Something To Look Forward To

I had ambitious plans for a next blog post for some time: a summary account of this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival, “recollected in tranquility” because it took place in mid-September, and I had plenty of time to think over what I’d seen and heard (Gerald Edleman: “The ability to construct a conscious scene in a fraction of a second is the ability to construct a remembered present.”). The “ambition” element came about because I had–of necessity–approached this year’s Festival with a measure of “fear and trembling.” Some  medical issues (which I wrote about in an informal essay posted on Bill’s Blog: “This Mild Yoke: A Writer’s  Eyesight,” April 23, 2015) continue to compromise my vision and my vestibular system: issues that do not affect my hearing, fortunately (I would certainly require that for the music I hoped to describe). The “drama” was: how would all this play out at MJF58? I decided that, however it played out, I would write about it all, the complete experience, come what may.

I took copious notes at the Festival, and made stabs at the proposed (ambitious) project (a sketch for another informal essay—this one on how to fully enjoy and appreciate a special event–such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, which I did!–in spite of, or perhaps because of–compromised sight and inadequate balance). However, I am going to hold off for a bit longer to post it, because something else–very favorable!–has come up, out of the blue, and I’d like to post word of that under “Upcoming Events.” Also, because the holiday season now seems so close at hand (or so the onslaught of  commercials in newspapers and on TV informs me, along with wreaths decorating city streets), I’d like to make a pitch for the new book I have out–Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems—because it would, I feel, make an ideal gift (ho ho ho) for everyone’s family and friends.

In a previous blog post (“Blog Baroque,” September 30, 2013), I wrote about my friend, the amazing Bob Danziger, a gifted musician, composer, sound sculptor, inventor, author, entrepreneur, and a key player in the alternative energy industry for over thirty years. I provided URLs for sites on which his many accomplishments are displayed (http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobdanziger; http://www.bobdanziger.com/ http://energylaughs.com/ –and described the remarkable series of CDs that make up his Brandenburg 300 Project: (http://www.brandenburg300.com.).

Last year, Bob Danziger undertook a fresh video project, and he asked me to participate because the piece would focus on a poem by Russian poet Osip Mandelstam I had translated: “No, never was I anyone’s contemporary.” Working with Bob on this project was fascinating and I gained invaluable insight into audio, film, and digital fineness. First he had me select a piece from his Brandenburg 300 project (I chose “Brandenburg 22 Rembrandt,” with its impressive improvisation by Albert Wing, Mike Miller, and Bob); then, in his studio, he asked that I read the poem over (and “within”) the music–to which he would add visual material (I gave him the names of Russian artists from Mandelstam’s era: Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, Nathan Altman’s “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova,” Levitan, Vrubel; and also, at his request, some of my own art work, a series of drawings and woodcut prints I’d done of Mandelstam and other pieces, and some photos from my own life).

Here are three of my own Mandelstam pieces:

Mandelstam 1  Osip 5  Mandelstam2

Bob located excellent photos of Mandelstam (and art work from his era)–his intent to make this video a genuine “Mandelstam and Minor” (the title of the piece) collaboration: to honor the poet and also, as he put it, the fact that I have “survived.” When the project was completed, I posted news of it on my Facebook page, and access by way of the video’s YouTube URL– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxliLhcnyAY –saying I was grateful for having survived in my own small life, compared to the large life of Osip Mandelstam (a description of which will follow, in an account of the fate of Bob’s film). I said I was grateful to Bob for the time, energy, and immense talent (which extends in many directions) he gave to the project—unaware that the best was yet to come.

Bob Danziger submitted “Mandelstam and Minor: I Am No One’s Contemporary” to the 2015 International Monarch Film Festival: films to be shown at an award ceremony at Lighthouse Cinema in Pacific Grove, CA, on December 10th and 11th.  The film was accepted, in the “Short Narrative” category, and will be shown twice: on Thursday, December 10th, as part of the Local’s Corner block (which starts at 7:55PM–our “individual” film estimated start time: 8:20PM, with a Q & A period to follow after the block), and on Friday, December 11th, as part of the local “shorts” and documentaries block, which starts at 7:05PM–our estimated start time: 8:20PM.

Further information on the 2015 International Monarch Film Festival can be found on its Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/MonarchFilmFestival/); its website (http://www.monarchfilmfestival.com/); and its Locals Corner page (http://www.monarchfilmfestival.com/locals-corner). Here’s some of the handsome logo and art work employed to promote the festival:

Monarch Film Festival Poster 2

Monarch Film Festival Wreath  Monarch Film Festival Poster  Monarch Film Festival Butterfly

And here’s the way Bob Danziger’s entry is described:

       Mandelstam and Minor: I Am No One’s Contemporary

                            by Robert Danziger

                              Short Narrative

“I Am No One’s Contemporary,” a poem by Osip Mandelstam, translated and performed by Bill Minor, who also did most of the artwork and photographs.  Additional artwork by Kandinsky,  Malevich, Chagall, Altman, Filonov, Levitan and Vrubel.

Osip Mandelstam is one of the great poets of the modern era: a poet admired, highly respected in Russia before and after the Revolution, but a poet not willing to compromise his principles during Stalin’s reign. Mandelstam was arrested after reciting a poem unfavorable to Stalin before close friends, and he died in 1938, at age 47, in a transit labor camp near Vladivostak.

William Minor is a poet/musician/visual artist who taught Soviet Russian Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Monterey Peninsula College. He has translated the work of both classical and Soviet Russian poets—with an emphasis on the work of Osip Mandelstam. The poem he recites—“No, never was I anyone’s contemporary”—best represents Mandelstam’s independence, integrity, and ultimate hope.

The poem is set to “Brandenburg 22 Rembrandt” by Bob Danziger and the Brandenburg 300 Project featuring Albert Wing, Mike Miller and Pat Woodland; Mixed by Chris Bolster at Abbey Road Studios, London. Video by Bob Danziger.

Bob was also asked to submit some stills—and here they are:

Monarch Film Festival Still 2   Monarch Film Festival Still 3Monarch Film Festival Stills 4   Monarch Film Festival Still 5

I’ve given plenty of poetry readings over the years, and even been filmed giving talks on The Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years and another book I wrote, The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBuSNTPDJqQhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuasLG8JU5U)- but I’d never done anything like what Bob had in mind for this film. I was puzzled when he asked me to sit in front of a yellow screen with my back to the camera (exposing the bald spot big as a softball that adorns that portion of my head), but when I saw the results, I was surprised and pleased to see myself reading the poem in front of the two photos of Osip Mandelstam (above)—and in another scene, gazing up in admiration at Marina Tsvetaeva (a fellow poet friend and love of Mandelstam’s). I was also puzzled by the ten (or more?) “takes” he put me through reading the poem. I thought I’d be totally burnt out by the third or fourth take—and was surprised, and delighted, when I discovered I’d entered a sort of “Zen” stage by the ninth or so take and was so relaxed (exhausted?) that the result, the final reading, seemed as fresh and spontaneous as any I could hope for. Bob Danziger is a PRO, and knows all the right “tricks” to get the best out of a novice “film star” (ho ho) like me.

Needless to say, we both are truly looking forward to December 10th and 11th, and being a part of the screening of “Mandelstam and Minor” at Lighthouse Cinema in Pacific Grove, California. And thanks again (“Spasibo bolshoy”)  Bob!

To close this “film” portion of Bill’s Blog, I’d like to set down two stanzas from my translation of Osip Mandelstam’s “No, never was I anyone’s contemporary”:

“A hundred years ago, on a rough cot/with soft white pillows, this age of clay awoke,/sprawled in its own stench, attempting to recover/from its first hangover.

What a vulnerable bed that was, if you/contemplate the slow creaking trek of time./But what of it? We cannot invent a substitute era./We must age in this one as best we can.”

The translation is included in Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems—the book I would like to plug now as a possible gift for family and friends—and for yourself! We have had three musical performances in which vocalist Jaqui Hope sang poems from the book which I had set to original music—accompanied by Heath Proskin on bass and me on piano, and once by me alone. A sample of one poem/song from the book—“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”—can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s.

Here are some photos from those performances:

With Jaqui and Heath at Cherry Center2 Jaqui, Heath and Me at Gypsy MOM 2

Bill and Jaqui at Old Capitol Books Robert Nielsen  Jaqui Singing

And I will close out this blog with another poem from Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems—the book available for purchase at: http://www.amazon.com/Gypsy-Wisdom-New-Selected-Poems/dp/1935530976 –or here in Monterey, at Old Capitol Books (downtown) and the Museum of Monterey (on the wharf) gift shop.

Here’s the book, and the description of it that appears on its amazon.com site: “In Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems, William Minor transforms and transcends subject matter (homage to parents, marital love, the death of friends, self-fulfillment, failure and success, a critique of one’s era, conceptions of heaven, aging, last words—and even such humble items as Q-tips) into skillfully crafted poems that will stand the test of time. The book ends with a brilliant, grateful, laugh-provoking parody of and homage to Francois Villon’s ‘The Testament,’ in which William Minor contemplates the ‘gifts’ he would give back to the world—one of which is Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems.”

Gypsy Wisdom Final Cover

And here’s the poem, “December 2014,” a poem I hope may resonate with the forthcoming holiday season.

“DECEMBER 2014

‘I gave up many things in life,/there is almost nothing that I need anymore.’ (Anna Akhmatova)

Settled, at last, into this nothing/that is everything, this small plot/in terms of overlarge wishes/(in an era of overwrought and overkill):

our own small home, ourselves, and those we love/(those who are still alive and those resident/ elsewhere as well), a life enriched/with a measure of grief, but not more

than we can handle—arriving only/as close to that state as we may deserve/to get. This season acknowledges a tree,/adorned with so much of our own

small history, ornaments of relevance (perhaps)/to this house alone, but artifacts found/ elsewhere as well, each with its own/weight for others. So much that is sacred

takes up only the space of a living room/carpet that we can walk across,/to embrace the light of that tree of life,/and thus embrace each other.”

May your holiday season be filled with well-being; and I hope, before that season is in “full swing,” to post an “essay” on this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival (and how I relished each and every sound and sight, operating on compromised vision and a precarious balance system). I was reminded of the last four lines of Richard Wilbur’s fine poem, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World:” “Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,/And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating/Of dark habits,/keeping their difficult balance.”—but if I was floating, it was fully within the solid joy of witnessing so much great music. More about that later!

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Preview of a Coming Attraction

I was pleased to discover that an essay of mine (“The Poet’s Audience: Part Two”) was posted on WordPress Reader (between an article on Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, adapted by Showtime–about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe–and the “playful foreignisation” of Peter Manson’s English in Mallarme), along with a photo of the first reading I gave in Monterey (when we returned to California and I published the book Pacific Grove in 1974). Consequently, I seem to have gathered some “traffic” for my blog (71 “views” between August 24 and August 31, from the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan, Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Botswana, and Germany). Thanks everyone!

I don’t know how many people might be able to make the trek from New Zealand or Botswana, but on Sunday, September 13 (2:00 PM), I will be giving a reading from Gypsy Wisdom: New and Selected Poems at Old Capitol Books in Monterey (559 Tyler Street). I will be reading with an excellent poet from Santa Cruz, California with whom I’ve had the pleasure to read before: Maggie Paul.

Maggie is the author of Borrowed World, a collection of poems published by Hummingbird Press, and the chapbook Stones from the Basket of Others (Black Dirt Press). She earned an MA at Tufts University and her MFA at Vermont College. At present, she teaches writing at Cabrillo College and works as an educational consultant.

Here’s a photo of Maggie Paul, the entrance to Old Capitol Books in Monterey, and me:

Maggie Paul   Maggie Paul at Old Capitol Books   Author Book Launch

Bob Danziger has posted the first review of Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems on the book’s amazon.com site. I am grateful to this fine writer (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence; Steinbeck and the Sounds of the Filipino American Experience; for the National Steinbeck Center Exhibition “Filipino Voices Past and Present”; Japantown in Chinatown; for the National Steinbeck Center Exhibition “Japanese History in Salinas Chinatown”) and Musician, Composer, Arranger (Brandenburg 300 Project: “jazz-classical crossover version of the Brandenburg Concertos using instruments and recording techniques not available in Bach’s time.”). Here’s the review:

“DEEPLY TOUCHING

William Minor communicates. Poet, journalist, painter, musician, composer, translator, producer, teacher and performer, he shares his deeply lived life through all of these mediums. He wears each comfortably, letting the extraordinary experiences and earned insights be the events they are without the ego assumptions many artists need to sustain themselves … The latest in a long line of my favorite works by William Minor (Love Letters of Lynchburg, Unzipped Souls, Some Grand Dust, Monterey Jazz Festival; Forty Legendary Years), GYPSY WISDOM reflects William Minor’s thoughts as he takes his place as senior member of Monterey’s corps of great artists.

You must feel this:
‘From the whole divided heart
(the only kind we mortals can possess)
the sound of recognition and love
emerging from pressed fingers.’

And from the translation of an Osip Mandelstam poem (in my opinion a translation of absolute genius):
‘No, never was I anyone’s contemporary . . .
A hundred years ago, on a rough cot
with soft white pillows, this age of clay awoke …
What a vulnerable bed that was, if you
contemplate the slow creaking trek of time.
But what of it? We cannot invent a substitute era.
We must age in this one as best we can …’”

We had a Book Launch for Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems on July 25 at the Museum of Monterey. Vocalist Jaqui Hope offered poems I’d set to original music (with Heath Proskin on bass and me on piano). Unfortunately, the “troupe” is not available for September 13, so I’m going to go my portion of the reading alone—even to the point of singing some of the song/poems myself. In 2002, Mac McDonald reviewed a CD on which I sang (Bill Minor & Friends: For Women Missing or Dead, Poems Set to Music), and Mac said I was “a skillful pianist … with a pleasant [italics mine] voice.”

I will do my best, on September 13, to make that voice as pleasant as possible—accompanying myself on my faithful Yamaha, and reading other pieces from Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems. The book can be found for sale at: amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Gypsy-Wisdom-New-Selected Poems/dp/1935530976/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438124136&sr=1-1&keywords=gypsy+wisdom+new+%26+selected+poems+by+william+minor) –and also, locally, at Old Capitol Books and at the Gift Shop in the Museum of Monterey (5 Custom House Plaza, next to the wharf).

It will be wonderful giving a reading in the company of Maggie Paul again, so I hope that those of you who can make it will come hear us at Old Capitol Books. Just to flesh out the invitation I will include, here: the cover of Gypsy Wisdom, the flyer I sent out for the event, and a repeat of the (distant in time) photo taken in 1974.

Gypsy Wisdom Final Cover  Maggie Paul and William MInor Flyer  Bill First Readin in PG 2

 

Making a Book

I’m happy to say I have a new book out–Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems (Park Place Publications)—and I thought I’d first let people know about it on my Facebook page, but, carried away with enthusiasm (it seems), I ended up posting a sort of mini essay in four parts, “Making a Book,” which might have been more appropriate for this blog, so … here’s that piece on Bill’s Blog.

I’ll take this “Upcoming Events” post a step further, because we are having a Book Launch concert at the Museum of Monterey Stanton Center Theater in Monterey on Saturday, July 25 (7:30 PM), featuring vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, and yours truly on piano and reading the poems—and we hope to get Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems off to a good start that way. If folks hear the work—especially if sung (and I have set several of the poems to original music)—and like what they hear (I’ve had people tell me the music adds a rich and enjoyable dimension to the poems), they tend to want to make a purchase and take the book home with them, which is fine with me!

Here is the initial design I created for the cover of Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems (a design which included my own art work: an ink painting called “Goat Pan & Tree,” a woodcut print based on Ovid’s “Halcyon & Ceyx,” and an oil painting I did at Coney Island while an art student at Pratt Institute in 1955)—and alongside that, the cover Patricia Hamilton (Park Place Publications) and I finally decided on. And I’ll re-tell the four part story of how this project unfolded, right up to the point we’re at now: getting set for next Saturday’s Book Launch performance at the Museum of Monterey.

Gypsy Wisdom Cover             Gypsy Wisdom Final Cover

Making a Book, Part One: Patricia Hamilton–who has published two other books of mine: a comic novel, Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me (2007) and The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir (2012)–and I had some solid sessions going over the text we’d send off to be made into a book (at CreateSpace)—and we had an interesting time tracking down a font I hoped to use for the title page and the titles of individual poems. I once worked as a real estate sign painter (back in the days when such signs were “planted” in vacant lots in my hometown), and I am familiar with a host of fonts, but, having seen exactly what I wanted on the cover of The Poems of Francois Villon: New Edition, translated by Galway Kinnell, I couldn’t find that font offered anywhere online. A friend suggested that, given its calligraphic style, it might have been “invented” by someone (as it would turn out) “concerned about the survival of calligraphy in the computer age.”

