Restez chez vous tips from Claude Carrière

Claude à Honfleur, 17 Avril 2013 … courtesy of Claude

The following joke has rewarded me with 59 likes and 15 shares on Facebook. It comes from my friend Claude Carrière in Paris.

A plane with 5 passengers on board — Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, the Pope and a 10-year-old schoolgirl — is about to crash and there are only 4 parachutes. Trump says “I need one, I am the smartest man in the USA and I’m needed to solve the pandemic!” He takes one parachute and jumps. Johnson says “I’m needed to sort out the COVID-19 mess in Britain”. He takes one and jumps. The Pope says “The world’s Catholics depend on me for comfort in a time of fear.” He takes one and jumps. “You can have the last parachute,” Merkel says to the 10-year-old. “I’ve lived my life. Yours is only just starting”. The little girl replies: “ Don’t worry, there are 2 parachutes left, the smartest man in the USA just took my school bag.”

Now retired, Claude is retired after a long career as a jazz producer and host for Radio France. I remember watching him host a live broadcast from Sunset/Sunside, the two-level club with the red door. Dark and cozy, with a small group playing and Claude purring his commentary between the tunes, mic cables coiled on the floor and runnng out the back door to the sound truck.

Claude is also a producer of CDs. His BD JAZZ series (I see some volumes on Amazon and eBay) packages two discs in the back of a book — a tall, slim, glossy, hardcover bande dessinée (graphic novella) illustrating a story from the life of an artist such as Ellington (Carrière’s favorite artist), Bechet, Ella, Carmen McRae. A beautiful series. A five CD box, La Chanson de Duke, features more than a hundred songs by Duke and Strayhorn, recorded by Duke’s band and other artists when Duke wasn’t present. Claude himself plays on the last track. And his latest production is Incomparable! The three-CD set fully explores – as Claude might say — Le roi Nat Cole. Out now. 

Claude is staying home during the pandemic. A confinement order throughout France has been extended through April 15. All non-essential public services remain closed. 

I asked him what he is listening to and reading during this confinement, and I’ve edited his response only a bit.

  • Listening to a lot of music, mainly classical on France Musique and 3 musical TV channels, 
  • beaucoup Mahler, Dutilleux (le “double” that night !), Ravel, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev and so on…
  • Duke and Strayhorn and Strayhorn and Duke  
  • Bill Smith concerto for clarinet and combo, [Smith] just died last week
  • Tatum on piano, I re discover 
  • And movies – Parasite, Quai des Orfévres, Passport to Pimlico
  • One hour ago, Tati’s Jour de Fête on the TV
  • Many old English and French classics to see or see again
  • Reading Debussy’s biography, Rabbit’s Blues (Hodges bio you know), The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross in French,  Jazz Transatlantic, Vol 1, by Geerhard Kubik (420 pages in English I just begin!).

Claude regards America as a great country that gave the world Duke, Louis, Bird, Clifford and so many. He took this photo the last time he was in New York, in my neighborhood. J’envoie de mon mieux, Claude Carrière!

Message from Veneto .. March 12, 2020

Riccardo Scivales photo by Mauro Parenzan

Hi Becca, I hope you are well, and sorry for my delay in replying in detail. I too am worried – last night on TV they said that unfortunately there are a thousand infected in New York. We are fine, even if the situation is not easy here. Yesterday in our region (Veneto) they counted 1027 infected and 29 dead. We must remain as closed as possible at home, and from today the government has decided to close all shops, factories and offices that are not indispensable (such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, etc.). Schools are closed, and the music schools where I teach piano have been temporarily closed since last week. We pray that all this will end soon. And since we have to stay at home, let’s try to play and listen to as much good music as possible! A hug and a warm greeting to you and your loved ones!

