrangements on some of the cuts. Fulson’s Just a Kiss, is a terrific song in which the chorus is successfully integrated in the terrific performance. This and the duet with Fulson, Find Something Else to Do, best display Tasby’s strengths, and even if the horns overplay on Gotta Draw the Line or the shuffle Po’ Boy Blues, Tasby convincingly delivers the lyrics and adds biting guitar. Drinkin’ Bad Whiskey is a slow Tasby original about how alcohol and drugs can’t ease his pain which is fervently sung and sports a fiery solo. Gonna Miss Your Love is a medium tempo number with a latin tinge and a cooing backing chorus that comes across because it is more understated in delivery. 

There is plenty about Finis Tasby to like here, despite the heavy-handed production in some areas. Unfortunately, this album could have some marketing problems, as it seems to be aimed towards the southern black blues audience and Shanachie might have a tough time cracking that market. At the same time, the vocal choruses and horns on several tracks might diminish its appeal among white blues buyers, who are often oriented to guitar solo based albums. This would be a shame, as there is some terrific Finis Tasby to be heard here.

I likely received my review copy from Shanachie. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is Finis Tasby performing "As the Years Go Passing By."

Friday, August 04, 2017

Willa Vincitore Better Days

Willa Vincitore
Better Days
Building records

Singer-songwriter Willa Vincitore certainly sounds poised to expand her fanbase beyond New York's Hudson Valley with this recording A founding member of harmonica player Chris O'Leary's Band who is heard on this debut by her. Others accompanying her on her twelve originals include guitarist Chris Vitello, saxophonist Jay Collins, brass player Reggie Pittman, bassist Brandon Morrison, drummer Lee Falco and keyboardist Scott Milici.

Willa sings with considerable power as well as nuance with her on point phrasing and intonation. She can handle the hot jump blues groove of the opening "Love Looks Good On Me" with a booting sax solo; or the funk of "Stop, Drop and Roll," with a neat keyboard solo. Then she struts soulfully on "Hooked On You," really soaring at the close with marvelous backing vocals, and the title track which is a nice soul ballad that displays her vocal range as well as her expressive range with some nice guitar fills 

If the above suggests a soulful orientation other songs are in a different vein. There is the insistent blues-rock, "Hey Little Sister," with some smoldering harmonica after a blazing guitar solo, and the folk-flavored "Caroline" with Pete Hop's acoustic guitar. Some buzz-tone slide guitar opens "Mama Needs Some Company," a driving rocker that might evoke Bonnie Bramlett for some, while "Say What," has a reggae-tinged groove with wah-wah keyboards under the brassy backing supporting her fervent vocal and a fine guitar solo. The Caribbean feel also is present on "Opposite of Lonely," which also has Pittman's lugubrious sounding, muted trumpet behind her moving vocal.

The closing "Demons" is an original down-home acoustic blues wonderfully sung with Vitello laying down an outstanding slide guitar accompaniment. While Willa has been compared to the likes of Susan Tedeschi, and Shemekia Copeland, I suggest Ruthie Foster is a more appropriate comparison and she stands up well in comparison. This wonderfully produced recording (credit to Falco and Morrison) allows her to exhibit how marvelous a singer she is, and one whose career certainly is headed to see "Better Days."

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here she performs "Hey Little Sister."

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Blues Takes on St. James Infirmary

Discussing Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man in his book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia includes recordings by it by Buddy Guy and Albert King and bemoans what he found the scarcity of blues artists performing the songs he viewed as jazz standards. One problem is that his list of standards omits juke box jazz hits like Herbie Mann's"Comin' Home Baby, and Jimmy Smith's Back at the Chicken Shack, that served as band and/or set openers for various bands such as Muddy Waters and the like. But even with famous blues songs that he included such as W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues and St. James Infirmary he seemed unaware of notable blues recordings of those songs, some of which I included with respect to St. Louis Blues, a couple of days ago.

Today I do the same with St. James Infirmary, the story and origins of which are discussed in a wonderful book by Robert W. Harwood, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: Investigations in the shadowy world of early jazz-blues in the company of Blind Willie McTell, Louis Armstrong, Don ... where did this dang song come from anyway? It explores some of the myths of the songs origins as well as its complicated copyright history and the like. In his book, Gioia inexplicably omits the great Bobby Bland Duke recording that can be heard on the link of the top of the page (Soul singer Geater Davis did a tough recording that mirrored Bland's. Below are some more renditions from the Blues World.