Following a fruitless search that took on the proportions of a quest for the Holy Grail, Patricia Hamilton and I were about to settle for an equivalent with which I was not wholly satisfied, when—lo and behold, solely by accident–I saw some “fine print” that read “Similar Fonts,” and that lead to Philip Bouwsma’s “Alexia,” the font employed on the cover of The Poems of Francois Villon (that 15th century French poet had become my “presiding spirit” over my own book project by now!). “Eureka!” I wrote Patricia: “I found it!”

Having a hand in shaping the look and feel of a book is nearly as engaging (exciting!) as providing the content or text itself, but next, I found myself at the most brutal stage of all: final proofreading—that “fun” stage when typos seem to pop up like gremlins, just to sport with the unappealable “product” like flies.

Once again, many thanks to Patricia for her technical savvy, good taste, unerring eye, empathy, and consistently cheerful disposition (she’s a joy to work with)! I looked forward to the best stage of the game: actually holding a printed copy of Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems in my hands!

Making a book: Part Two. The book—Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems—has been made (after a thorough proofreading of the text, several times—in spite of an ongoing “eyesight” situation: flickering, fluttering vision that makes the world I witness resemble a pulsating, Chaplin or Buster Keaton silent movie on occasion; see the past post “This Mild Yoke: A Writer’s Eyesight”) and copies are being printed as we speak. Hallelujah! And I have arranged a Book Launch event at the Stanton Center Theater in the Museum of Monterey on Saturday evening (7:30), July 25—an event that will have plenty of copies of the book on hand (for sale) and feature the “team” or troupe I’ve worked with “in concert” before, in performances that also combined spoken word and music: vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin.

The book would be “up” for sale on amazon.com in a few days, described this way: “In this latest collection of poems, Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems, William Minor transforms and transcends subject matter (homage to parents, marital love, the death of friends, self-fulfillment, failure and success, a critique of one’s era, conceptions of heaven, aging, last words—and even such humble items as Q-tips) into skillfully crafted poems that will stand the test of time. The book ends with a brilliant, grateful, laugh-provoking parody of and homage to Francois Villon’s “The Testament,” in which William Minor contemplates the ‘gifts’ he would give back to the world—one of which is Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems.”

Here’s a flyer I designed to send out to people on a copious “mailing list” I have, and to post at various spots ’round town–and also a photo of “the author” taken while writing two of the poems in the book (“Bonaire” and “Bonaire Palm Sunday”) while on the Caribbean island of Bonaire itself:

Gypsy Wisdom MOM Flyer    Bonaire Bill Writing in Room2

Jaqui, Heath, and I gave a performance of some poems from the book I’d set to original music at the Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel in mid-March, and that went very well. The Museum of Monterey event on July 25 will expand and enhance that presentation to include new work from Gypsy Wisdom. I’ll have more to say about another upcoming event (another reading I have been asked to give at Old Capitol Books in downtown Monterey on September 13, with poet Maggie Paul from Santa Cruz)—and I’ll post a couple of the poems from the book, and access to some pieces that can be found on YouTube.

It’s been a fine, rewarding road (or Way) up to this point, and I look forward to reading the poems for an audience and the joy of making music with Heath and Jaqui again, introducing Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems to the full house I’d love to see at the Museum of Monterey on July 25. Here are some photos of our Gypsy Wisdom troupe:

Jaqui, Heath and Me, Museum of Monterey  Jaqui Hope 2

Heath and Me    Pianist and author Bill Minor, center, with vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin in Pacific Grove, Calif. on March 24, 2013.  Photo By David Royal

Making a Book: Part Three. For the geographically-challenged who may not be able to make the Saturday July 25 Book Launch Concert, Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems is now available at (and I apologize for the horrendously long URL, but I can’t recall, at the moment, just how to access the book directly by way of the cover and a mouse!) http://www.amazon.com/Gypsy-Wisdom-New-Selected-Poems/dp/1935530976/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437084889&sr=1-1&keywords=gypsy+wisdom+new+%26+selected+poems+by+william+minor. And because I promised to post a poem or two from the book, and because this day is TBT (Throw Back Thursday) on Facebook, I’ll also include some photos that resonate with “For Betty,” a poem that’s not been in print (outside the book) until now.

Here are: 1956: my wife Betty and I, although not yet married, approaching my father’s Pontiac convertible–in which we “courted,” and which would deliver me to Willow Run Airport in Michigan, for a prop plane flight to Hawaii (crossing “The Point of No Return”), where Betty would join me four months later and we would get “hitched”; Betty with our kids, Steve and Tim, the latter proudly displaying one of Daddy’s woodcut prints when we lived next door to St. Ignatius Church on a small strip of McAllister Street in San Francisco; Betty and I in “full dress” (I had to rent the tux and cummerbund) before a Robbie Burns’ dinner when we came to Monterey, at which (having rehearsed for months for the sake of authenticity), I played piano and sang songs by the Bard (an authentic Scot sitting near Betty leaned over to someone and asked, “Who’s the Yank with the phony accent?”); and the two of us at a picnic in Monterey, toasting many faraway friends we missed at the time (and still do!); a shot of my “barber,” the person who’s cut my hear for 58 years (Betty!); and a photo of Betty getting some well-earned rest.

Betts and Bill leaving for Hawaii   Betts and Kids with Dad's Print

Betts and Bill in tux for Burns' dinner  Betts and Bill toasting friends

Betts giving Bill a haircut  Betts at Rest

For Betty

“ … sometimes on a rainy day/Just knowing you are/In the next room saves my life.” (Paul Zimmer)

No need to make a fuss about ourselves/ after fifty-eight years of marriage/ and sixty-eight years of solid friendship/. You spend your day in the garden,

on your knees in prayer there that way,/ while I spend mine supine in bed,/ writing, rejecting what I write, nursing/ my ailing eyes like a boxer between

title bouts. At night I watch baseball/ while you solve yet another murder/ mystery in the kitchen. The calendar/ lets us know whose night it is

to do the dishes; and we still sleep/ side by side in the same undulated bed./ Our life together has been anything but/ ordinary: shared with a host of artists,

writers, musicians, and great friends—/ and postcards we’ve sent home from/ Florence, London, Paris, Paros,/ Crete, Moscow, Riga, Odessa,

Osaka, Tokyo, and Bonaire: trips/ that occasioned books and poems,/ slide shows and living memories./ Our two children are now grown men

with wives of their own and adult children./ I like the predictable, stationary couple/ we’ve become, and our uncomfortable/ old age: just the right collection of afflictions

to keep us on (or off) our toes. I like/ the dance of grace and favor we’ve/ been given, and the ongoing story/ of what’s to come.

Again: grand “tech guy” that I am, I couldn’t find a way to set the poem up as it should be (with the original line breaks and stanzas). I’m disappointed, but I’ll have to confess, it does save space to present a poem this way!

Making a book: Part Four. Now the fun starts—distribution and getting set for the Book Launch event for Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems at the Museum of Monterey on Saturday, July 25.

I still enjoy addressing envelopes by hand, and I mailed 65 flyers to folks I hope will attend our event, along with the invitations sent out on Facebook. I’ve also taken copies of Gypsy Wisdom to two local bookstores: Old Capitol Books in Monterey and BookWorks in Pacific Grove. The book is available at amazon.com (and we’ve even made the first sales there); and notice of the July 25 event has been posted on the Poetry Santa Cruz site (thanks Len Anderson!) and in Cedar Street Times in Pacific Grove (thanks Marge Ann Jameson!).

Bassist Heath Proskin, vocalist Jaqui Hope and I (piano) had a fine rehearsal last night, and we’re set to go for the July 25 “show” (offering the poems from Gypsy Wisdom I have set to original music–and I’ll read others). I’d like to re-post a YouTube video of Jaqui singing one of those poem/songs, “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s ), along with our troupe doing “It’s a Wonderful World” (our “signature” song—just to give you further evidence of our musical flavor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLHVwizEvNA&feature=youtu.be); and a YouTube video, “Mandelstam and Minor” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxliLhcnyAY ), produced by my friend Bob Danziger, who liked a translation I did of a poem—“No, Never Was I Anyone’s Contemporary”—by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (also included in Gypsy Wisdom) and asked if I’d record it as a video (and include my own art work and that of Mandelstam’s era). And Heath Proskin and I doing another poem from the book, “Sandra Bullock,” can be found at: http://eat- magazine.bandcamp.com/track/sandra-bullock.

That’s a sampling of what we’ll be doing on the evening of July 25—and I’ll be sure to have ample copies of Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems on hand (for sale). If you’re close by, remember: Museum of Monterey Stanton Center Theater (5 Custom House Plaza, next to the wharf in Monterey: (831) 372-2608). If you’re not close by and unable to attend this event (this blog has reached people in 35 different nations around the world!)–I’ll be playing piano and reading the poems just for YOU!

JazzAge Monterey: Let the Good Times Roll–Part Three

This is the last post—Part Three of a three part series or “history”—on JazzAge Monterey (formerly Dixieland Monterey) before the event itself takes place starting Thursday night, March 5, with a “Puttin’ on the Ritz” dance party featuring San Francisco eight-piece band (“with a big band sound”) Swing Fever, with vocalist Denise Perrier. The event will run throughout the weekend at the Portola Hotel & Spa in downtown Monterey.

Here, I’d like to focus on just two years of the event’s history, 2013 and 2014, the years in which the event truly became JAM (JazzAge Monterey), undergoing changes in both programming and presentation that would initiate a new era. In Part Two of these posts, I mentioned that my wife Betty and I had slackened attendance at Dixieland Monterey over the years (after what I considered a sort of “Golden Age”), and did so for reasons medical doctors used to ascribe as “multiple causes” (in our case the death of, or illness among, friends with whom we had attended for years).

I had also increased involvement with another annual jazz event—the internationally known Monterey Jazz Festival: writing text and captions for a book (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years; Angel City Press, 1997), providing a film script for a Warner Bros. documentary of the same name, conducting interviews and writing profile pieces for the event’s programs, serving on a number of panels (from “Jazz Around the World,” “Jazz Trumpet Legacy,” to “Ralph J. Gleason: Perspectives on an MJF Co-founder”)–and hosting one: “Reflections on the Real Ambassadors” (a conversation on the Dave & Iola Brubeck “legendary jazz opera”)—and eventually providing copy for twenty-eight shelters for the local JAZZBUS project (each “stop” with information on, photos of, and even music from a single year of the Festival). I had also undertaken a book project of my own, The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, that would occupy my time for six years—and I lost touch with Dixieland Monterey.

In February of 2013, Doug Pinkham, whom I’d known as someone active on the local jazz scene, phoned and asked if I’d have breakfast and a chat with him and pianist Bob Phillips (whom I wrote about in the last post, and with whom I did participate in a Dixieland Monterey clinic for aspiring young musicians in 2002). We discussed “change in the air” (and on the ground!) with regard to the annual event. At the time, Doug was serving as a Director for “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” and he would become President of the JazzAge Monterey Board the following year. I’d put together a packet of articles I’d written on Dixieland Monterey (a “treasure trove file” in Doug’s words) and we had a fine conversation that morning—and then a list I received as follow up of musicians who would be playing at the 2013 event, performers whom Doug felt worthy of attention: the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Banu Gibson’s set with Pieter Meijers, and more. I attended the “last” Dixieland Monterey that year, and Doug’s advocacies (or his “prophecies” on performers I might be likely to admire) were well on the mark.

The first person I checked out was the high energy violinist/vocalist Tom Rigney and his group Flambeau (in Old French, a lighted torch or “little flame,” but this one in full force or exposure!). Rigney had performed as part of Queen Ida’s renowned Bon Temp Zydeco Band, and Flambeau was advertised as showcasing his “passionate, virtuoso fiddling, his commanding, charismatic stage presence,” and his “originality as a composer”—all of which proved true in what I heard and saw, right down to his “notorious red boots.”

Tom Rigney2     Tom Rigney

I was impressed by the range of song offered: everything from a rocking country/western original (“You’re the One”) to Papa John blues (“I’m Tired of Cryin”: with hot guitar work by Danny Caron, and Steve Park on—God forbid at a “Dixieland” event—electric bass!) to a beautiful, subtle version of one of my favorite opera arias, “O mio babbino caro,” followed by an  uninhibited, totally raucous Zydeco piece,  “Swamp Fever,” and then, Rigney inviting pianist Caroline Dahl, “You got some boogie-woogie on that concert grand today?”, Dahl providing just that (I wrote down after: “She sure did! Good fun!”): righteous eight-to-the-bar left hand joy—one set I attended ending with Hank Williams’ classic “Jambalaya,” the second with “Orange Blossom Special.”

I also made my first “overall” observation on “Jazz Bash by the Bay”: “There’s much welcome variety in the music now … but not yet in the audience attending.” And I’ll have more to say about that later in this post.

One of the sets that Doug Pinkham had encouraged me to take in was Vocalist Banu Gibson featured with Netherlands-born Pieter Meijers and his Ensemble: Meijers billed as a man who acquired a doctorate in nuclear chemistry and physics and came to New York City in 1968 to “pursue research,” but “started to play jazz again.” Meijers displays his intelligence by way of an apt mix of lyricism and atomistic action (a charge exchange that produces musical elementary particles and electrons), technical acuity matched by improvisational invention and a comfortable stage manner that provides plenty of room for wit—but just as I got settled for a full set, I learned that Banu Gibson was a “no show” (“I have to tell you some sad news … Banu Gibson will not be here”; her husband ill). A vocalist named Brady McKay filled in, enjoyably (offering another of my favorite songs, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”), and pianist David Boeddinghouse sounded much at home with the idiom (loose and cool), as was bassist Bobby Durham (agile, purposeful), and drummer Jeff Hamilton trading fours: a tight group. But, in Banu Gibson’s absence, I decided to check out another of the artists Doug Pinkham felt I might be attracted to—and once again, this proved 100% true.

Once I heard just a few notes from the remarkable Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, I was hooked, and knew where and how I would be spending much of my time all weekend: listening to their exciting, emotionally engaging “modern variant of 1930s Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz” (as advertised). The music this group offers is technically demanding, easefully (it seems) and brilliantly enacted or “executed”: a genuine blend of Paris “vibes” and Bergara’s native Argentina. Both Guitar Player Magazine and Vintage Guitar Magazine had labeled his recent CD Portena Soledad a “masterpiece,” and I heard music that was instantly recognizable as masterful: arpeggios and open innovative runs of bedazzling speed, yet never sacrificing their melodic essence. Gonzalo Bergara has been quoted as saying, “I’d rather the audience feel something, rather than being extremely impressed with how fast the guitar solos are”—but he gives you the best of both of those worlds, simultaneously.

Gonzalo Bergara     Gonzalo Bergara5Gonzalo Bergara4  Gonzalo Bergara2

Supportive, co-existent roles are provided by Jeffery Radaich on rhythm guitar, Brian Netzley on double bass, and delightful will-o-the wisp violinist Leah Zeger—all of equal artistry. I heard the group in three different settings, each room’s ambiance filled with rich strictly acoustic sound. The fare (or tunes) they offered was a mix of standards (“Coquette,” “It Had to Be You,” “How High the Moon,” “What Is This Thing Called Love”); classic Reinhardt pieces (“Djangology” and “Nuage”); and originals with titles like “Gonzalogy,” “Something Hombre,” and “Nightmare #1,” “Nightmare #2,” and “Novembre” (from a suite: “Una Primavera Equirocada”)—originals grounded in the Reinhardt aesthetic but with epic contemporary expansion (and imagination)—“Nightmare #1” resonate with dynamics, a lush violin melody offset by dissonant guitar (and a sense of world history!); and “Novembre” conveying wild, Gypsy joy with just a touch or tinge of danger, of potential violence suggested at the close.

Rock groups work way too hard at it, but I don’t think I’ve seen many jazz groups whose visual appearance is so much at one with the music they play as the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet. When I first heard them, they looked as if they were having fun, were fully in sync with one another, before they played a single note—and when they did, the magic took off, took hold. The leader is a handsome Latin devil with hungry eyes, wide forehead, classic cheekbones and chin, and huge hands and elongated fingers fully capable of all the sounds he provokes and provides from an acoustic guitar.