James P. Johnson . Willie “The Lion” Smith . Thomas “Fats” Waller . Joe Turner . Eubie Blake . Dick Wellstood & more! Transcribed by Riccardo Scivales

Back in 1990 Ekay Music published pianist Riccardo Scivales’s loving and accurate transcriptions of 26 classic Harlem Stride solos from the 1920s and 30s, originally documented on piano rolls and early recordings. Scivales was the first to transcribe many of these challenging, exuberant pieces. Think “Carolina Shout” by James P. Johnson and “Smashing Thirds” by Fats Waller.

Harlem Stride could be a life’s work, but from his keyboards in the Venice area, Riccardo also passionately leads the Prog Rock Band Quanah Parker (named for the Comanche chief) and just finished a piano arrangement of “La Scala” from The Symphonic Ellington album, to be played “as soon as normal life starts again.”

Dear Lord, may that day come quickly!

ADDENDUM: From Italy Riccardo has added to this blog post, with a comment about his love for Progressive Rock for its “Beauty, Poetry and Imagination,” and why he named his band for a Comanche chief about whom most Americans know little. Riccardo is a tireless musical explorer. To read his words and link to some music, click on the “comment” link at the top of this post. You will be rewarded.

Branford Marsalis Quartet at Rose Hall

Eric Revis, Justin Faulkner, Joey Calderazzo, Branford Marsalis

Coming to the stage, Branford said he loves Rose Hall and opened with “a love song” by bassist Eric Revis. “Dance of the Evil Toys” quickly became demonic – soldiers in combat while the children sleep – and near me an audience member called out “If that’s a love song, you better play a war song.”

“Dance of the Evil Toys” also opens The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, released today, March 1, on Okeh Records.

For “Conversation Among the Ruins,” composed by pianist Joey Calderazzo, Branford shifted from tenor saxophone to soprano. His powerful breath delivers streams of ideas balanced by Calderazzo’s musical speech and theater. Once to my absolute delight Joey’s two fists chased each other up the piano keys. But only once. This music does not indulge in reprises. 

So it was surprising that tune #3 was “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” (played by Chico in the Marx Brothers’s Monkey Business in 1931, a fact I learned after the show). Marsalis on tenor. The strategy emerged: a song for the audience, a song for the band.

“Light Filtering from the Water Flowers” (soprano) felt cinematic … French? … a thunderstorm? … braiding improv and narrative … Marsalis back-announced the piece and the name confirmed the experience. “Sunny Side of the Street” (tenor) came as a graceful lament. Then the finale jettisoned storylines and lyricism for intensity,  speed and accuracy, hard work. Drummer Justin Faulkner leaned in big time.

Citizens of the Blues – trumpet, piano, bass and drums students from Juilliard and Manhattan Schools – opened the concert, and they played their opportunity just right. After two original pieces, they surprised this older audience with the unadorned, distinctive melody of “A House Is Not a Home” (1964 hit for Dionne Warwick), back announced by trumpeter Anthony Hervey who said, “If you recognized it, we did our job,” with Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Philip Norris, bass; Domo Branch, drums.

Wish I had a picture.

Dee Dee

How many times have I seen Dee Dee Bridgewater sing at the Blue Note in New York? Many. I can think of the Memphis band, Billie Holiday music … I need to try harder to remember them all. And although the stage lighting seemed different last week (more blue?), I loved my latest opportunity to sit close to Dee Dee and her new trio featuring pianist Carmen Staaf’s swinging touch and ideas, Tabari Lake’s bowed bass, Kush Abadey’s brushes. The songs from their second set on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, are listed below.

Dee Dee and Kush, photo by Becca
  • Cotton Tail during which I noticed those brushes …
  • Dee Dee says “Let’s see if you know this one” –> I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China …
  • “The best-known song that Billie Holiday wrote” –> God Bless the Child …
  • Que reste-t-il de nos amours? in French and English (I wish you love) …
  • Stairway to the stars …
  • “To change the feel completely” –> St. James Infirmary with arco bass solo …
  • All of me …
  • Encore: she set it up with a monologue about her ideal man ending with DD on the floor leaning against a piano leg (and she could get up) –> Harry Connick Jr’s One fine thing

The Night Tripper’s Life

So many books, so little time.