Snooks Eaglin

Gary B.B. Coleman

Chris Thomas King recorded this on his 2006 post-Katrina recording Rise. 
Here he is seen performing this in 2015 at Toronto's Beaches Jazz Festival.

Chicago blues diva Angela Brown

The highly underrated Dave Alexander aka Omar Sharriff

Heritage Blues Orchestra

Lastly, Rhiannon Giddens with the Silk Road Ensemble

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eddie C. Campbell That’s When I Know

Eddie C. Campbell
That’s When I Know
Blind Pig

This writer had the pleasure to see Eddie C. Campbell when he was part of Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars in the late seventies, after his critically acclaimed LP King of the Jungle. Campbell’s distinctive playing and singing was a highlight. He moved overseas in 1984 and produced some of the best blues albums ever recorded in Europe. He has returned to the US in time for his wife to deliver a son, and produced this fine new album available on Blind Pig.

Comprised completely of Campbell originals, what sets apart both this album and Eddie’s music is how nicely paced it is. There’s no frenzy in his playing or mannerisms in his vocals. Both his slightly twangy guitar and his laconic singing are marked by a clean articulation of songs and notes, and his backing is tight, but never intrusive or overbearing. His songs hit a variety of moods, though usually marked by considerable humor. The echoes of his old friend, Magic Sam, might be evident, but he certainly is his own man.

About the only complaint one might raise is that this is over in a little over 40 minutes, but, another way to look at it is that it is all good stuff - it is a recording which possesses little filler. A very enjoyable listen.

I likely received a copy of this from Blind Pig. This review originally appeared in the December/ January 1994/1995 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 197). It is currently available used or as a download. Here is Eddie C. Campbell performing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Brad Stivers Took You Long Enough

Brad Stivers
Took You Long Enough

In his mid-twenties, Austin-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Brad Stivers will make folks take notice with this album which is a solid mix of roots rock, blues, soul and country. Certainly the opening "2000 Miles" is a solid rockabilly laced stomper with a raspy vocal crisp solo followed by the driving rendition of a Ray Charles number, "You're Just About To Lose Your Clown," with gutbucket tenor sax from Mark Wilson along with more fine guitar and a solid soulful, vocal. "Put It Down" is another rockabilly flavored performance with his tremolo-laced guitar prominent.

The funky R&B laced ""Took You Long Enough," is followed by a fine country duet with pianist Emily Gimble on a cover of a classic Ray Charles recording, "Here We Go Again," with his guitar in a supporting role. Malford Milligan handles the vocal on a good cover of the O.V. Wright classic, "Nickel and a Nail," with some searing guitar on a version evocative of the late Otis Clay with Roy Buchanan. 

An instrumental take on the Smiley Lewis recording, "One Night of Sin" showcases Stivers playing with his judicious and thoughtful development of the solo and his attention to tone. "Can't Wait" is a nicely paced shuffle followed by the brooding "Save Me," again where he employs a heavy tremolo tone. The album closes with a searing guitar instrumental rendition of the James Brown classic "Cold Sweat," perhaps inspired by Albert King's similar treatment of this funk classic.

Stivers is a very good vocalist, and a guitarist who builds his solos in an intelligent and imaginative fashion, never overplays and makes use of his tone to great effect. Stivers establishes himself on "Took You Long Enough" as a roots rock and blues voice to keep one's ears open to.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here Brad performs the Little Bob and the Lollipops hit (also redone by Los Lobos), "I Got Loaded."


Monday, July 31, 2017

St. Louis Blues Times 9

One of W.C. Handy's most celebrated compositions is "St. Blues Blues," which has been recorded countless times and become a blues and jazz standard. At the East Coast Blues Conference in 1988 in Washington DC, Joe Savarin, then Head of the Blues Foundation, stated it was the most recorded song ever, a statement that may or may not be true, but no question it has been done countless times. Here is a number of performances of this classic number.