Leah Zegar is a live wire whose hair seems to be as active as the bow in her hand—hair occasionally indistinguishable from her face, or with just a loose strand draped over one eye, like a patch. She’s a humming bird presence on stage, fully animated, playing as if assisted but not impaired by a strong wind, moving from truly Gypsy mournful intonation to frantic delight—and she can sing! “It Had to Be You” afforded sexy original phrasing and fine timing. The rapport between Gonzalo and Leah seems musically erotic, he closing his eyes when her enticing violin phrases began, their interactive timing (counterpoint; starts and stops; or the tease of delay, pregnant pauses) perfect, sudden full chord slashes enacted with Apache dance passion!

Jeffery Radaich provides a stolid steady rhythm guitar presence, and Brian Netzley a more formal statuesque existence that swings. Above all, the group does look as if they are having a grand time at the game—are truly enjoying themselves, which readily communicates the same response in their audience. One of their songs, “Como Una Flor” (beautiful! Delicate, floating, powerful) is still indelible in my mind—and I made it doubly so by acquiring it, and several other fine pieces, on their Portena Soledad CD.

On Sunday morning, Betty and I received an additional Bergara treat. There was an “unexpected opening on the VIP invitation list” for a gala Patron’s Brunch at the Ferrante Room atop the Marriott Hotel (with its splendid view of Monterey Bay!), and who should be augmenting the conversation of the guests with their music but the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet; so I had a chance to hear even more of them then “scheduled”—and I did manage to tell Gonzalo just how fine I felt his group was, how much I admired their music. He responded in a modest manner befitting true genius.

Elsewhere, that weekend, I caught the end of a set by Yve Evans & Company (the name she gives her very able sidemen), the pianist/vocalist exercising a powerful voice and classic jazz, blues and gospel repertoire that brought on a very positive, appreciative response from her audience. Another group with solid, seasoned, musical credentials and considerable skill on display was the Cocuzzi/Vache Swing All-Stars, with leader John Cocuzzi on vocals and vibes, Allan Vache on clarinet, one of my favorite (tasteful) pianists John Sheridan, Paul Keller on bass and Ed Metz. Jr. on drums. Presented, like Yve Evans, as “world-class, globetrotting musicians,” their performance lived up to the reputation. Cocuzzi and Vache have worked together for twenty-five years, and they did full service to “Midnight Sun” (an instrumental by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke—lyrics added later by Johnny Mercer when, driving in his car and hearing the tune, he added words on his own), all that they played showing their solid roots in 19302/1940s swing and The Great American Songbook.

Yve Evans  Cocuzzi Group

I also enjoyed another group of masters of their craft assembled for the 33rd Anniversary Celebration of Dixieland Monterey: “Classy Clarinets,” featuring Vache and Pieter Meijers joined by Bob Draga (whom our friend, Joe Gallo, an excellent clarinetist himself, felt was top- notch, whether interpreting timeless ballads or providing virtuoso improvisation at a nearly inhuman tempo or pace). It was more than likely the witty Draga who offered: “You remind me of my first wife … she used to laugh during sex, no matter what she was reading.”

Once again, because of the embarrassment of riches offered that weekend, I only caught a portion of the “Classy Clarinets” set, so as not to miss two local treasures, “local heroes”–Bob Phillips (piano) and George Young (reeds)–in the Bonsai Room. I walked in on this duo doing “Poor Butterfly,” George on alto sax—and then, switching to soprano (his clear quick tone apparent on both instruments) “Take the ‘A’ Train,” ably assisted by Bob’s expert comping: precision walking bass and alert sweetly dissonant “stabs” with his right hand. Sticking with the soprano sax, George offered a beautiful rendering of “Si tu vois me mere,” worthy of Sidney Bechet, who wrote this handsome piece that accompanied the “stroll” through postcard views of the city that opened Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris.

Bob Phillips provided an extraordinary solo (intricate right hand runs mixed with solid stride) on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” to which George Young added his own impeccable “touch” or tone on clarinet (his tone impeccable no matter what instrument he picks up)—and they topped off their two-man set with some Chopin no less (Bob: “As he wrote it,” but then “jassed” up—great each way) and closed out with some fine counterpoint on “Rosetta” and a lively “Bye Bye Blackbird,” with the audience encouraged to  sing (and they did) the title refrain.

Betty and I heard other old friends and local favorites: Eddie Erickson and Big Mama Sue presiding over a Sunday morning “Kazoo Along to Gospel” service, featuring familiar fare such as “Down by the Riverside” and Eddie delivering a mock sermon on “Accentuate the Positive” (“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,/Eliminate the negative,/Latch on to the affirmative,/But don’t mess with mister in between.”), Big Mama assisting the liturgical message on washboard, employing what looked to be spoons rather than thimbles.

We have always enjoyed the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, and they were put to excellent use in 2013 with their unique swing era sound kicking off and inspiring a Saturday “Dance Marathon” that commenced in the De Anza Ballroom, playing two sets before Tom Rigney & Flambeau took over: the Dave & Linda Dancde Company providing lessons in foxtrot, swing, country two-step, waltz, balboa, and lindy hop as early as 10:00 Am. Eager dancers–young and old–in brightly colored garb took full advantage of this fortunate emphasis, and it was a delightful sight to see them transforming that large hall’s parquet floor, responding gracefully and passionately to the musical undulations of ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm,” performed with appropriate “original version” Cotton Club zeal. Ageless Carla Normand sang “It All Depends on You,” and a tune with quaint and catchy lyrics: “It is what it is/no complaining …/ Whatever it is/There’s no explaining …/When everything fails, just lower your standards” (which I consider good advice for special occasions). This song was followed by some one line humor: “We’re going to Niagara … don’t need no Viagra”–but it was the collective sound of the band married to the sight of spirited dancing that made this set so special.

Royal Society Jazz Orchestra

I recently read an article–“Jazz Was Not Meant for the Dinner Table”—by drummer T.S. Monk (son of one of my heroes: pianist Thelonious Monk): a piece in which he decries the demise of great musicians as “entertainers,” exceptional artists such as Duke Ellington, The Dorsey Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald who “had a look,” who “put a face on their music,” who provided entertainment yet were “intellectually stimulating at the same time,” who possessed “individual styles,” and projected “true personalities beyond the notes coming out of instruments.” Monk feels the change came when restaurateurs took the music “downtown” (“jazz was not meant for the dinner table, or in many ways, not even the concert stage. It was meant for dance.”)—and further damage was done when the music got pulled “into the world of academia,” and became a “study” (my word), rather than a “dance” (my word again). T.S. Monk would like to see people view “jazz as fun once again,” and would like to see (and hear!) musicians, promoters, club owners, listeners, and everybody “bring back the fun.”

I think the Marathon Dance program, and much of the music I heard at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” in 2013 provided this “difficult balance” between a significant art form and “fun.” The word “bash” originally meant “a crushing blow” (usually to the head, not feet dancing), but the British slang term was quickly converted by Americans into “an exciting, memorable party; an exciting, or violently exciting, good time: a ‘ball’” (by way of example: the word equated with “jam session,” a quote from 1950: “some of these bashes were impromptu at 4 in the morning by trumpet players”). And it made sense when, the following year, taking advantage of a good fresh start, Dixieland Monterey would change its name to JAM (Jazz/Age Monterey)—but more about that in a moment.

In 2013, Betty and I also paid homage to what had been one of our favorite bands during Dixieland Monterey’s “Golden Age”: Blue Street, which provided familiar material (“Basin Street”) and plenty of nostalgia with tunes like “Montana Blues.” Vocalist Sherri Colby did a set of her own (with Blue Street regulars pianist Jason Wanner, Rick Canfield on drums, and her husband Matt Bottel on banjo). Sherri’s still going strong, although she spent nearly as much time retreating to the rear of the room to attend the needs of a child, her “Baby Cakes,” as she did singing. The child served as additional sideman support with its own infant vocalizations (creeping, crawling about on the floor, not yet dancing, and not too far from where I stood when Mama sang “Jeepers Creepers”)—and Sherri did a good job of paying homage to Nat “King” Cole (one of my all-time favorite vocalists—and pianists!) with “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

It was good to hear trombonist Dave Ruffin in a different setting, joined by the talented Au Brothers from New Orleans (Gordon, Justin, and Brandon on trumpets and trombone)—and Dave again playing harmonica not trombone with another mixed group. One of the refreshing things the Monterey Jazz Festival offered as early in its history as 1959 (its 2nd year!) was Jimmy Witherspoon singing in the great (and rare) company of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Woody Herman, Roy Eldridge, and Earl “Father” Hines—the Festival making good on its desire (which its Board would draw up as a “statement of principles” in 1960)  to explore “the new frontiers of jazz” and “uniting musicians who ordinarily don’t have the opportunity to perform together.”

Dave Ruffin’s group offered “Le Rue Blue: Gypsy Jazz” (the influence of having Gonzalo Bergara “aboard” here?) and played “Corcovado” (“our only bossa”) and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with a Django Reinhardt emphasis—and Dave’s handsomely articulated voice was a (nostalgic) treat doing “I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.” I was fascinated by the dobro tone of a National Plectrum Guitar from 1932 (played by Matt Bottel?), an F-hole four string similar to one I once owned. And Jason Wanner played a very moving piano solo on “Old Man River.” I may have mixed separate sets up a bit here—but they were all good, and a fresh context seldom seems to hurt anybody!

One quick (I hope) sociological observation. In the past, Dixieland Monterey could always be counted on to have one bar in each venue offering music, yet was the 2013 Prohibition Act in effect the result of a “new direction” (the event not just resuscitated but reformed) or merely hotel policy? I raise this issue half jokingly (it took some effort and a search, but I did manage to find a couple of friendly dispensaries, so I could enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir with whatever genre of music I felt it might go well with).

Overall, I was impressed by the sense of a new, fresh “direction” taken in both programming and presentation in 2013: a fortunate blend of groups I’d not heard before (Tom Rigney & Flambeau and the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet) with familiar fare. I could see how a fresh emphasis (such as the Dance Marathon and mixing up favored players in “new” groups) might attract a younger crowd leery of the appellation “Dixieland”; and I had a good conversation with Don Irving (an excellent saxophonist with whom I’ve had the good fortune to play—and now Musician of the Year for 2015) regarding the Youth Bands on hand (Crazy Eights, Dixie Dominoes, Take Two) and the contribution they make to the event. Three pages of the program were devoted to such groups and a “Focus on Young Musicians,” including an account of Jazz Camp scholarships and a recently initiated “Elderly Instrument Rescue Project,” in which “neglected instruments” are “harvested” or refurbished for use by aspiring young musical artists.

I wrote that I would say something more about the aging audience in attendance in 2013, and I’ll just add two comments I found inscribed in my notebook: “In spite of some exciting ‘new’ music, I feel as if I am listening to it in a convalescent home, for I’ve never seen such an accumulation of canes and walkers and wheelchairs outside such institutions.” I feel I can come right out and say that because, at age seventy-nine, I always carry a cane myself when out in public (for safety’s sake after two knee surgeries and an ongoing vertigo condition). However, a couple sitting next to Betty and me at a table in the De Anza Ballroom, both of them with canes and looking as if they were barely able to stand up (much less safely if they tried), watched the dancers with envy, and then did stand up, slowly at first, and then, hand in hand, went down close to the Royal Society Orchestra’s stimulating, energizing music–and joined the dancers!

I also wrote in my notebook: “I cannot imagine a more enjoyable and rewarding weekend, except that our close friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell and Carolyn Keen and Joe Gallo can no longer be here. How often we shared Dixieland Monterey over the years with them and how many more we might have enjoyed together! And here, in memory of and to honor Sarah Maxwell, is a last set of her drawings made when we all attended Dixieland Monterey.

Dixieland Monterey9  Dixieland Monterey10

Dixieland Monterey5  Dixieland Monterey3

After the 2013 event and when Monterey Jazz Festival time came round (in September), Betty and I had dinner with the highly respected jazz critic Scott Yanow (who digs trad jazz and knows it well, along with all the other “genres” he writes about) and his wife Dori, a pre-Festival tradition we took up a couple of years ago. I asked Scott to give me a list of artists he would recommend for what, in 2014, would be called JazzAge Monterey (the name change having taken place—and I’d been asked to serve on an Advisory Board), and of the ten groups or performers Scott jotted down for me, I was pleased to discover that several—pianist Jeff Barhard, the Stephanie Trick Trio, and vocalist Rebecca Kilgore with Dan Barrett–were already scheduled to perform at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” 2014.

In a document made public called “The New Dixieland Monterey,” under a heading “Need for Change,” the following was declared: “Over the past decade, the Directors of this organization have had to face the music: it cannot continue in a purely ‘celebration’ mode [existing to “facilitate the live performance and appreciation of traditional (early) jazz and other historically-related music as part of the American musical heritage”]. Financial concerns were cited (“surviving mainly on Festival gate receipts” to cover a substantial annual budget) and the need to depend on “nostalgic respite supported by fans who are aging and not replacing themselves.” A “re-invention” of the event was announced, with, “above all,” the intent “to inculcate among youthful performers, their families, and their fans an abiding appreciation of this great, happy musical genre.”

The document listed eight items that were regarded as “Keys to the transformation” into a new Foundation, and another list of thirteen items that would constitute a “bright’ future—all of which (and too numerous to describe in full detail here) made good sense to me, balancing specific strategies with honest hope: top priority given to “strengthening and diversifying the organization’s youth programs” and projecting an “on-going marketing campaign” that would “emphasize audience development particularly with the 20-something and 40 to 60 age demographics.” On June 27, at a meeting of the Board of Trusties, a new corporate name was approved, and Dixieland Monterey was officially converted to JazzAge Monterey—or JAM.

In March 2014, I attended the premier JazzAge Monterey “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” and with renewed hope myself. I had a list of fresh performers I was eager to see and hear. The first set I attended was that of the Stephanie Trick Trio, which consisted of 27-year-old Stephanie Trick on piano, Phil Flanagan on bass, and Danny Coots on drums—the latter two possessing impressive time-honored credentials and Stephanie herself regarded as “one of the rising stars of Harlem Stride piano.” I wasn’t sure just what to expect from such a young practitioner of this style I love, having been a fan of Thomas “Fats” Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and James P. Johnson for years—and when I undertook piano lessons myself at age fourteen, my teacher, a Pontiac, Michigan DJ named Dean Yokum (who was an exceptional ragtime and stride pianist) started me out with an octave (tonic), chord , octave (dominant), chord style, hoping to cultivate (he also had me playing twelve bar boogie-woogie) my left hand as well as my right.

Stepjeny Trick Trio   Stephanie Trick2

Consequently, the first thing I noticed about Stephanie Trick was her sizable what-I-call “piano hands” (when a teaching colleague first told me that Oscar Peterson could play open 14ths, he exclaimed, “It’s all anatomy!” And I have to “roll” 10ths!), perfectly formed long graceful fingers (she “noodled” a bit before her set began, beautifully: a couple of lush chords and clean, handsomely executed right hand runs), and her posture at the piano was unique for a jazz artist: sitting totally erect at the keyboard as if about to commence a classical concerto, back straight but easeful—a stunning, attractive, somewhat delicate artist, totally serious, dedicated to a cause higher than but well within the reach of self—and then: “Holy moly!” Assisted by bass and drums, Stephanie Trick  was instantly converted (I had closed my eyes) to three hundred pounds of Powerhouse piano, Fats Waller himself—a clean, crisp, precision fierce two-handed performance emerging, her left hand a hummingbird blur of perfection, her overall posture not slackening a bit but fully focused, officiating over the wonders she was creating with her arms and hands.

The trio played a host of my favorite tunes: “After You’re Gone” (at a relaxed, easy, comfortable tempo and texture smooth as silk); Waller’s “Keeping Out of Mischief Now” (subtle blues slurs, Erroll Garner octaves, and much respect for the tune itself and all those who had gone before playing it); an up tempo “Minor Drag” (she rocked that piece!); “Rosetta” (both legs pumping in time while her body maintained its balletic poise—grace notes and a sweet gliss at the close); Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty” (played beautifully); and then a duo with drummer Danny Coots on James P. Johnson’s rapid fire “Harlem Strut” (fast and furious; I set down in my notebook: “My God, what a left hand!”)—the most difficult configurations emerging with joyous ease (it seemed).

Everything Stephanie Trick offered was immaculately assisted by Coots, a drummer who can actually “shade” rather than hog the show, content to be backseat here and truly enhance what she plays—whether with sticks on the snare rim, bright work on cymbals, or smooth wire brushes atop snare skin, fully in sync with the pianist; and Flanagan spiced his steady pace with Milt Hinton slap-bass, handsome accents of his own. A fine vamp led into boogie-woogie, and I realized that Stephanie Trick can do just about anything she chooses on a piano, as she next proved with a lovely ballad rendering of “These Foolish Things” (Teddy Wilson would have been proud of her!), her tasteful touch in evidence on every chord and note. The set closed out with an up-tempo “Keep Your Temper,” a Willie “The Lion” Smith tune to which she did full justice, and then more boogie-woogie as a sort of coda—as if to remind us all of how fully competent she is with her left hand, let alone the right (gorgeous two-handed piano!).

Much of what she does is “conventional” in the sense that she’s not taking risks she cannot fulfill, she knows well what’s within her reach, knows well her own “comfort zone,” keeps a continuous fortunate balance between taste and touch and deceptive passion (in that she never loses the “cool” contained in  perfect posture, no over-striving, just solid attention to joyous detail). I was able to talk to Stephanie Trick for a few minutes after her set. She told me she started taking classical piano lessons at seven—and time well spent certainly shows (I wish my mother had made me do the same, ho ho). I got a copy of her CD Stephanie Trick: Something More, and have enjoyed it immensely ever since—although I had not seen and heard the last of her at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” 2014.

Stephanie Trick

Thank you, Scott Yanow, for introducing me to her music! And thank you for introducing me to the music of another group you recommended: vocalist Rebecca Kilgore and her trio: this combo fleshed out with Dan Barrett on trombone and a young pianist from Italy, Paolo Alderighi, who just happens to be the husband of … Stephanie Trick! The first tune I heard of theirs was “I’m Coming Virginia,” and I discovered that Paolo has his own quick, clean, clear stride style, akin to Stephanie’s but with an added bebop punch: fine improvised right hand lines. Trombonist Barrett (who has a smooth mute-inflected style) introduced the vocalist: “Welcome back: the great, the lovely, the independently wealthy Rebecca Kilgore”—guilty on two of these counts but perhaps not the latter. She is a veteran singer whose voice, on “The Glory of Love,” has a throaty, sexy, youthful–almost “girlish”–timbre that belies her age: excellent phrasing, handsome timing (both pauses and “returns”). Paolo Alderighi provided his Bud Powell (full block chords) chops backing her, and Dan Barrett his smooth “wa wa” phrases, which prompted Rebecca to call out, “You tell ‘em!”

She did equal justice to “Cry Me a River,” soulful, throaty, sad (she could sing the song well a cappella, but Dan’s muted trombone solo, adorned with some growls, added nicely). Rebecca mentioned an Ivy Anderson (a singer with Duke Ellington’s orchestra) tribute she’d performed the previous night, and then rendered a beautiful brooding “Mood Indigo,” the word “moo-ood” embellished by Paolo’s taste and touch. The trio offered a set that left me much impressed–as I would be later (on Sunday), when the three were joined by Stephanie Trick, two pianos stationed on the stage. Rebecca sang “Moon Ray,” a beautiful song, enhanced by Paolo Alderighi’s graceful comping again—his solo so well constructed the others uttered overt approval when it was over.

Rebecca Kilgore Trio2   Rebecca Kilgore

Stephanie Trick came on stage and joined Paolo for “If Dreams Come True,” unison walking bass behind Rebecca’s vocal—the entire set a delightful display of individual (and combined) talents; the couple providing a four-handed “Ostrich Walk” with ragtime precision; Rebecca Kilgore playing the role of Nat “King” Cole with “Frim Fram Sauce” and then, with Dan on the second piano (eight-handed piano parts now, for Rebecca joined him), the vocalist plinked the same note several times (much to audience delight) on a close out “Route 66.”

Betty and I attended a second set by the Stephanie Trick Trio in the large Sierre II room, the pianist delivering “He’s Funny That Way” in her classic manner—and then she said, “I’m going to bring my husband up here,” and they joined hands (four!) on Frank Loesser’s (Fats Waller also played it) “I Wish I Were Twins,” a song Stephanie said would be “a little Brazilian,” and it was, but at a blazing tempo, the couple proving once again that they are as amazing together as apart. “We’ll Meet Again” followed, ending with a promised “special e-ffect; if we play it correctly, you can imagine you’re hearing the sound of some bells; if we are not playing it correctly, you will not hear them,” Paolo added in a pleasing Italian accent. The bells were there at the end, ringing all over Rome (so to speak), or at least in the Sierra II hall. The set ended with Fats Waller’s “Clothesline Alley,” a piece combining concerto ambiance, quick stride, and a lyrical close, masterfully—and then George Gershwin’s “Lisa,” with Danny Coots back on drums and Phil Flanagan on bass, the former adding his loose, joyful, liquid shading and the latter steady swing.

Betty and I closed out the weekend with a last set by Rebecca Kilgore’s trio, joined by local favorite “Fast Eddie” Erickson on guitar. “Let’s Get Away from It All” was presented with unison joy, Eddie and Rebecca a delight together on vocals, trading stanzas (“He walks in while I walk out”), and Paolo Alderighi contributed another of his smartly constructed solos, Dan rubber-plunger blues—the group going all out at the end with Rebecca borrowing Eddie’s guitar (he slipped the instrument all the way down his body rather than overhead, and stepped out over the strap; Dan remarking, “That’s not exactly a show stopper, but it sure slowed things down a bit”); Rebecca strumming Eddie’s guitar with him on banjo now—the set ending on a humorous note with Eddie singing “Old Rockin’ Chair” (“I’ll be able to relate to this song in two weeks, for it will be my birthday”), and Dan Barrett granting Paolo Alderighi praise by saying that when he first met him, the pianist was “still in diapers … it was somewhat embarrassing because his mother would come out after he played a couple of tunes and change his diapers.”

Good fun all the way—and some great music! I’ve gone on (and on) at considerable length here because I thoroughly enjoyed the sets I’ve attempted to describe. There was one more group I’d not heard before, and another I had (as far back as the late 1990s, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!). The first is Side Street Strutters with vocalist Meloney Collins, the aggregate advertised as presenting “Shiny Stockings, a new musical experience … breathing new life into melodies popularized by the great songstresses of the golden age of jazz.” I took in a set that commenced with “April in Paris,” which brought the dancers back to the floor, and “Don’t Be That Way,” which kept them there: the first tune played with more than a nod to Count Basie, the second to Benny Goodman.

Meloney Collins has a large, fine, “Big Band” voice and she did good service to “The Lady Is a Tramp,” Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” (written for the Basie orchestra) and Neal Hefti’s (written for the same, with lyrics by John Hendricks) “Li’l Darlin’”—the vocalist encouraging, chirking up the more reluctant terpsichoreans among the clientele (“Get out on the dance floor … it’s good for your heart!”). She sang “At Last,” softly at first, then with stop time, and then a back-with-a-bang release which occasioned a standing ovation. The set closed out with “Almost Like Being In Love,” Meloney’s “little girl” voice aging to full-grown womanhood in the second chorus—showing her full range of feeling, and volume, backed by tight ensemble work (or play).

Side Street Strutters   Le Jazz Hot

The second group (the one I’d heard at a jazz festival in San Miguel), Le Jazz Hot, did not exactly draw a crowd to the large Sierra II (I’d like to hear them in a more intimate setting) and having heard Gonzalo Bergara the previous year, I’ll have to confess I was somewhat let down by this set. The group can “cook,” every member giving his or her all to the music, and guitarist Isabella Fontaine sang “Nuage” (one of my favorite Django Reinhardt pieces, but which I’d not heard sung before), but leader Paul Mehling insisted on mixing performance with attempts at humor that I felt fell short (on Fontaine’s, who is from France, accent: “We let her order for us in restaurants because it’s so … amusing”), and he also insisted on giving a lecture on the importance of music laced with comedy (“It’s a time-honored tradition … ah look, more people came in! A plane must have landed” … or as preface to another tune: “As Dorothy Parker once said …”). Mehling introduced “Clair de Lune” as “Close the Saloon,” and whereas it was played so well it drew a standing ovation, I’m not sure I’d grant the same response to the pun.

I enjoyed repeats from the previous year: the Cozuzzi, Durham, Metz Trio; Old Friends with Bill Dendle, Bob Phillips, George Young, Jackson Stock, and Shelley Burns; the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Yve Evans & Company, and pianist Jason Wanner—and NOW: I look forward to a weekend in which I get to hear Stephanie Trick again (going solo in a “Salute to James P. Johnson,” and with her trio) and the Rebecca Kilgore Trio paying tribute to “The Music of Frank Sinatra”–along with newcomers Zydeco Flames (pictured below), and Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums; and the return of one of my very favorite pianists, Johnny Varro, playing with the Cocuzzi/Vache All-Stars.

Zydeco Flames    Stephanie Trick3

Welcome back to the ballrooms and cabarets of the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center for the second JazzAge Monterey “Jazz Bash by the Bay.” I hope to see you there!

JazzAge Monterey: Let the Good Times Roll–Part Two

Preparing Part Two of this three part blog post on JazzAge Monterey (formerly Dixieland Monterey), I thought I’d count the names of bands and guest artists I found a list of, only to discover that over its thirty-four year history the number of bands that performed at the event came to 160, and the number of guest artists adds up to 58, not including “youth bands” that made appearances from 1987 on.

There’s no way I can do justice to such a substantial cast of musicians, so I am going to get personal (out of necessity) and “play favorites.” I’ll focus on the years from 1987 on, for my wife Betty and I were attending all three days and nights of the event by then, in the good company of our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell (the latter the artist who graced the first post on Dixieland Monterey with her sketches, and will do the same for Part Two), and, together, we acquired definite favorites over the years. We did reduce attendance to two days and nights as we “aged,” and then Betty and I attended sporadically after our best friends died (Sarah in 1997, Dick in 2001), and we ceased to attend the event for a time when the same fate (or Alzheimer’s) befell new friends we’d made and a few favorite musical artists.

That’s a “tough love” fact (or story) for which I do not feel a need to apologize, and I will offer some thoughts at the end of this post on how such loses (and the “aging” process itself) may effect the nature of long-standing events–and occasion a change in more than just “name,” such as that which came about in the year 2014 for this one.

For now, let me focus on what I feel I might be justified in calling a “Golden Age” of musical offerings at Dixieland Monterey—or the event’s “middle years.” One of our favorite groups from the start was the Fulton Street Band from Sacramento—made up of Bob Newman (clarinet), Dean Nelson (trumpet), Mike Starr (trombone—who turned out to be a relative, by marriage), Bob Hirsch (piano), Roger Krum (bass), and Vince Bartels (drums).

Here’s a drawing that Sarah Maxwell made on the spot, showing the band’s front line in action –Mike Starr, Dean Nelson, Bob Newman–with a glimpse of the rhythm section (drummer Bartels, bassist Krum, and pianist Hirsch) behind them:

Fulton Street Band2

Part of the fun of this weekend party—as I wrote in an article I did for The Herald Weekend Magazine—was locating the bands or band you wished to see and hear, charting your course on a complex “Schedule of Musical Sets,” making your way through a feast of folks with the same intent, people with their preferences or value systems vividly displayed on T-shirts (genuine contemporary folklore) or instrument cases: one lady wearing buttons from every band she could fit to person and purse; one gentleman sauntering by in a “God is a tuba player and her boyfriend is a vocalist” T-shirt, another woman strutting her stuff in a “flapper” era outfit that looked as if it were made of pasta (the ample flesh of her arms quivering like unused dough); another woman in a red-fringed dress, headband, black stockings and some sort of hopefully deceased animal slung over her shoulders. We make our way through this parade and find the two Bobbies (Newman and Hirsch) standing just outside the venue in which they’ll play, conversing like ministers (this happens to be Sunday noon, but they’re more than likely simply discussing chord changes or substitute chords).

Once we’re all–fans and band–settled inside, Fulton Street eases into “Sleepy Time Down South,” a slow easeful appropriate selection, although the audience seems surprisingly alert, active. “Anybody sober?” “Yes!” “Anybody hungover?” “Yes!” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” comes next, appropriate also: Hirsch’s ever-thinking fingers ever-agile; a sleepy boyish smirk on Mike Starr’s face; Newman taking a courtly bow after his solo; Dean Nelson, a large man, squaring his shoulders like a shy wrestler (is there such a thing as a “shy” wrestler–or trumpet player?); Roger Krum with his mustached grin; Bartels tapping out “Blue Turning Gray Over You” next (“Just to see if Dean can go it this early in the morning” – and he does), the band up for some good, light fun on this day: fine, straight ahead fellowship.

Sacramento radioman Jim Baxter is on hand to lend color. “Want to say hello to your many fans?” he asks Nelson. “Not yet” is the reply. “Let me tell you something about Mike Starr,” Baxter says next (Mike protesting, “No, no, no,” in the background), “He sells Peter-Built trucks for a living and his slogan is ‘Old truckers never die; they just get a Peter-Built.’” Then, appropriately once more: “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” Baxter adding, “Let’s see if we can get the other half of Dean’s face to sweat” (the trumpeter on the edge of apoplexy even this early in the day when he solos). The fans applaud each tune as announced : “Rosetta,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Mike Starr plays mellow on this Duke Ellington piece; he admires Tommy Dorsey, he will tell me later–his “smooth thing”), and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Bassist Krum gets fully into the groove on each offering, prompting a fan to comment, “Two speeds for Roger: off and on.”

The fine musicianship is laced with humor, or attempts at it. Bob Newman dismantles his clarinet to clean it, setting the bell of the horn atop his head: “My dad said you could get clarinet on the brain if you weren’t careful.” Another number features drummer Vince Bartels, the youngest member at 29: “The driving force behind the band; he drives motor homes and  motorcycles, anything to get us here,”

The Fulton Street·Jazz Band got started when former pianist Bob Ringwald set up a “musically good, no shlocky musicians” group; and while personnel has changed over the years, all involved “have kept the level up.” Starr says that the band’s goals are to maintain “etiquette” (“Don’t drown out soloists”) and “not to hurt the music too badly.” Clarinetist Newman, a retired aerospace engineer, played Dixieland in small groups that were part of a Big Band setting (in Seattle and Tacoma), but says he didn’t know “traditional numbers” until he joined Fulton Street some fifteen years ago. His influences are many: Benny Goodman, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Wilbur, Jerry Fuller, Johnny Mince, and Abe Most. Nelson owns a construction company currently building a new hospital in Sacramento (“Can tell by the way he’s acting that it’s going all right,” Starr says), played in Army bands, and spent time on the road.

Bob Hirsch is the newest member of the group, a Midwest transplant rumored to have once been dean of a college, now working for the state in the medical field, a man who “loves tangerine martinis … and plays it right, all the time,” echoes of Ralph Sutton in his fine stride (and Earl Hines, Waller, even Mel Powell and James P. Johnson to this ear, all the great ones). Vince Bartels is New Orleans-born, his father a former bass player with Pete Fountain and the Dukes of Dixieland, Vince’s own “rhythm impeccable, getting stronger and stronger,” I’m told, and Bartels has to be “to hold back the strong piano of Bob Hirsch.”

Roger Krum works for the California Rehabilitation Department and “flies all over the state.” He is the band’s manager, setting up rooms and equipment (“Hauling around amps is almost as bad as being a drummer, but everything runs smoothly, thanks to Roger”). He also handles the money. “Nobody is getting rich,” Starr says. “I wonder if he’s giving us all we have coming.” Roger sports bandages on his fingers, for he always plays hard. Dean Nelson shouts, after another rollicking Hirsch solo, “Here we go!”—Mike Starr sings, suitably irreverent, “Ain’t Gonna Give Anybody None of My Jelly Roll” (“You get that on tape?” he asks his wife, Linelle. “No,” she replies. ”Good,” says Mike.). The Fulton Street Band then offered a breakneck version of Benny Goodman’s “Air Mail Special.”

Here are Sarah Maxwell’s individual “portraits” of Fulton Street members: Bob Newman, Vince Bartels, Mike Starr, Bob Hirsch, Dean Nelson, and Roger Krum prodding the whole gang on:

Fulton Street3  Fulton Street4  Fulton Street6

Fulton Street5  Dixieland Monterey

Fulton Street Band 3

Renard Perry, from Custer’s Last Band, sat in on “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home” (“How come his trumpet’s cleaner than yours, Dean?” “He makes more money than I do!”), and the set ended with a rousing “Original Dixieland One Step” (“What key, Dean?” “Whis-key!”), with solos by everyone. Roger Krum’s son, who had been assisting him setting up all weekend, walked by while the bass reverberated on stage, pointing, saying, “That’s my dad.” Then it was over, the silence filled with salutations from parting friends and musicians.