First, here is W.C. Handy's Band performing this classic number 

While there is a film short of Bessie Smith performing this, 
here is her recording with Louis Armstrong on cornet

Here is Louis Armstrong's 1929 Recording of the song

Bill Williams was a marvelous fingerstyle guitarist who was influenced by Blind Blake 
and did a wonderful rendition 

Here is an early country blues recording by Sylvester Weaver & Walter Beasley

Here is the great Sidney Bechet

Earl 'Fatha' Hines did a wonderful "Boogie on the St. Louis Blues

Johnny Copeland heard doing this classic

Then the tough tenor sax and band of Booker Ervin

And I could found easily another dozen renditions. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Introducing Roy Roberts

Roy Roberts
Introducing Roy Roberts
New Moon

New Moon Music continues to document the Virginia-Carolinas blues scene with this debut album of Roy Roberts. After years of playing the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and West Virginia, backing numerous soul legends, and a stint playing country, he has turned to the blues with a soul-tinged release comprised mostly of his own originals.

There’s nothing flashy about Roy Roberts as either a singer or guitarist, but his fleet playing is tasteful and his mellow, soulful singing sounds like he might be at home with Jerry Butler songs. His songs are idiomatic, if not particularly distinctive. The highpoint is Roberts’ back-door man blues, Comin’ Thru the Back Door, where his best friend has been messing with his girl friend. The backing is first-rate, with Skeeter Brandon on piano and Phil Mazarick’s B-3 organ especially standing out. The band plays in a tight manner with effective horn charts.

Roberts’ soft delivery may not impress on first hearing, but his genial delivery grows over time. Nothing earth-shaking, but Roy Roberts has something to offer with his mellow and soulful approach. 

I likely received a review copy from the record label. This review originally appeared in the February 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 198). This should still be available. Here is Roy Roberts performing at the 2010 Pocono Blues Festival.

Friday, July 28, 2017

John Pizzarelli Sinatra & Jobim at 50

John Pizzarelli
Sinatra & Jobim at 50
Concord Jazz

John Pizzarelli cites Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim as major influences on his vocals and his latest release commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Grammy Winning collaboration between the two legends. He pays tribute to those recordings on this set with eight tracks being songs that Sinatra and Jobim recorded at a 1969 session along with two originals, and Michael Frank’s ode to Jobim. Among those with Pizzarelli on this recording are Jobim's grandson Daniel, and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, bassist Mike Karn and piano player Helio Alves.

On this recording, both Pizzarelli and Jobim channel the elder Jobim more than Sinatra, who admittedly was understated compared to his usual style on the celebrated recordings. The musical tone on most of these selections is more like Getz-Gilberto than the Claus Ogerman or Eumir Deodato orchestrated sessions. The result is delightful performances in their own lightly swinging fashion including then marvelous "Agua De Beber," as well as the lovely medley of "Meditation / Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," with Daniel singing the latter number in Portuguese before Pizzarelli sings softly in English along with his soft guitar chording, and the pretty "Dindi." There is also the delightful lightly swaying bossa nova medley of "I Concentrate On You / Wave," with Alves exquisite in his accompaniment and Pizzarelli taking a brief acoustic chordal break. Pizzarelli's father recorded "Two Kites" with the elder Jobim, with Daniel taking the vocal on this remake with a vocal chorus with its celebration of the kites flying in the sky. There is also a wonderful tenor saxophonist on a few selections including Michael Frank's "Antonio's Song."

As indicated this is a delightful recording, full of charm and elegance that might not quite reach the level of the legendary Sinatra-Jobim collaboration, but is enjoyable and laudable with its own considerable merits.

I received my review copy from Concord. Here is a video of "Baubles, Bangles & Beads," from this recording.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

The legendary photographer, W Eugene Smith, in the fifties through the early 1970s when he was evicted after a dispute with his landlord, rented floors in a Sixth Avenue building in the 'Flower District' of Manhattan. Smith had been a famed photo journalist for Life Magazine and is renown for his pictures of Pittsburgh. Through the mid-fifties until the mid-sixties, his space became a focal point for jazz musicians as well as Smith's own photography. This documentary from WNYC Films and directed by Sara Fishko, and available on DVD from FilmBuff, follows up a coffee table book from Sam Stephenson, and a WNYC radio series (that I believe Ms Fishko produced) to tell this fascinating story of this photographer and the space that was both home and his work space.

Jazz musicians then, and now, continue to struggle in funding places to play and rehearse, as well as live. When Smith moved into his loft in the mid-fifties, others were doing the same thing, illegally setting up homes and work places in  a commercially zoned area of New York City. Smith had been famous for his photo stories in Life Magazine, but with an obsessive nature, including his desire to control the layout of his photo stories, eventually became estranged from Life. In the fifties, when he was associated with the Magnum Agency, he was contracted to do a book of 100 pictures in Pittsburgh. He ended up taking thousands which he then tried to go through in the home about an hour up the Hudson from New York City.