The totally unique trio Bo Grumpus became a favorite the first time we heard Craig Ventresco, a man who’s been called a “guitar genius,” and rightly so. That appellation may, in fact, consist of understatement, for the orchestra-large sounds that emerged from his acoustic guitar seemed to have been produced by more than just one person. As a trio, the group (washboard-percussionist Pete Devine and bassist Marty Eggers) developed its highly individual “voice” or sound busking on the streets of San Francisco, where they daily met and enchanted a tough, demanding audience and went on to play at numerous ragtime festivals and would issue five much appreciated (I have ‘em all!) CDs.

San Francisco Examiner critic Phil Elwood cited Bo Grumpus in 1997 with a fine opening line: “To see the future, you only need to go back in time,” praising Ventresco as a musical historian as well as virtuoso performer—showing how he acquired material by digging deep into the roots of American popular music: all the way back to the turn-of-the-century recording era that featured the work of Fred Van Eps, Arthur Collins, Ada Jones and other “big record sellers,” at a time when Irving Berlin had yet to write “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

At Dixieland Monterey, the Bo Grumpus repertoire ranged from snappy numbers from the pre-World War I popular ragtime era to vintage classic ragtime and mainstream trad jazz, with some of Django Reinhardt (my man Django!) tossed in for good measure—all this, as I have suggested, a rich seamless blend or marriage that seemed to come about spontaneously. In an essay called “Dance and The Soul,” French poet Paul Valery describes a symposium setting that includes Socrates and his friends observing “a winged choir of famous dancers,’ one of whom begins to monopolize their attention—Socrates exclaiming, “She is wholly in her shut eyes, alone with her soul … She is feeling herself become an event.” Watching and hearing Bo Grumpus in action, and Craig Ventresco in particular, produced the same effect.

Bo Grumpus3  Bo Grumpus4  Bo Grumpus5

The guitarist/historian says he “grew up listening to old records at Bill Bryant’s big old home in Portland, Maine,” that musical artist having toured the backwoods of old New England and assembling “the biggest collection of antique-era records, cylinders, catalogues and stuff probably in the world.” Ventresco spent hours as a teenager learning about and absorbing “pre-jazz music”—and arrived in California with percussionist Pete Devine around 1987, when they hooked up with Berkeley bassist Marty Eggers.

“In Bo Grumpus, we’re not trying to prove anything, nor are we just screwing around,” Craig told Phil Elwood, “but we are discovering that the current ‘roots music’ trend in popular music is generating interest in our music among old and young listeners—and that’s all to the good.” I found myself attracted to Craig Ventresco’s music because of its solid roots in the past, but more so perhaps because, as someone who has flirted with playing tenor guitar (tuned like a mandolin) much of his life, I was in awe of the love that went into and was returned in the sound Craig elicits from an unadorned guitar: flatpicking, fingerpicking, engaging his fingers in a miraculous manner that has both intelligence and raw musical passion as its source: smiling-soft pianissimo mixed with puissant pride, front porch ease and grace linked to bedroom swing. And it’s a joy to watch Marty Eggers remove a ceiling panel so that he’ll have suitable, comfortable space for the neck and head of his standup bass; and it’s a delight to see Pete Devine “attack” all of the percussive items that surround him–from small splash cymbal to honking horn, as if he were a Hindu god with an abundance of arms, not just the customary two.

We never missed a single performance by Bo Grumpus. Whereas Craig Ventresco may not have possessed what you’d call a “trained” or “polished” voice, what he had was totally of a piece with his other considerable gifts, and he sang a song that became a favorite of ours–a song discounting the conventional love lyric (what folks commonly write about one another) and converting it to “I Love Me”: “I love me, I love me,/I love myself to death;/I love me, I love me/Till I’m all out of breath … I take myself straight home at night/And I sleep with me till broad daylight … I love me, I love me,/I’m wild about myself; I love me and only me;/My picture’s on my shelf … Day by day I love me more and more … I take me to a quiet place/And put my arms around my waist;/If he gets fresh,/I slap his face,” et cetera.

Bo Grumpus  Bo Grumpus2

Another group we thoroughly enjoyed and admired because of their musicianship allied with a unique “collective” personality was the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra, based (where else?) in Santa Cruz, California—an unusual ensemble made up of six different saxophones ranging from the “miniscule” Eb sopranino to the “monstrous” contrabass (203 centimetres tall with a 43-centimetre-diameter bell), the former tended by an attractive young woman, the latter by leader Don Stevens, an adroit athlete who danced and charged about the stage effortlessly (it seemed) carting this behemoth as if it were a piccolo. “In between,” a normal range of saxes–soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone—fleshed out the troupe, whose choreography was intricate, impeccable, exact (and they never stood still!), humor intact and tasty, and their repertoire outrageous: everything from a “Stars and Stripes Forever Also Spach Zarathustra Medley” to “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Darktown Strutters Ball,” “Autumn in New York,” and “Alabamy Bound.”

The Nuclear Whales3   The Nuclear Whales

Another musician we came to not just appreciate but revere was Jackie Coon. When I first arrived in Monterey in 1971 (to teach at the local college), I discovered that Jackie’s status as a musician (cornet, flugelhorn, vocals) was nearly legendary. “Next to genius,” Ray Frabrlzio, one of my colleagues and an excellent musician (flute, alto sax) himself said. When I asked Bill Jackson, a fine drummer, about the best local musicians, the first person he mentioned was Jackie, and added, “Top notch.”

”The Bear from Big Sur.” That’s the way a press release on “one of the premiere flugelhornists in jazz” begins. When I began to hear Jackie play at Dixieland Monterey and other local venues, people said he’d had plenty of opportunities to perform elsewhere, but “this is the only place be wants to be.” When I got to know Jackie, he admitted the truth of it. “I can’t say enough about Big Sur. I’ve got a nice place to live, three dogs, two cats and a lot of marvelous friends.”

He loved to tell the tale of how those friends put a new roof on his house (“It took 212 cans of Hamms beer”), and did so in exchange for the pleasure he provided them with his music. He also told the story of  how someone once “swung with my horn” (stole it); yet, through the intricate, admirable social control that operates in Big Sur, that person returned the horn in its “gig bag” – anonymously of course.

Jackie Coon was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, the second of three sons (brother Gene was one of the original creators of the “Star Trek” TV series; brother Skip is a novelist). Jackie grew up in L.A. and recalled a day in 1941 when he attended a live theater performance by Louis Armstrong’s Big Band. “I cut my teeth on the Hot Five and Hot Seven.” He was amazed by Armstrong’s double-time licks. “We were friends on the basis of he never did need another trumpet player,” Jackie says, yet he did work with Armstrong alumni Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines and Barney Bigard, making his first record with the latter In Los Angeles.

In both his instrumental and vocal style, Jackie Coon shared some traits with Teagarden: warmth, intimacy and downhome ease–a deceptive style because both were technical masters but didn’t flaunt it. Teagarden, Jackie said, was “the nicest man.” Before a performance be never warmed up. “He just did a little lick–zzupphh!–said, ‘Look out!’, and that meant it would be a good night … If you could play with that band, he’d just stand there and beam at you. Of course, you could never outplay him.”

Here’s a photo of Jackie Coon at work—and another taken on the single occasion in my life I had a chance to play with him and “Fast Eddie” Erickson:

Jackie Coon   Bill with Jackie Coon and Eddie Erickson

The flugelhornist worked with everyone from Dave McKenna, Pete Fountain, Red Nichols and Bob Crosby to Jack Sheldon, Stan Kenton and Bill Watrous, and he cited saxophonist Al Cohn as an influence. “I got to know Al through Buddy Jones [another local hero, a bassist who once roomed with Charlie Parker in NYC]. I got to play with Al twice out here. His is one of my favorite ideas of how to play–his way of playing a jazz chorus. It’s the placement, the melodic content of notes (Zoot Sims was like that, too); he tells a story. It’s not the note you hit, but the one afterwards. You continue the phrase.”

Jackie spent ten years playing at Disneyland before George Malone, who ran the River Inn in Big Sur, enticed him to come to this area. Jackie switched from cornet to flugethorn six years later. “I kept searching for that sound: the sound I ended up with. I kept looking. It’s easier to play, for me. It’s a soft instrument. Takes all the competition out of trying to play loud. That brassy sound–I swear I just don’t like it anymore.”

Jackie Coon’s presence on stage–playing with anybody–was a gentle, enhancing, positive one. I’ve heard him play “pretty” on “I Got It Bad,” making something solely his own out of the classic Ellington tune; and I’ve heard him in the slightly riotous context of the “Jack and Ed Show,” working with “Fast Eddie” Erickson (Monterey Bay Club manager Teri Waros gave the team that name). They’re just about the only duo I know that would risk playing Fats Waller’s “The Joint Is Jumpin” as an opening number, but they could get any joint bouncin’ right from the start—and Eddie provided ample humor. “Here’s another old Fats Waller tune,” he’d say. “Unfortunately he doesn’t write many new ones anymore.”

Jackie Coon was best known for his ten years of work with Papa Jake Stock’s Abalone Stompers, a band he considered “family”–and he extended the metaphor with another tale about five weeks he spent touring in Europe with Ralph Sutton (an exceptional pianist), the best part of which, he claimed, was the homecoming: ”I walked into Monterey Airport and there were all the guys with their horns, and my wife. Jackson Stock waved a big sign that read, ‘The Coon Is Back.’”

Writing of Jackie’s 1986 Sea Breeze album Jazzin’ Around, noted L.A. Times writer Leonard Feather said, “Coon displays a fluency that manages to produce an effect at once traditional and contemporary.” That fluency, plus the gentle and confidential tone (nothing frantic, no panic) yet sustained drive, is everywhere in evidence on the record–one of the delights of which is Jackie’s singing: a natural annex of self, unpretentious, whether it’s a revamping of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” or the cold-turkey love pledge of “Keepln’ Out of Mischief Now.” About his singing, Jackie said, “I like it, now that I’ve got it down on record. It’s easier for me to do now. It’s published! And if a guy gets up in the band and sings bad, it’s okay. And women like it. It’s more fun now than it’s ever been.” It was the good fortune of Dixieland Monterey and local jazz fans in general that Jackie Coon found a home in Big Sur and never strayed too far from his local family, friends, and many fans. Thank you, Jackie Coon—and thank you Dixieland Monterey!

It was an everlasting treat to hear Jackie and Eddie Erickson collaborate on “It’s a Wonderful World,” Jackie sweetly providing the song’s source at the start (“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”), and Eddie, after a heartfelt rendering of the words, adopting the voice of Louis Armstrong at the close. “Fast Eddie’s” contributions to Dixieland Monterey are substantial, and he is truly another “local hero” or local treasure, having arrived here from San Jose in 1969 and playing at Capone’s Warehouse on Cannery Row—a place to which Betty and I took our children, Tim and Steve, for pizza, jazz, and short Buster Keaton films. Like Jackie Coon, Eddie played at Disneyland (where he was featured with the Banjo Kings, and led the Riverboat Rascals show band on Disney’s Empress Lilly Showboat). He returned to town to team up with Big Mama Sue at Dixieland Monterey, and, at present, with Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett in a group called Bed.

Fest Eddie Erickson         Fast Eddie Erickson2

An accomplished wit as a well as a superb instrumentalist (banjo and guitar) and vocalist, his stuttered mic-that-won’t-work-properly shtick is a work of art. Eddie has also allied himself with one more local treasure, local hero: pianist and saxophonist Bob Phillips, a man on whom the word “genius” fits like a tailor-made glove. Bob is one of the most comprehensive, inclusive pianists I’ve ever known, totally at home with a wide range of styles and genres (from trad jazz to bebop, free jazz and beyond); a subtle accompanist who enhances jazz vocalists, show tune enthusiasts, and opera singers with equal ease—and a solo pianist (from Bach or Beethoven sonatas to Cole Porter tunes) of distinction. Whatever Bob Phillips plays, it’s first-rate—filled with immediate appeal. He can make himself comfortable in any setting—and stand out!

New Jersey-born Bob Phillips began “his love affair with the piano at age seven, and had gone professional by age seventeen,” his bio reads—playing nights in Greenwich Village in 1955 while working his way through the Manhattan School of Music by day: obtaining gigs at every venue from Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Birdland, the Village Gate, to the Village Vanguard before–disenchanted with New York City winters–he headed south to Orlando, Florida, playing at Disney World for a year and a half before heading West and—to our delight—settling in Carmel, California.

Not long after I arrived here, my MPC colleague Ray Fabrizio took me to what is now the Best Western Beach Resort on Hiway 1, so that I might hear a pianist he felt was “another Oscar Peterson.” That pianist was Bob Phillips. I had the pleasure of “working” with Bob at Dixieland Monterey when, in 2002, honored as Musician of the Year, he put together a clinic for aspiring young musicians—a clinic that featured the abundant talents of friends who’d come from near and far to assist him, such as flutist Ali Ryerson and clarinetist/whistler Brad Terry. Bob asked me to present a condensed history of trad jazz, which I did, and I also read a piece I’ll reproduce here on my own discovery, at age fourteen, of the music at the hands of a drummer from Chicago, J. P. Wolff, who transferred to our Michigan high school (carting a pair of sticks he claimed had been given him by Gene Krupa—which may or may not have been true). One day, after we’d stood and  studied a handsome set of Slingerland drums in the window of Grinnell Bros. Music Store, Parker (his “real” name) marched me over to his home, where his own set of drums resided in the living room. Here’s my account (read to the kids at the Dixieland Monterey clinic) of what took place:

I’d never seen anything like those drums  before. A wooden bass drum big as a wine cask, its calfskin moldy yellow. Wooden snare tilted at a rakish angle that, nearly vertical, made you want to catch it, as if it were about to fall over. No hi hat. One small cymbal mounted on the bass,precariously. Two cowbells. A tone block. Well, I had seen drums like this before. In record stores, on the covers of albums: truly old cats like Chick Webb, Big Sid Catlett and Baby Dodds. J.P. Wolff smiled, as proud as if we were staring through the window not of Grinnell Brothers but a maternity ward. This was his kid, his child, his creation. He then stepped up to a phonograph—big, wooden, clumsy and ugly as those drums—and, lifting the arm, bid me have a seat.

“Listen, Kid,” he said.

This was my introduction to a group led by tenor guitarist Eddie Condon. The singer was trombonist Jack Teagarden: “Born in Texas, raised in Tennessee,/Born in Texas, raised in Tennessee./Ain’t gonna let no one woman/Make a fool out of me.”

I thought I knew music. I thought I’d heard it before. I’d mastered a cardboard set of drums I made (with the top of a number ten can of beans as a ride cymbal) and a wooden snare. I played piano, or at least I tried to. I had a collection of 10 inch LPs by great jazz pianists—but I had never heard anything like this before: “Impromptu Ensemble #1.”

Gene Schroeder, a piano man, kicked it off—smooth enough and what I was accustomed to—but what happened after, all reeds and horns laced together like some crazy cloverleaf, a rhythm section sedate and steady as stone, this headed by the ubiquitous Eddie Condon, his guitar silent but there. Condon was special. He played a four string, a tenor. You won’t find them in music stores anymore. And he was special in another way. Although he made a thousand records, no one I’ve ever met—J. Parker Wolff included—can claim that on a single one of them he’s ever really heard Eddie Condon play. The rhythm section is there all right, fine and strong, but Condon for some reason never seems to be in it. But this was a team affair the likes of which I’d never heard, never known, raucous and rich as a family reunion. It raised me from my chair, but Parker shoved me back down again.

“They’s just begun to percolate, Gate,” he said. “Listen!”

“I’d rather drink muddy water, Lord, sleep in a hollow log,/I’d rather drink muddy water, Lord, sleep in a hollow log,/Than to be here in New York,/Treated like a dirty dog.”

Pee Wee Russell: stitching, weaving, playing the beautiful fool—his throaty hesitations, his cavorting with several or holding a single note, someone keeping the subway door ajar while all his friends rush in. Which is just what they did: those clean insolent trumpets—Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky—brazen, obnoxious, obviously loving every single note and minute of it; then, the backseat trombone—Jack Teagarden—filling out the bottom chords, humble as the jug in a skiffle band until he unleashed flatulent smears, unblushing, arrogant, and not backseat in his vocals, vocals which—when I came to know them well—made him one of my favorite frontline performers. All this wonderful stuff was nudged, fraternally, by Ernie Caceres on baritone sax, smooth as the snout on a Saint Bernard, complete with the cask of brandy. Shroeder again. Cool. That silent person who sits through an evening of clever conversation and, later with one small remark—a single flourish, “in-the-windows” as the jazzmen say—may outdo the entire house. But no one outdid anyone here. After each member of this family, this aggregate, had shown what he could do—alone, alive—they put it all together, the reunion came, eachholding that difficult balance, no functionary but a host of full-fledged, headlong, rabid, loving, spoiled brats. It was my first taste of “hot” jazz and I loved it. By the time pianist James P. Johnson had slipped into “Just You, Just Me,” I was a convert, completely.

After I gave this account of my own “conversion,” Bob and I presented a history of the evolution of jazz from ragtime to the present day, employing a single tune, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” and taking it through a series of styles. Or I should say, Bob Phillips embodied that history, for all I did was call out the name of a practitioner known for a particular style, or a type of the music itself : Jelly Roll Morton “jassing” up ragtime; the “Latin tinge”; the blues, Teddy Wilson’s swing/stride; Thelonious Monk (tenor saxophonist George Young joining Bob for this approach) and ending with the open, free “modern” but grounded in New Orleans tradition of Marcus Roberts. Once I’d named a style, Bob set about playing it, brilliantly, beautifully, with all the ease and grace and “fun” (spontaneity) for which he is so widely respected. After, trumpeter Hart Smith, one of the clinicians, said, “You guys must have rehearsed like crazy”—and I replied, “No, all I did was call out the names, and the rest was left to the complete genius of Bob Phillips.”

Pianist_Bob_Phillips3   Pianist Bob Phillips2

In 2002, Dixieland Monterey not only recognized Bob Phillips limitless talent by naming him Musician of the Year, but he’s been made a permanent Artist in Residence. When the Monterey Bay Area celebrated John Steinbeck’s 100th birthday that year, Bob formed the Sweet Thursday Jazz Band. He performed with Old Friends (Bill Dendle, George Young, Jackson Stock, Shelley Burns) in 2014—and he will certainly be on the scene at JazzAge Monterey’s “Jazz Bash by the Bay” this year.

The last group of “favorites” I’ll mentioned from the Golden Era is the Blue Street Jazz Band from Fresno—a group for which Betty and I and Dick and Sarah Maxwell became persistent followers throughout those “middle years.” When we started out as devotees, the band, founded in 1983 by trumpet player Forest Helmick and then under the leadership of trombonist Dave Ruffner, consisted of those two plus John Martin on soprano sax and clarinet (and later on: Nathan Ketner and Ted Strauss on reeds), Bob Embry on piano and viola (Jason Wanner now on piano), the amazing (his solos!)  Ed Hull on tuba (later: Jason Jurcak on tuba and string bass; and Sam Rocha on bass and sousaphone), Rick Canfield (drums), Robert Bennett, banjo (replaced by Matt Bottel, banjo and guitar: a computer program designer who would become the husband of … ), Sherri Colby, vocalist, the “Siren of the San Joaquin.”

Three early members were jazz educators: Dave Ruffner (high school band director), Rick Canfield (junior high or “middle school” band director), and Forrest Helmick (elementary school music teacher), clinicians who became “advocates of traditional jazz bands for the youth.”—and this combination of skills produced elaborate and highly creative arrangements by knowledgeable players with a solid hold on and foundation in their “stuff”—their eclectic originality branding them as “The Bad Boys of Dixieland,” their sets known for variety and surprise, a delightful rapport amongst themselves and with their audience,  providing ample space for humor.

We all fell in love with Sherri Colby, who seemed nearly a child (a teenager) when we first heard her, and who would go on to earn a doctorate in cultural anthropology, yet remain true to (a member of) the band. The vocal duet she and Dave Ruffner provided on “Rose of Washington Square,” taken at a tempo approaching a mental Theta cycle (slow! The third slowest of the four different brain wave cycles: the state we are in when most relaxed but not asleep, a “foggy alertness,” but also the mind set of the “enlightened”). And I can still hear (without playing the CD it’s on) Bob Emery’s viola solo opening on “Ashokan Farewell.” Other favorite tunes were “Mardi Gras Mambo,” “Last Night on the Back Porch” (on which Sherri shined), “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” “They All Asked for You” (“I went down to the animal zoo and they all asked for you … they even inquired about you!”); and moving from the secular to the sacred, Blue Street’s renderings of “Since Jesus Came Into My Soul” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

The group has recorded twenty-two albums (I won’t pretend that I have all of those!) and in 2013 at “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” they celebrated their 30st anniversary as a band. Here’s a photo I took of Sherri Colby when we first began to frequent Blue Street Jazz Band sets; a photo of the band as a whole now; and a CD cover, photo of leader Dave Ruffin, and the fan badge that became quite popular.

Blue Street Jazz Band3   Blue Street Jazz Band

Blue Street  Blue Street Jazz Band4  Blue Street Jazz Band2

Each of the groups I have cited established a warm, comfortable, fully human kinship with their audiences, their fans—and not just because many of the venues were small and intimate by nature during that era. I have tried to get this point across by telling “stories” about them, to make these remarkable people come alive as best I can, and not just dwell on musical attributes. We had other favorite bands among the 160 that have performed at the event of course, and I’ll pay homage to two more by way of Sarah Maxwell’s drawings: of The Golden Eagle band and Beverly Hills Unlisted.

Dixieland Monterey8   Dixieland Monterey7

 I would get to know Bob Murphy, who played soprano saxophone in the Natural Gas Jazz Band. I interviewed Bob because that group was billed as “the only American jazz band ever to play in Siberia,” and I had begun a book that would be published as Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union (a place where Betty and I undertook a 9,000 kilometer “trek” of our own, in order to interview Soviet musicians). Bob Murphy proved to be, as I wrote, “a large genial bear of a fellow: loose, agile on his horn, ingratiating with the silver-haired crowd that pursues the infinite supply of local Dixieland festivals and ninety-one tours and jazz cruises scheduled annually in the U.S. catering to their social and musical needs.” And that seems a perfect lead into a summary of sorts …

How do you keep an institution dedicated to “old time” music vibrant and alive year after year—in the face of featured artists grown too familiar perhaps and impending stasis? Even as I relished so much of the music I heard, I began one of the articles I wrote on Dixieland Monterey for the local Herald Weekend Magazine (an article called “Dixieland—More Than Funny Hats”) with the following: “Dixieland. Who needs it? Or what, for that matter, when you get right down to the music, is it? British jazz critic and poet Philip Larkin (a die-hard trad jazz fan himself) wrote, ‘It is distressing that an adjective of the most impeccable lineage should now denote no more than a dreary repertoire of worn-out trudging numbers verging at times on juvenile funny-hat comedy. But there it is. The word is practically synonymous with “traditional”—and bad traditional at that.’” And I added, “I love jazz—many forms of it—but if there is anything I do not need in my life just now, it’s funny hats.”

Philosopher George Santayana (another “favorite’ of mine!) once suggested that when things pass away it’s probably high time they did so. I am too fond of “eternal verities” (and music I find “eternal”) to agree with the statement, although I can see the sense in it. Fortunately, Santayana also said, “The best men in all ages keep classic traditions alive,” and also, “We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.”

In his brilliant study of not just literary but human history as well, Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin shows how human incompleteness that invites imagination and genuine growth is opposed to fixed, immutable notions of a “completed” nature and clearly defined boundaries—and Bakhtin clearly comes out in favor of the “carnival spirit,” the life of the “marketplace” that evolved over hundreds and thousands of years “in the infinitely varied culture of folk humor”—the human soul’s need for “gaiety and joy”—as opposed to what has declined into the typical, average, literal, trivial, or sentimental–a world of atrophy. The “true ambivalent and universal laughter [of “festival” life, of comic rites and pageants] does not deny seriousness but purifies and completes it,” and a genuine ongoing festival refuses to dry up or settle for a conventional “fixed parade.”

But how does one keep that genuine “carnival spirit” alive? Once again, George Santayana reminds us that, on one hand, “Life is not a spectacle; it is a predicament,” but also that there is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” In the next blog post I will write about the metamorphosis of Dixieland Monterey into JazzAge Monterey, with its renewed hope to widen its horizons, to attract a wider age range of fans, to make Jazz Bash by the Bay get “better” (and better), to allow it to represent truly “the heart and soul of the great Jazz Age” as well as the rich trad jazz heritage.

The 2015 event will open Thursday night, March 5 at the Portola Hotel & Spa with “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a dance party featuring Swing Fever, an eight-piece big band from San Francisco that features vocalist Denise Perrier, and the weekend event that follows will offer a host of both fresh and vintage talent that I’ll “talk” about next time I write.

Because I made this blog “personal,” I will end on a nostalgic note—and post photos taken during the “middle years” of Dixieland Monterey: of our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell “gussied up” at and for the event; of Sarah and Betty the same (or as ”gussied up” as we ever got), and of good friend clarinetist Joe Gallo from San Jose who, having heard his favorites at the event (Allan Vache, Abe Most, Bob Draga, etc.) and I so many fine pianists (John Sheridan, Dick Carey, Johnny Varro, etc.), we returned to Pacific Grove and, inspired, and late into the night, we tried the music on for size ourselves!

Dick Maxwell at Dixieland Monterey           Sarah Maxwell2

Betty and Sarah   Bill and Joe Gallo

 

JazzAge Monterey: Let the Good Times Roll–Part One

At the close of the last Bill’s Blog post, I mentioned a local (Monterey, California) event that will take place on March 6-8 in, as advertised: “The ballrooms and cabarets of the Portola Hotel & Spa and the Monterey Conference Center.” I said I hoped to present (in three parts or posts) the full history of this event, which began in 1980 as “Fairgrounds Dixieland” and was then allowed to “spill over into downtown Monterey” and eventually became—over a span of thirty-five years—what it is now: JazzAge Monterey’s “Jazz Bash by the Bay.”

JAM 2013 program cover    JAM 2014 program cover

These are the event’s program covers from 2013 and 2014 (both handsomely conceived and executed by artist Will Bullas):

In past posts, I have written about three exceptional performers who have graced the Portola Hotel “stages” over the past two years (two of whom will return this March): Argentine guitarist Gonzalo Bergara, with his quartet; vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, with her trio (trombonist Dan Barrett; pianist Paolo Alderighi); and the amazing stride pianist Stephanie Trick, with her trio (Phil Flanigan, bass; Danny Coots, drums). Both Rebecca Kilgore and Stephanie Trick will be back for this year’s Jazz Bash by the Bay. The music just keeps getting better and better—so let’s see how this event and my interest in writing about it got off the ground thirty-five years ago.

Here is the brochure that was sent out to acquaint folks with this year’s fare—and photos of Gonzalo Bergara, Rebecca Kilgore with her trio, and Stephanie Trick with hers:

JAM 2015 brochure   Gonzalo Bergara   Rebecca Kilgore Trio

Stepjeny Trick Trio

In 1985, I started writing about a subject I’d been “playing” all my life (Music! I took up drums and piano at age fourteen, and had my own dance “orchestra”—actually a six-piece combo with two vocalists—at age sixteen, just outside of Detroit), but I had always kept music “separate” and never devoted words to it (other than to sing them!)—whereas I was writing poetry, short stories, and even a first or “practice” (and abortive) novel at the time. My wife and I attended a performance by the Bill Berry Big Band at Douglas Beach House (The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society) in Half Moon Bay, accompanied by our friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell. Sarah was an excellent visual artist and, watching her “quick sketch” the various players, I thought, “Why can’t I do that with words?” The rich tone of a tenor saxophone had the “feel” of velour to me, or I heard a trumpet “sluicing through the soft sax sound.” Saxophonist Marshall Royal wore “a yachting cap, a la Count Basie, and [had] the face of a seasoned pit bull … examining a fresh reed as if it were the Hope Diamond,” et cetera. I was off and running … or writing (about jazz), and I have never stopped.

Monterey had a rich jazz “scene” at the time, and the Herald Weekend Magazine took a piece I came up with (“A Jam Session at the Seashore”) for a May 1985 issue; West (the San Jose Mercury Sunday supplement published a shorter version of the same in August), and I had my first article published nationally in DownBeat, July 1987 (“Remembering Buddy,” about drummer Buddy Rich and an appearance by him with his Big Band in Monterey). George Fuller, who, in 1986, published a chapbook of my poems as Poet Santa Cruz: Number 4 in his Jazz Press series, was editor of Monterey Life magazine and, having seen a couple of the jazz pieces I’d written, asked me for an article on Dixieland Monterey, then in its sixth year of activity. I wrote an article with the subtitle “Let the Good Times Roll,” and it appeared in Monterey Life in February 1987.

When I thought, recently, of covering or describing the first six years of Dixieland Monterey, I felt I might use that article as a basis or “notes” for the blog post, but re-reading the piece, I will have to say (devoid of any modesty whatsoever) that it seems to capture the mood, the tone, the “feel” of the event’s early years quite well, so I am going to reproduce it here with very few “corrections” or amendations. Some place names (venues) and “personnel” (both no longer with us) may not be instantly recognizable, but I’m going to leave things as they were rather than provide tempo-impeding “footnotes,” and present what I wrote about as if it were taking place right now (all history is synchronistic, occurring simultaneously, anyway—right?), alive and well, in order to retain the excitement and “color” of what occurred then. Here, then, are the first six years of Dixieland Monterey … Let the Good Times roll!

And in order to allow that to happen (at the max!), I’m going to illustrate this post with some of the “quick sketch” material that Sarah Maxwell provided to accompany articles I wrote. My editor at Herald Weekend Magazine had some reservations regarding my prose style (“What’do you think this is, The New Yorker?” he’d say by way of complaint; “And who do you think you are: William Faulkner?”), but he loved Sarah’s drawings, unconditionally, and may have accepted or tolerated what I wrote by default, just so he could print her superb art work. So I will “lace” what follows with Sarah’s great “stuff.”

At the end of this month (in 1987) Hot Jazz descends on Monterey with a happy vengeance: three nights and two days (February 27, 28; March 1) of music provided by over twenty bands at locations ranging from the Franklin Street Bar & Grill to Jack Swan’s First Theatre–all within walking distance of one another. The occasion is the 6th annual Dixieland Monterey festival, one of the most successful of its type in the state.

Dixieland Monterey3

You’ll find groups with quaint names such as Stumptown, Professor Plum’s and the Hot Frogs Jumping Jazz Band. You’ll witness every novelty effect from a Bud Lite trumpet mute (or red ceramic lady’s slipper) to a chicken solo (a rubber fowl squeezed in time to “Everybody Loves My Baby”). Stroll, trip or race from club to club in pace with a crowd that knows exactly why it’s in town: the proprietors of nearly ten bistros opening their doors only to ardent fans wearing hardball size Dixieland Monterey badges.

Bands may seem to be posted on a chart just a little less complicated than an NFL playoff schedule, but no, in actuality each is listed clearly by specific day, time and place (Fulton Street Jazz Band, Saturday, 1:30, Red Snapper, etc.–this from the 1986 schedule). Half the fun of this affair, for the crowd, is moving from place to place. If you play your scorecard right, you’ll have grand days and nights, and hear some fine good time music.

The festival, a spin-off from the active local Hot Jazz Society, started six years ago when fans attending the popular Sacramento fete decided the thing could be done just as well, if not better, at home. Joe Ingram approached local ad men/musicians Ed Greco and John Keller, and the three decided to allow a Fairgrounds Dixieland occasion “to spill over into downtown Monterey,” half of twelve bands playing Patee Arena, the other half in clubs in the metropolitan area. About 800 badges were sold for the latter and, while the plan didn’t make money, it didn’t lose any either.

The next year the festival “got serious.” The Hot Jazz Society was tapped for “manpower” (they still provide the major portion of the 250-300 volunteers who donate their services to the efficiently run affair), a Board of Directors was set up and, following a study of the best features of the many Dixieland festivals throughout the state, Dixieland Monterey was off and rolling–or swinging. Actually it did roll, kicked off that second year by a truly in-house band (Ingram, Greco, Keller and Mike Marotta) jamming aboard a flatbed truck following Clydesdale horses–the beginnings of what has since turned out to be “the biggest parade the city of Monterey has.”