With slow progress on a book getting done, and Smith failing to pay taxes, he moved away from his family and the house to the Manhattan loft. He set up a dark room, started shooting out the window, and started recording not only the music played by musicians, but his phone calls and the like as he spread out proofs on the walls and more. and word got out about his loft and musicians of all stripes would play there. He even drilled holes in the ceiling to place mikes on the floor above to capture the music. Obsessive about documenting everything, he had many reels of tape as well as his photos he took. 

Musicians like Freddie Redd, Ronnie Free, Gerry Mulligan and others were there and can be seen in some of the photos. Free even started living there as well as often serving as house drummer, and one of the other musicians he met then introduced him to heroin. He went on the road with Sarah Vaughan, but his habit made him so unreliable, he returned to the loft not long after. 

 Bill Crown is among those interviewed and here is a clip of him interviewed for the film

Smith's focus on his photography (and there is considerable discussion about his skills not simply in capturing the moment, but his darkroom and printing skills) and recording the music and all the goings on in the loft sometimes had him forget mundane things like paying the rent (or paying back someone like Hall Overton who lent him money (and is supposed to have threatened Smith with pinning him to the wall if he did not repay). 

Overton is another central figure besides Smith. On the faculty at Julliard, he was equally comfortable in either classical and jazz contexts and at the loft,m started teaching composition and other matters with students including Carmen Moore, Carla Bley and Steve Reich. Besides this, he also collaborated with Thelonious Monk on Monk's Town Hall concert which was significant in that at the time Monk had lost his cabaret card and unable to play in Manhattan clubs, but could play concerts. 

 Here is a CNN documentary on The Jazz Loft Project

A mix of rehearsal tapes, photos of the two working together take us from Monk teaching Overton how to play his music to working out concepts and arrangements of the music that would be performed. We hear from Harry Colomby, who was Monk's manager at the time, participants in the concert like alto saxophonist Phil Woods and french horn player Robert Northern about the experience, and the rehearsals with commentary from Monk's son T.S. Monk, monk biographer Kelley and the prominent contemporary pianist Jason Moran. One hears Phil Woods discuss the difficulty of the music, and  Robert Northern mention how Monk helped him get beyond simply his academic treatment of the notes to get the rhythmic feel down. The results of the three odd weeks of rehearsal was a musical triumph.

Here is a brief overview of Eugene Smith's contribution to photography

Nothing lasts forever, and the eventual demise of Smith's loft is discussed. Throughout this documentary, Smith's photographs and audio from the performances as well as his own life are skillfully weaved in with the interviews with musicians and others making for some fascinating viewing. This is a superb film that will intrigue those into either/and jazz and photography. I purchased this as a download although it is available on DVD and can be rented if one does not wish to purchase. For more information visit which includes a trailer for the film. Finally we have a clip of Sara Fishko and Calvin Skaggs discussing the film at Docs NYC in 2015.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

George Gershwin Inducted Into DownBeat Hall of Fame

George Gershwin's An American in Paris

In his August 2017 article on George Gershwin that accompanies his selection by the Veterans Committee to the DownBeat Hall of Fame, John McDonough writes that Gershwin is the most important figure in the literature of the jazz repertoire. He notes that if one looks at the list of the 100 most performed songs there are 11 titles from Gershwin (starting with "Summertime" and ending with "S'Wonderful." The next closest composer is Duke Ellington with seven and then Cole Porter with four. Simply look at "I Got Rhythm," and the structure and changes of it has "served as the harmonic support chassis for more original jazz titles — contrafacts, as they're called — than any song ever written."

 Here George Gershwin plays "I Got Rhythm."

The timelessness of Gershwin's music is seen and heard from the Broadway adaptation in 2015 of the 1951 film, "An American in Paris," was made into an exuberant Broadway Music with brilliant choreography as well as the timeless music. I had the pleasure of seeing it on Broadway, although it is now on tour in the North American (and will be at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC over the holidays this winter). Of course this composition is echoed in Bud Powell's classic "Parisian Thoroughfare." 

Here is Billie Holiday 1939 recording of "The Man I Love,"

Of course, "Rhapsody in Blue," first performed at Paul Whiteman's Aeolian Hall concert in 1924, is a classic of American Music.Let us continue to enjoy the legacy he left over the next century. And here are some more samples of this legacy.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong performing "Summertime."