Dixieland Monterey5     Dixieland Monterey

Keller says the current festival steering group of six people has stuck to its trust to (1) keep the event “as intimate as we can, within walking distance of itself,” (2) to present “the best live performance Dixieland our dollar can afford,” and (3) control growth so the event “has a chance to maintain its integrity.” The sale of 500 more badges is permitted each year, with an anticipated 2500 to be distributed in 1987.

Ironically, this flourishing six year old enterprise–a non-profit volunteer staffed organization (extra money goes into scholarships)–has no central office, but Keller admits that “pretty soon we’ll have to get serious about this.”

When the festival started, cabaret owners seemed understandably timid about turning away their steady customers and restricting trade to Dixieland Monterey badge holders, but not for long. This “lovely” crowd provoked $10,000 a day bar sales, and “all of a sudden everyone became believers,” guaranteeing the success of what Keller calls “the classiest Dixieland festival in California.”

Lovely or not, the crowd is nearly evangelical (there’s even a Sunday morning service in the DeAnza room of the host hotel, the Doubletree–the needs of the faithful served last year by the Nightblooming Jazzmen) in its enthusiasm for this music. They are people well acquainted with the range of Dixieland festivals from Pomona to Oregon, and cruises with names such as “Jazzsea” and “Dixsea” which will transport you, along with your favorite bands, to far away places like St. Thomas and Barbados.

Here, at Dixieland Monterey, you are likely to bump into every sort of devotee, from expert flapper dancers with marathon appetites to a colorful parasol brigade to groupies equipped with “Nightmares,” black spandex jackets, or what playwright Tom Stoppard has decried as “No philosophy that can’t be printed on a T-shirt” (some a bit too salty for a family magazine). It’s a happy, dedicated crowd, a condition that Keller attributes to the fact that the music is “highly danceable, bright and light,” containing a terpsichorean complement not found in most jazz today (“with rare exceptions”), the music providing a sense of continuity (from New Orleans through Chicago style to Swing), “remaining relatively true to its instrumentation and sound.”

Bob Gay–a knowledgeable non-musician, a broker in real life–is in charge of selecting the bands, the top ten of which are predictable favorites from previous years. The others are “new faces” with proven ability to draw crowds at other festivals. Last year pianist Norma Teagarden, of the famous jazz family, donated her services, and one is likely to hear some high class solo performers such as cornetist Jackie Coon, reed men Jeff Walker and Tony Pagano (the latter on a gold soprano sax) and pianist Bob Hirsch–just to name a few–astride the tight ensemble work of their respective groups: Jake Stock’s Abalone Stompers, Conrad Janis & the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, Mike Vax & the Great American Jazz Band (Vax himself, on trumpet, a Stan Kenton alumnus) and the excellent Fulton Street Jazz Band from Sacramento. You’ll find hot vocalists such as Chris Norris (Golden Eagle) and Jan Sutherland (Custer’s Last Band). This year, also, the popular Royal Society Jazz Orchestra will return.

Here’s Sarah Maxwell’s sketch of Mike Vax & the Great American Jazz Band:

Dixieland Monterey6

The groups aren’t here to make money (by the time trip and lodging are paid they just about break even), but they obviously love the music they play. There’s much, along with the groups already mentioned, to choose from: from High Sierra to South Frisco to Tuleburg, Bye Bye Blues and the Grand Dominion Jazz Band.

Jazz critic Len Lyons, whose catholicity of taste runs the gamut from Ragtime through Fusion to Free Jazz, decries what he calls the “ossified style” of Dixieland (“There was nothing original about the Original Dixieland Jass Band save for their overnight commercial success”), but if there’s any merit to what he says, the crowd that will pour into Monterey on the last weekend of this month doesn’t know it yet, and probably wouldn’t care if they did. They are not youthful, these fans (aside from their aspirations), but you won’t witness much ossification.

Cash registers shall be ringing, yes, but as you wander the range of cabarets from the Cuckoo’s Nest to Tony’s American Grill & Bar, from Red Snapper and the Wharfside to the Doubletree’s Bonsai Room and the Sheraton Hotel, you’ll probably discover lots of overt joy: legitimate delight in, and solid appreciation of, sounds that stem from New Orleans-style playing (which Lyons does regard as full of the color of life, “effervescent, even lusty”).

It’s music with the blues touch, lively extemporaneous composition or improvising within tight harmonies, stopped time and the instrumental color of insolent trumpets, clarinets that weave and stitch, and a genuine “rhythm” section of steady danceable piano, bass and drums. You’ll also find some silly hats, chicken solos, barnyard braying and flatulent trombones, but for the most part it’s agreed-upon fun: this crowd comes to town for what they love, which is good time music.

Dixieland Monterey4

That covers the event’s first six years, I hope—and in the next post, I’ll take you from 1987 through a host of fine performances that will land us in 2014, when Dixieland Monterey, hoping to widen its horizons, to attract a wider age range of fans, to make Jazz Bash by the Bay get “better” (and better), to allow it to represent truly “the heart and soul of the great Jazz Age” as well as the rich Trad heritage, took on a new name: JazzAge Monterey.

I had my favorites throughout those “middle” years, and I won’t be shy about praising them: The Fulton Street Band from Sacramento; local treasures (local heroes!) Jackie Coon, “Fast Eddie” Erickson, and Bob Phillips; Bo Grumpus (with the miraculous Craig Ventresco on guitar); Blue Street from Fresno (with Dave Ruffner and Sherri Colby’s handsome vocal duet on “Rose of Washington Square” still alive in my ears, along with Bob Embry’s viola on “Ashokan Farewell”); outstanding pianists such as John Sheridan, Jason Wanner, Chris Calabrese, Andrew Fielding, and Johnny Varro (returning this year!); drummer Jake Hanna; clarinetists Allan Vache, Bob Draga, and Abe Most; the remarkable (ageless) Edna Lewis; and a veritable plethora of excellent groups from Igor’s Jazz Cowboys, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, to the (ageless also!) Royal Society Jazz Orchestra (also comin’ back this year!).

Stay tuned for more Good Times!

MJF57: 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival–Part Two

I’ve had to take a nearly three month hiatus from much writing, reading and even playing the piano (reading charts) in order to get my eyes “fixed”—but here, finally, is the second portion of what I intended to post on the 57th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. Back in October (not long after that event, at which I took copious notes, but was having some trouble seeing them, and also the various stages on which the music took place!), I was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration (“We can’t stop it,” my ophthalmologist said, “but we can slow it down”), this while I was being set up for cataract surgery, an extraordinary procedure I underwent on December 11 (right eye) and 18 (left), at the skilled hands, heart, and mind of Dr. Holmes. I had been “at risk” for Detached Retina in 2005, so we had to make sure that important piece of property was firmly, securely in place–and the return of a vertigo condition (inner ear viral infection) I’ve had for 27 years (but kept under control until now) provided another source of “adventure.” The surgeries themselves came off without a “hitch,” thanks to Dr. Holmes–and I am ready now to post Part Two on the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival.

I’ve already provided a fairly extensive (13 pages! This is Bill’s Blog Baroque—remember?) account of five favorite MJF57 performances: Billy Child’s Saturday night premiere of Map to the Treasure, his tribute to singer/songwriter/pianist Laura Nyro; Child’s quartet’s appearance just after in Dizzy’s Den; saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s group Sangan (with percussionists Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland) and Lloyd’s Sunday night set with his quartet (Jason Moran on piano;Reuben Rogers, bass; and Harland again on drums); and Brian Blade’s The Fellowship Band performing on the Garden Stage on Sunday afternoon. Now, I’d like to pay homage to a number of other “acts” that fleshed out what I felt was an extraordinary weekend of music—Tim Jackson’s inspired programming at work (and play) again.

On Saturday afternoon, our houseguest for the weekend (along with Oakland photographer Stu Brinin), Dan Ouellette, conducted the DownBeat Blindfold Test (which Dan has done for 20 years) with guitarist Lionel Loueke, in which the latter was asked to recognize (if possible) and comment on the performance of a given artist, after hearing “the take” (a recording of a piece played). When, at first, no sound was forthcoming when requested by Dan, jazz writer Paul de Barros, who was sitting in front of me, identified the artist as “John Cage”: an “in joke,” because Cage once performed a piece called 4′33″, pronounced “Four minutes, thirty-three seconds” or just “Four thirty-three,” a composition the score of which instructs the performers not to play their instrument throughout the entire piece, throughout its three movements. Cage did leave the widows open so that “ateliotic” or environmental sounds (such as auto horns honking or ambulance sirens blazing) might “intrude” upon the musical silence—or “perform” themselves.

Here’s Lionel Loueke (photo by Craig Lovell) and Dan Ourellette, Blindfold Test host:

MJF14 8   Dan

Sound forthcoming at MJF was a 1958 piece by John Coltrane, “Freight Trane” (with Tommy Flanagan on piano and Kenny Burrell on guitar). Loueke confessed he’d never heard Burrell on record before “in that style,” but loved “the tune and the way the changes are played,” and found the guitarist “very fluent in bebop vocabulary.” He did recognize the next artist, guitarist George Benson, with his “clean, perfect technique” (the root “and fifths together”) and said that he himself “started to learn to play jazz because of him,” that he loved “not just the technique but the total musicality.” A friend had given Loueke an LP of Benson’s Weekend in L.A., and when his parents went off to church, Loueke would “crank up” their record player, set his own cassette player as close to the speakers as possible, and would “try to play” with Benson, who played so fast that Loueke found he “did better” when he could slow down the recording by letting the cassette’s batteries “get worn out.” The tune Dan had played was “Body Talk,” recorded in 1973, with Harold Mabern on piano, who–ironically–would play three sets at MJF57 in the CoffeeHouse Gallery on Friday night (and more about him in a moment!).

 Dan admitted that he was going to “throw a curve ball” on the next piece: a vibrato-heavy, deep-toned, slightly rough sounding guitar piece, but Loueke got it, saying, “This has to be Kurt Rosenwinkel,” because of his “very strong guitar personality that comes through his sound.” The tune was “Mr. Hope,” which Loueke said he didn’t know firsthand, “but I love it.” He felt Rosenwinkel “takes the guitar to another level, harmonically and melodically speaking … a one-of-a-kind player who brings something new to the table … it swings so hard, and I can still feel the melody after the recording stops.”

Lionel Loueke’s responses remained insightful, astute throughout the entire Blindfold Test: “guessing” Ali Farka Toure right away (“I could hear him from the sound of his guitar … there were also two ngonis [ngoni, a traditional lute from Mali that dates back hundreds of years] so I wasn’t sure. But when he started singing. I knew it was him”). Loueke admires the way Toure “makes his guitar sound like he’s playing a kora” [a 21string lute-bridge harp used extensively in West Africa] … The first time I heard him I thought he sounded like John Lee Hooker, but in a different language. It’s the blues, the African type of blues.” Loueke didn’t “catch” Ralph Towner, originally with the group Oregon, playing solo (“I think it’s a Brazilian guitar player with that style and the nylon-string guitar.”), but he had insightful things to say about the “warmer sound” provided by nylon strings and playing with your fingers rather than a pick, because you get “a little closer to the instrument … I play with my fingers on the electric for the same reason.”

A piece by Django Reinhardt (“Dream of You,” 1950 ) brought the response, “I like this a lot. If this isn’t Django, then I have no idea … I love Django because of the way he was so melodic but at the same time so virtuosic”; and Bill Frisell (“Armarillo Barbados,” 1994), instantly recognized, also brought forth compliments: “The sound behind each note is so strong that it’s hard not to recognize him. He’s another one-of-a-kind.”

The previous evening, at 9:30, I made a fortunate discovery on the Garden Stage, when a Berklee College of Music grad (I saw my friend Rob Hayes, Assistant Vice President for External Affairs standing at the mixing board, in admiration), pianist/vocalist Sarah McKenzie appeared with her quartet. She not only possesses a handsome voice, but genuine “chops” as well on piano, and I thoroughly enjoyed, and admired, her set—so much so that, after she played a stunning, truly original version of one of my favorite songs, “Dindi,” I went directly to the Amoeba Music Store booth to see if the tune appeared on her latest CD, Close Your Eyes. It didn’t! But I got Close Your Eyes anyway, which is loaded with first-rate tunes, all well performed. Later, I would run into Rob (whom I interviewed just before I went to Japan in 1996, working on Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within, University of Michigan Press, 2004, because, at the time, 333 musicians from Japan had graduated from Berklee.) When I talked with Rob now, he said that a McKenzie CD with “Dindi” on it was forthcoming.

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Sarah McKenzie attended Berklee on a full scholarship, and her second album, Close Your Eyes won the ARIA (Australian GRAMMY) award as Best Jazz Album in 2012. Her quartet—a group that ranges in place of origin from Israel to Canada to Virgin Islands to Florida and Australia—is made up of Berklee classmates Daniel Rotem (tenor sax), Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Tabari Lake (bass) and Rodney Rocgues (drums). The set kicked off with “Bye Bye Blackbird.” While it may have taken the group a small stretch of time to get their truly international chops in sync, the Sarah McKenzie Quartet featured a large open style with a spirited, ingenious, tasteful dignity I love; and Sarah herself tried a number of different approaches on for size, including scat singing. I was most impressed by her piano playing. “The Way You Look Tonight” (which is on Close Your Eyes) evolved as a fully engaging piece that truly swung, with elegant phrasing, a fine svelte touch, and solid comping behind the others–Sarah McKenzie somewhat “sassy” with her scat, but showing much poise: an easeful, comfortable manner—comping her own vocals seamlessly.

The last time I heard and saw Harold Mabern was in 1994, when he appeared as a portion of the  James Williams Contemporary Piano Ensemble, a group that featured the sumptuous talents (and additional forty fingers) of Mabern, Geoff Keezer, Donald Brown, and Mulgrew Miller—along with James Williams himself. That year, they kicked off the Festival in high gear: a piano ensemble only matched, to my mind, by the appearance of Bill Charlop, Lynne Arriale, and Jason Moran with Marian McPartland in 2004. The 1994 Contemporary Piano Ensemble closed out its set with a Williams’ original, “That Church Thing,” a piece that found the five pianists circling four pianos they’d shared chores at, all five clapping hands and leading a rousing gospel parade.

Harold Mabern is a talker as well as a player, and that was just fine, because the incidental talk that preceded the playing—and sometimes accompanied it—was good. He mentioned Nat “King” Cole, and then launched into “Baby, Baby, Baby, What is Wrong with You?”—offering words of encouragement to himself in an aside: “Let’s see if I can do this one,” and then commentary on the blues in general: “You can’t teach the blues.” All this was laced, or enhanced, with scat singing intended (I think) to show that if the blues don’t come naturally, it best not arrive at all (to borrow, or steal, an observation by John Keats regarding poetry: “If Poetry comes not as naturally as Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”). Mabern even tossed in a playful “I used to get $2000 to do this … don’t I wish,” and finally completed the tune itself, just good ole funky fun: “You packed your bags and left me;/I didn’t know what to do;/ Baby, baby, baby, what is wrong with you?”—the instrumental portions flavored with pronounced barrelhouse trills to emphasize the fact that she (“Baby, baby, baby”) had been gone far too long, et cetera.

This piece (or production) was followed by a song Mabern had written for trumpeter Lee Morgan, who recorded prolifically from 1956 until the day before his death in February 1972, when Morgan was shot and killed by his common-law wife Helen More (a.k.a. Morgan), following a between sets altercation at Slug’s Saloon, an East Village (NYC) jazz club. Mabern’s piece is called “Edward Lee,” and was rendered in a funky Trad Jazz style so percussive it sounded a bit muddy to me, but that may have been the intended effect. Whatever, Harold Mabern swings, no doubt about it, and his rhythm section (Michael Zisman, bass; Peppe Merolla, drums), if not exactly shading the piece, definitely did propel it—the overall “feel” good, all the tricks of the trade (from double time to trading fours) employed.

After, Mabern returned to “talk,” telling tales of serving time at Manassas High School, taking up the piano “late” (age 15), but making his first professional appearances, in Chicago, at that same age. He offered asides on John Coltrane’s persistence and incessant practice as an artist (“Trane laid with it till he solved his problems”), which led into a smooth, playful “But Not for Me” (part of the playfulness consisted of a quote from “Pop Goes the Weasel”), a refreshing, original interpretation of the Gershwin tune, with deep steady assistance on bass by Zisman (1/2,  ½, ½), a strong bass solo by the same while Mabern sat things out, appreciatively, before returning with a formal flourish worthy of Chopin (albeit parody)—the pianist an entertainer of the old-school as well as a first-rate instrumentalist. I enjoyed all that he had to offer.

Here’s the cover of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble CD The Key Players on which Harold Mabern appears, and the man himself at the piano:

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The same was true on Saturday afternoon, when Booker T. Jones (of “Green Onions” and Booker T. and the MGs fame) performed, sans MGs, but with a fresh group. This one-time prodigy named after the great educator Booker T. Washington and now a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, offered familiar fare played with flair on the Jimmy Lyons (Main) Stage: a cover version of “Purple Rain” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Hoochy Koochy Man.” All this was taken in by a somewhat sedate but fully appreciative Saturday Afternoon Blues audience, not at all like the Festival’s 1960’s wild-with-abandon Saturday afternoon crowds (topless women and lovers who abandoned the privacy of sleeping bags to disclose other moves dancing in the aisles–and stands). Then, an annual parade was led by The Rainbow Lady (De Dee Rainbow of Seattle), dressed in effusively colorful garb, her face flecked with gold dust, her substantial body decked out in silver boas and rings ranging from turquoise Navaho to cast silver Chinese dragons, carrying her full-spectrum parasol and a globe-topped wand, a giant badge perched atop one breast that read “Enjoy life; this is not a dress rehearsal.”

Some of what Booker T. (who has retained both charm and good looks) offered was greeted with church-like reverence or solemnity—the man sitting next to me attempting to simulate the rhythms by way of both hands and head and only partially succeeding—but the spirit was there. Booker T. played “Time Is Time” (written while he was still in high school, and employed as sound track for the film Up Tight)—this as the set’s “last song,” himself on Hammond B-3 organ: a brooding start, left hand drone, and a shift to hand-clapping recognizable melody and rhythms that more than suggested anthem proportions, Booker T.’s eyes shut tight as if he were in a trance, building until the sound ceased abruptly and he cried out, “That’s our show … see you again!” And his faithful followers would—for he performed once more that evening in Dizzy’s Den, as special guest with The Philadelphia Experiment, a group featuring Uri Caine (another of my favorite pianists), bassist Christian McBride, and Questlove from the group The Roots which had stirred up its own audience (and set them dancing at midnight) on opening night.

I enjoyed so much of what I heard all weekend long at MJF57, but I was disappointed by two sets offered—expecting grand things from the second of them. The first was the Becca Stevens Band (the same vocalist who provided such a memorable performance as part of Billy Childs’ Map to the Treasure premiere, singing Laura Nyro’s “Confession” and “To a Child”). On Saturday afternoon, in Dizzy’s Den, Becca offered her own songs, accompanying herself on guitar and ukulele—the first tune, which contained the solemn line “everything must go soon” was quite handsome, suggesting echoes of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season),” the lyrics of which (excluding the title) and final verse of which Seeger adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes—a song that would go on to become an international hit in 1965, covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds. However, when Becca switched from guitar to ukulele, the music seemed to get as “cute” as that instrument sometimes becomes in hands (and minds) less creative than those of Jake Shimabukuro (Arthur Godfrey anyone?). Lines such as “each day that spring is in full bloom,” “look inside your heart and look inside mine,” and “bring me your higher love” struck me with less force than the lessons of Ecclesiastes, so I bowed out on Becca, who does have a lovely voice.

The second disappointing set was Jason Moran’s “Fats Waller Dance Party,” for which I had been prepared, in a very positive way, by an article Dan Ouellette wrote for DownBeat (my October issue arriving, fortunately, just before the September Festival), “Jason Moran: Other Ways of Operating.” I’ve already commented on the extraordinary work Moran does in both duos with and the quartet of Charles Lloyd, alongside his 2004 MJF appearance with Marian McPartland. And Thomas “Fats” Waller was one of the first pianists who, by way of his RCA recordings, awakened a desire in me to play piano. Consequently, this alliance (Waller/Moran) and Dan’s piece aroused high hopes.

Jason Moran was the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Fellowship, and, in 2011, received a commission from the Harlem Stage Gatehouse to prepare and present a homage to former Harlem resident Thomas “Fats” Waller. In his article, Dan Ouellette wrote, as an aside, “It’s been said that when he died, [Waller’s] ashes were spread around the neighborhood.” For the project he’d been assigned, Moran engaged the services of vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, who has ten GRAMMY nominations to her credit, and is best known on the hip-hop and neo-soul scene. She assisted Moran, in Ouellette’s words, “translating the jazz tradition into contemporary expression as a dance party”—and the two collaborated again on the recording All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller for Blue Note Records.

“I want to know other ways of operating,” Moran told Ouellette, drawing “dance into music,” projecting what Ndegeocello calls “the party feel … Party was the focus to celebrate and praise Fats, who was a hit-maker in his time.” Moran’s task was “coming to philosophical grips about delving into the Waller songbook,” and he was concerned that the music might perhaps prove “too personal to the icon.” He did not wish to tread on Waller’s “narrative,” so he asked, “Why play his music the way that it’s always been? My goal was: Does it sound good?” Much discussion, and many different conversations ensued: with Ndegeocello, with drummer Charles Hayes (Ndegeocello on him: “His Pop groove is formidable. You can’t stand still when Charles plays.”), and with engineer Bob Power, who was impressed by the willingness of Moran and Ndegeocello to follow “an oddly otherworldly bent that carries with it a deep emotional level … They were unfettered by the originals.”

Jason Moran as Fats Waller   Jason Moran as Fats Waller 2

All this struck me as “good stuff.” With so much solid thought and preparation behind this ambitious venture–one that sought to combine solid musicianship with good time fun, hoping to entice an audience to not just listen, but (nearly automatically) get up and dance–I was eager to be a part of that audience in front of the Garden Stage on Saturday night at the MJF. But I’m sorry to say that, for me (and for a number of other folks I talked to), the “show” fell flat, in spite of so many good intentions. Moran, wearing a large papier-mache mask of Waller’s head, initiated the set as if he were his own cheerleader (or conducting a football rally pep-talk): “Keep it goin’ for as long as you can … keep it up for Fats Waller … he’s been dead for a long time, but give it up as if he were here!” This sounded a bit too much like a disclaimer to me, and the attempt to resurrect or re-interpret or re-invent Waller that followed did not take me in the direction intended (a re-appreciation of the pianist/entertainer I have loved for years), but close to the opposite: “What on earth are they doing with or to him?!”

Jason Moran (above as Fats; photo credit John Rogers for pic with microphone) offered an odd blend of endless vamps and solid stride on “Lulu’s Back in Town” (with fine support from Tarus Mateen on bass), and then vocalist Lisa Harris danced on stage—the vamp mode continuing, the title of the next tune, “Honeysuckle Rose,” a fatiguing loop embellished by Leron Thomas’ trumpet, Harris converting Waller’s clever, memorable bridge (“Don’t buy sugar/You just have to touch my cup/You’re my sugar/It’s sweeter when you stir it up”) to a static “Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh,” Moran backing this up with synthesizer chords and some more acoustic piano, the piece closing out with a five note Basie (“plink plink plink plink plink”) ending.

My favorite Waller tune “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was introduced by information that the composer “wrote it while he was in alimony jail,” Lisa Harris chanting the lyrics rather than singing them, the phrase “for you” (which follows “savin’ my love …”) stuck in the loop groove again, some trumpet relief provided, then more “for yous,” a seemingly endless nonsense syllable refrain, hands over her head, suggesting a dance. She did call out, “We want to see you dance”—but no one took her up on the invitation except Jason Moran himself, wearing the papier-mache mask, prancing about the stage, removing his sport coat, stripped down to his T-shirt, Harris madly shaking a tambourine; but all I could feel at the time (thinking back to the “best laid plans” projected in Dan Ourellette’s article in DownBeat) was: “They’ve somehow mistaken motion for action.”

On Sunday afternoon, I returned to the Garden Stage stands for a performance by a vocalist I’d never heard (or heard of) before, Youn Sun Nah, from Korea—making her first Monterey Jazz Festival appearance. She was accompanied by Ulf Wakenius, advertised as the “last guitarist of Oscar Peterson.” Youn Sun Nah provided a piece with a soft “Asian” blues flavor, a song of her own with lyrics about friendship and memory I had no trouble getting into: “I wear this crown of thorns … full of broken thoughts I cannot repair … everyone I know goes away at the end … that old familiar sting.”

Gifted with a voice with which she can create just about any vocal effect a human being can imagine, she reminded me of Sainkho Namtchylak (known for her Tuvan throat singing, or Khoomei–a singer I much admire), Youn Sun Nah employing dynamics that ranged from a whisper to sudden overt shouts: percussive phrases such as “not ready to play and not ready to fight” mixed with what the Japanese call “yugen” (suggestion in preference to outright statement), staging a love drama (and she has incorporated “theater” within her music seamlessly), “Stay … go,” which made  enjoyable use of scat and appropriate hand gestures that resembled the subtle maneuvers of hula. An attractive presence on stage, Youn San Nah employed a full range of effects—auditory and visual—to enhance her performance, and Ulf Wakenius was very much there at her side to match them.

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I was sitting next to Mitsuru Mendenhall, wife of first-rate local pianist Eddie Mendenhall, and she introduced me to her mother, who was visiting from Japan. Intent on Youn Sun Nah, I couldn’t help but lean over and say “utsukushii” (“beautiful,” for a work of art, in Japanese), and they both nodded in agreement. Now playing kalimba (African thumb piano), the singer would offer a barely audible “Thank you” at the end of each tune—much in contrast to some of the truly powerful, even overwhelming sounds that had emerged from her lips. The single totally familiar song she sang was “My Favorite Things,” which she offered at a slow, leisurely tempo, a joyful dirge, a delicate chant—and she closed her set with an English folk song, “A Sailor’s Life,” delivered with strong emotion, building from plaintive to puissant, creating the eerie effect that she was singing in two parts, singing harmony with herself: “We can row our oars … we can be lovers without tears.” I felt the overall performance had been strong, enjoyable—a unique blend of solid musicianship and enhancing theater.

I devoted the Festival’s last night, Sunday, to the Charles Lloyd Quartet: first its appearance on the Jimmy Lyons Stage as reported in the previous post, which meant that I missed what I was told was an outstanding set by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire at the Night Club, but I did arrive there in time to hear Delfeayo Marsalis (trombone) with his special guest, family patriarch Ellis Marsalis on piano. I first heard Delfeayo Marsalis play at the Rampart Street Funky Butt in New Orleans, when my wife Betty and I attended a AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference there in 2002, so I wanted to get “caught up,” to see just what he was up to now—which was pretty much the same (and enjoyable): the Trad Jazz that is the fundamental format or source for the Marsalis family legacy.

I don’t take photos at the Monterey Jazz Festival (I’m too busy writing it all down!), so I’m going to have some fun here and post a photo of Delfeayo Marsalis (singing) that I took at the Funky Butt in 2002—and to “catch” that New Orleans flavor: a photo I took of the Preservation Hall sign, and two of street musician Doreen Ketchens (dubbed “Queen Clarinet,” whom those in the know told me was the “best trumpet player in New Orleans,” but refused to play in the clubs), seen here playing in Jackson Square, in front of St. Louis Cathedral (I was also told that musicians came from all over the world just to perform with her).

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At MJF, Delfeayo’s group was holding forth with “On the Sunny Side of the Street” when I entered the Night Club, the leader contributing a joyous solo laced with trad slurs and growls, the rhythm section assisted by a hand-clapping standing room only (I was lucky to find a recently vacated seat) audience Delfeayo had engaged at the start with plugs for his birthplace: “If you go to New Orleans, you got to go to that Mardi Gras … and when you’re down there, my Daddy’s gonna tell you what it’s all about … we’re gonna jump and shout; we gonna turn the party out!” If the chat up and licks were familiar, they were still good fun—and “Daddy,” of course, is Delfeayo’s father (and Winton’s, and Branford’s and Jason’s), the pianist whom I felt (and he’s been doing it for years) “stole the show” with his truly tasteful style, which he provided on “Autumn Leaves” and then again on “Nancy,” a handsome close-to-the-melody paraphrase right down to the last “laughing face” grace note on the latter.

The group played “Speak Low” (that fine Kurt Weill tune with lyrics by Ogden Nash), up tempo—but the drummer (whom I hadn’t checked out) struck me as a tad heavy handed, so I was surprised to discover it was Marvin “Smitty” Smith, one of my favorite drummers and whose excellent articles on drum technique I’ve found invaluable (up to the point, that is, of my ongoing shortcomings when it comes to percussion)—but throughout the set, the audience did get “taken down to New Orleans” and the trip was good.

I’d run into guitarist Bruce Forman, about whom I’ve written in the past on a number of occasions (his many fine performances) and whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and we had a good catching up “chat.” I had another of those “conflict of interests” occasions, for I learned that Bruce would be playing with the Tony Monaco Trio in Dizzy’s Den at 7:30, but–because of the many excellent simultaneous offerings at MJF–I’d missed out on hearing pianist Donald Brown play with his trio at the Coffee House Gallery on Saturday night, along with a Saturday afternoon “Conversation” there, “Remembering Two Piano Masters: Mulgrew Miller & James Williams,” featuring Brown, Harold Mabern, and Geoff Keezer. I had to forego Bruce if I was to catch Keezer’s set—and that amazing  pianist offered his customary first-rate fare: clean, well-conceived, fully imaginative lightning-quick runs and engaging dynamics, on tunes written by James Williams (“In the Open Court”) and Mulgrew Miller (“From Day to Day”). Thank you, Geoff, for the homage paid to those two greats in your own performance. After his set, the last line I entered in my notebook was: “God, he’s fast!” Fast and good.

The last set I witnessed on Sunday night was by Eric Harland’s group Voyager. I’d been so impressed by this 2014 Artist-in-Residence’s appearances with Charles Lloyd (twice), but I may have been a bit burnt out by a full weekend of superlative offerings, for while Harland, as a drummer, is a delight to listen to in and of himself (similar in this sense to Brian Blade), and while he had Taylor Eigsti on hand (another fine pianist), I found Chris Turner’s heavily-cliched vocals lacking … something (“Can we sing together?” followed by a nursery rime refrain: “la la la la la la la la,”etc.). I found myself jotting down some uncomplimentary notes throughout this set regarding a phenomenon which, along with all the riches (the top notch performances), I’d experienced that weekend.

I found myself writing about unrelated “increments” of music offered in lieu of meaningful sequence; an OVERKILL of “information” (notes) in place of focused innate feeling vividly expressed; forethoughts and afterthoughts but that significant leap across the synapses, the connecting tissue, the fortunate “in between” (that can be ALL) somehow ignored or left out—so that the attempt to tie things together too often fell back on endless vamps, treading water, stalling for time, repetitious becoming with no end in sight, still searching for a significant story to tell rather than telling it outright or having that story fall in place of its own accord—these efforts so unlike the truly stirring, meaningful music I’d heard from Charles Lloyd (that gorgeous tone of his alone!), Billy Childs, and Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band (fellowship indeed!).

Once again, because of “overlap” in offerings, and my own inability to be in two (or three!) places at the same time (unlike the gifted critic Scott Yanow, who still somehow manages—after all these years–to “take it ALL in”), I missed out on: excellent vocalist Claudia Villela and saxophonist Harvey Wainapel’s “Getz/Gilberto” set; drummer John Hanrahan’s quintet featuring tenor-saxophonist Brian Gephart doing, as Scott would write, “a superior job of performing all of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’” (“earning a standing ovation”); “The remarkable Lisa Fischer [whom I did hear with Billy Childs] perform a soul/R&B set for a packed house”; pianist Aaron Diehl and his quartet paying homage to John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet with the commissioned piece “Three Streams of Expression” (“fully capturing the sound of the MJQ”); pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa (“a passionate player with very impressive technique, a future giant from Cuba who was dazzling with his trio.”). And thanks, Scott, for the quotes!

Thus ended what I felt was one of the most well-rounded, fully engaging weekends of music the Monterey Jazz Festival has offered—and the fare each year is consistently high, thanks to the competent staff and Tim Jackson’s well-proven genius for exceptional programming.

Another jazz fest is coming up soon: the March 6-8 JAM (JazzAge Monterey) 35th Anniversary “Jazz Bash by the Bay” at the Monterey Conference Center. I was fortunate in being asked to be on the Advisory Board for this event (originally known as Dixieland Monterey—now offering a full range of trad jazz, ragtime, swing, zydeco, gypsy jazz, and blues, with more than a taste of truly current licks along the way), and I would like to offer, by way of Bill’s Blog, a three part series of pieces–the first of which will cover the event’s first six years–telling the story of how its remarkable and much welcomed evolution has taken place. So … see you then!