 Here is Charlie Parker performing his "Anthropology," a contrafact of "I Got Rhythm."

Finally here is Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail," featuring Ben Webster on tenor sax 
and also a contrafact of "I Got Rhythm."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Greg Hatza ORGANization Diggin' Up My Roots

The Greg Hatza ORGANization
Diggin' Up My Roots
Flip Records

Hammond B-3 master Greg Hatza was playing boogie woogie on the piano at the age of 5 growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania. Growing up on classic R&B, he becoming obsessed with the Hammond B-3 after hearing Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy McGriff. Baltimore Colt legend Lenny Moore caught Hatza playing at a hotel in Reading, and asked him to perform at a club that he was opening in Baltimore. Moore would also became his manager and Hatza moved to Charm City, and recorded a couple albums for Coral Records at this time. Subsequently he led pretty diverse career, including playing other electric keyboards and later studying tabla and sitar. He met Joey Defrancesco in 1994 who advised him the B-3 was undergoing a popular renaissance and returned to playing that and forming the Greg Hatza ORGANization, who currently also consist of Robert Shaid on drums, Brian Kooken on guitar and Peter Fraise on saxophone.

The title of this disc refers to the R&B and blues songs that Hatza heard growing up and there are eight interpretations of "High Heel Sneakers," "I Got a Woman," "Back at the Chicken Shack," "Night Train," "Please Send Me Someone To Love,""Hand Jive,""Something You Got," and "Stagger Lee." There are also three originals, including a couple of vocals. The mood is set on the opening, bouncy blues, "Baltimore Strut," that allows Fraise to get down as Hatza lays down a greasy foundation before Kooken solos while Shaid and the leader maintain the groove. An original blues "Big Big Back," opens with some down-in-the alley organ before Hatza takes a vocal about his baby having a big behind. Hatza is ok as a singer, but he sounds off-mike for most of it before the closing vocal where the rest join him. It is followed by Tommy Tucker's "High Heel Sneakers," with a funky riff providing a fresh take on the blues classic.

The last original, "Headin On Down South," is another slow blues with some bluesy guitar from Kooken and a decent vocal. The renditions of "I Got a Woman," "Back to the Chicken Shack" and "Night Train" are straight-ahead organ group performances with everything played at a relaxed tempo. "Night Train," is partly adapted from the James Brown recording with Fraise's sax solo evoking Jimmy Forrest. The longest performance is the moody take on "Please Send Me Someone To Love," with some fine bluesy solos from Hatza, Fraise and Kooken. There is also a peppy take of the John Otis hit, "Hand Jive."

Digging up his musical roots, Greg Hatza has produced a solid, blues-drenched Hammond B-3 led jazz recording that will delight organ and soul jazz fans.

A publicist provided download files for the review. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 373). Here is The Greg Hatza ORGANization in 2011 performing Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack" from the now-defunct New Haven Lounge.

Monday, July 24, 2017

DownBeat's Hall of Fame Celebrates Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake in Berlin in 1972 playing several of his most famous compositions, 
Charleston Rag, I'm Just Wild About Harry and Memories of You.

Among the three individuals selected by the Veterans Committee for DownBeat's Hall of Fame was James Hubert Blake (February 7, 1887 - February 12, 1983), known as Eubie Blake. Blake was an American composer, lyricist, and pianist of ragtimejazz, and popular music. In 1921, he and his long-time collaborator Noble Sissle wrote Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans. Among the compositions he is still remembered for are  "Bandana Days", "Charleston Rag", "Love Will Find a Way", "Memories of You" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". The musical Eubie!, which opened on Broadway in 1978, featured his works.

Blake was born in Baltimore of two former slaves, and the only one of eight children to survive infancy. He worked first in a bordello, then a Black and Tan Club and then on a medicine show circuit. Blake said he composed the melody of the "Charleston Rag" in 1899, when he would have been only 12 years old, but it was not committed to paper, however, until 1915, when he learned to write musical notation. In 1912, Blake began playing in vaudeville with James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, which accompanied Vernon and Irene Castle's ballroom dance act. 

After World War 1, Blake first joined with Noble Sissle to work as a vaudeville act, and then they worked on Shuffle Along. The Blake-Sissle partnership ended in 1925, but Blake continued to evolve. In 1930, he collaborated with Andy Razaf on Blackbirds, which introduced, among other numbers, “Memories Of You” and “You’re Lucky To Me.”

Louis Armstrong's classic recording of You're Lucky To Me.

After decline in interest in ragtime, his career went on an upswing in the 1950s when interest in ragtime revived and Blake, one of its last surviving artists, found himself launching yet another career as ragtime artist, music historian, and educator and recording with 20th Century Records and Columbia Records. Additionally another ragtime revival engendered by the 1973 film The Sting—along with the 1978 musical Eubie!—helped to elevate Blake’s profile during his final decade. 
Through the last decades of his life lectured and gave interviews at major colleges and universities all over the world, and appeared as a performer and clinician at top jazz and rag festivals as well as appearing on television as a guest on the Tonight Show with John Carson and Merv Griffin, and was featured with orchestral performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler.

A 1932 film of Eubie Blake and His Orchestra that includes the Nicholas Brothers

Terry Waldo, author of This is Ragtime, said of Blake "He lived long enough to convey to later generations all of his knowl- edge about the whole history of American music, and the ways in which black music was entwined within it.” Furthermore, in the DownBeat article accompanying his selection to the Hall of Fame, Ted Panken observes that "younger musicians imbued with an “all jazz is modern” aesthetic, such as vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Ehud Asherie, continue to find inspiration in his works. It is quite a legacy.

The material in this appreciation is taken from Blake's Wikipedia entry and Ted Panken's article in the August 2017 DownBeat. We close with a clip of Eubie Blake with John Denver as Eubie plays and they announce the Best New Artist award on the 1979 Grammy Awards TV show.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Looking back at John Hammond on Vanguard and Pointblank

John Hammond
Verve & Pointblank Releases
Verve / Pointblank

Jerry Wexler writes in the notes to John Hammond’s new Pointblank release Trouble No More that Hammond is the greatest roots blues practitioner of this generation and Hammond sings “the deep and natural blues like some blind man on the corner in Opelousas, Louisiana.” Despite Jerry Wexler’s renown as a producer and recording industry mogul, the latter statement will provoke disagreement among some who find Hammond often sounding as if he is trying to sound like a street singer. Regardless of Hammond’s dedication to the blues, his vocals are inconsistent, and some will find him on occasion, irritably contrived, particularly when he tries to sing tough like Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. Admittedly he can be engaging when singing in an unforced manner. 

Vanguard has compiled a useful cross-section of his work for that label that dates from the sixties forward, You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover. After an awful vocal on the title track, this reviewer almost didn’t listen to the rest. While his choked vocal also sounds forced on Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied, he is convincing on Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, which also sports solid guitar by the late Billy Butler, and the still active Jimmy Spruill (active when review was originally written and published). While some will find the presence of Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and the Hawks (better known as The Band), of interest, there is no electric guitar playing here that tops Butler and Spruill. Those who like Hammond’s vocals will have no reservations about this, and for others, like this reviewer, this does provide a useful sampling and there are a number of engaging performances here. 

Hammond’s backing on Trouble No More. on Pointblank includes Little Charlie and the Nitecats on several songs, slide guitarist Roy Rogers on others, and Charles Brown’s piano and Danny Caron’s guitar are on renditions of Brown’s Trouble Blues and Fool’s Paradise. Hammond’s singing is more relaxed here, although occasionally coming across as mannered. He continues to exhibit an eclectic repertoire and his rendition of That Nasty Swing has a bit of Jimmy Rodgers flavor, although Hammond doesn’t attempt a blue yodel. The album’s highpoint is a nice, wistful version of Blind Willie McTell’s Love Changin’ Blues. Trouble Blues is a credible remake, of a Charles Brown classic but Hammond is overshadowed by Brown’s kinetic accompaniment. However, Hammond has produced an engaging and likable release for the Pointblank. 

I likely received review copies from the record companies. This review originally appeared in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190). One may have to purchase theses used or as downloads, although their are other collections of Hammond's Vanguard recordings available. Here is Hammond doing Fool's Paradise from the Trouble No More CD.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Charlie Owen Worth the Wait

Charlie Owen
Worth the Wait

Like the prodigal son, DC native Chartlie Owen has returned to the DMV (Distict-Maryland-Virginia) after decades on the West coast where he fronted the Dynatones as well as part of the house band at various venues. Now he has this release produced by Jim Pugh, who was the keyboardist for the Dynatones, as well as others including Etta James. In addition to Pugh (and Owen's own trumpet on 4 tracks), among those heard in the backing including saxophonist Nancy Wright, drummer Paul Revelli, Jon Cleary (piano on one track) and Curtis Salgado (a duet on one track).

This is mostly an album of southern soul and blues ably played and capably sung. Owen shows clear affection for this material and his renditions of the O.V. Wright classic "I Don't Know Why," James Carr's "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man," Little Milton's deep blues "So Mean To Me" and classic urban soul "We're Gonna Make It," Johnny Adams' "It Ain't the Same Thing," and Johnny Taylor classic "Cheaper to Keep Her," show him an able singer although his renditions do not reach the level of Carr, Milton, Adams and Taylor, as capably sung and played as they are. His affection for New Orleans R&B  is reflected in the Adams cover along with a nice treatment of Allen Toussaint's "On the Way Down," along with surprising, and well-sung recreations of Tommy Ridgely's "Let's Try and Talk It Over," along with Lloyd Price's "Just Because."

A couple of ballads stand out including his rendition of Jesse Winchester's "No Pride At All," and Allison Moorer's "Soft Place To Fall," that closes this recording. These have a warmth and do not suffer from unavoidable comparisons with some soul legends. Owen is a very good singer, and fans of classic soul with a dose of blues should find "Worth the Wait" quite entertaining.

I received my review copy from a publicist. He is performing Sunday evening, July 23 at JV's in Falls Church, Virginia and I hope to enjoy his music live. Here is Charlie Owen performing "Can I Change My Mind."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Herbie Nichols Honored In DownBeat Hall of Fame

Herbie Nichols recording of The Third World

"It's about time" was a common comment on Facebook regarding the selection of Herbie Nichols to DownBeat's Hall of Fame. Nichols was one of three selected by the Veterans Committee (the others being Eubie Blake and George Gershwin) and it is gratifying that he is receiving such recognition so long after his early death from leukemia in 1963 at the age of 44.

Perhaps at the time of his passing, he was perhaps unfairly compared to his friend Thelonious Monk. I became acquainted with his story from the chapter devoted to him in A.B. Spellman's classic book,Four Lives in the Bebop Business. Recently we are fortunate that Mark Miller wrote a full biography of Nichols, Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist's Life

Herbie Nichols recording of Lady Sings the Blues.

He was born in San Juan Hill area of Manhattan and grew up in Harlem. Wikipedia succintly observes  that "During much of his life he took work as a Dixieland musician while working on the more adventurous kind of jazz he preferred, and he is best known today for these highly original compositions, program music that combines bop, Dixieland, and music from the Caribbean with harmonies derived from Erik Satie and Béla Bartók." 

The quirkiness of his compositions perhaps leads to superficial comparisons to Monk. He became friends of Monk while working at Minton's, although he was not fond of the competitiveness of that venue. He became friends of Monk then and was also a journalist who was perhaps the first to write about Monk.

Herbie Nichols playing 2300 Skidoo.

After serving in the Military during World War II, he pursued his career as a composer and pianist. Mary Lou Williams was the first to record his compositions, and after "several years of to persuade Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records to sign him up, he finally recorded some of his compositions for the label in 1955 and 1956, some of which were not issued until the 1980s. His tune Serenade had lyrics added, and as Lady Sings the Blues became firmly identified with Billie Holiday. In 1957 he recorded his last album for Bethlehem Records." His Blue Note Records are compiled on The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols, and his Bethlehem recordings available on Love, Gloom, Cash, Love.

His efforts to work as a modern musician were limited, and as noted he often had to play Dixieland, which is where he met Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, both who were champions of his music after his passing and who were involved in various recordings of his compositions, including a number that were not recorded during his life. Miller notes his music was viewed by his contemporaries as a bit out and also his straight personality contributed to him being outside the jazz scene at the time. 

Misha Mingelberg is heard leading a group playing Herbie Nichols music.

Spellman's chapter is well worth reading nearly five decades later and Miller's biography fleshes out his remarkable, if tragic, life. A sampling of his recordings and an interview with Miller discusses his life and music is on an archived radio broadcast,

In 2015, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art presented the US Army Blues to celebrate the music of Herbie Nichols. A couple days later, the US army Blues presented the same program. This second performance was broadcast on video, which is available on youtube. They have presented the Music of Herbie Nichols additional times as well. in 2019, it is likely the Take 5 series held at the Museum of American Art will have another celebration of Herbie Nichols and his music.