Dr. John’s autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon came out in 1994 (co-author Jack Rummel). Today it’s on Amazon for $45. And as my first read of the year 2020, I must return my New York Public Library copy TONIGHT because somebody else is waiting for it.

Malcolm John (Mac) Rebennack was born in 1941 and died last summer, a link in a chain of 20th century New Orleans pianists, shading his tunes with dance beats and lacy decoration. He led a life of magic and treachery, spiritualists, gris-gris, managers who cheat.

Toward the end of the book he shines a light on the pianists around him. James Booker seems almost a savant who “could play it all – stride piano, butterfly, boogie, all the other New Orleans styles, the Chicago styles, the Memphis styles, the Texas styles, the California styles, bebop, avant-garde jazz, classical, even pop!” I love this list.

Booker’s bandmates edited their own solos because if they played too long, “Booker would come out with a solo that would just blow them off the stage and disgrace them.” One night in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom, Booker didn’t even come to the bandstand. Instead “this big mountain of sound began to swell beneath us . . . . It was just roaring; the whole stage was moving.” Booker had discovered the pipe organ in the orchestra pit. The instrument was massive but Booker “sat down and cranked it up like it was nothing.”

The self-taught and providential Professor Longhair (“Before him was the void; after him, we’re just whistling in the dark”) became Dr. John’s second father. Fess gets his own chapter with vignettes about him at home in his easy chair, wired to control scents, lights and music (pre Alexa and Siri) and even deliver a keyboard to his lap. There’s Fess in the recording studio dictating his individual part to each player, and Fess mentally orchestrating his music for banjos, tubas and trombone (never recorded but should have been). And Fess in the parlors and clubs, negotiating New Orleans’s rigid hidden castes, his playing both graceful and seriously rocking, in shirtsleeves or a tux, a cap or a turban. I can almost see and hear it.

For others who long for more time with the late Dr. John, read Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of the Night Tripper from St. Martin’s Press.

Remembering James Williams

From The Piano Stylist, April-May 1989

James Williams (1951-2004) came from Memphis. He went to Central High School and was a student, rehearsing with his jazz band, when he and his friends heard of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in their city. Williams played organ in the Eastern Star Baptist Church and graduated from Memphis State University, then moved to Boston and taught at Berklee, served as a Jazz Messenger from 1977-81 (these dates from the Wikipedia page in his name), and in 1984 moved to Brooklyn. I met him at his apartment at 393 Tenth Street (“F [train] to Fourth, near Fifth” say my notes). Wearing a lovely light blue chenille robe, he welcomed me and from that moment I have been gratefully attached to James Williams.

The Piano Stylist notes say the arrangement comes from a concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, “to be aired in full on The American Jazz Radio Festival on National Public Radio in early May. Check your local NPR station for the broadcast date and time.”

David Karp typeset the music (no Sibelius). Suki Koczeniak designed the page (no Pagemaker). Ed Shanaphy had the idea for and published The Piano Stylist, consultant Stuart Isacoff. Editing it was a wonderful assignment that required me to find and meet dozens of pianists, among them James, still greatly missed but available via this majestic (see tempo marking) presentation which I hope some of you can also play!

Artemis presented by Carnegie Hall, Dec 7, 2019

Artemis is named for the Greek goddess of the hunt, and the septet named for Artemis includes Cécile McLorin Salvant, Vocals … Renee Rosnes, Music Director and Piano … Anat Cohen, Clarinet and Soprano Saxophone … Melissa Aldana, Tenor Saxophone … Ingrid Jensen, Trumpet … Noriko Ueda, Bass … Allison Miller, Drums.

The concert felt historic, with an arc from — encore to opener — Billie Holiday to original music of this moment. The selections came in pairs, and I wish I could see and hear every one, again and again.

Artemis at Carnegie Hall, December 7, 2019
Six of the seven in Artemis at Carnegie Hall, photo by enid@enidfarmer.com … see below for news from Enid

THE PROGRAM

Goddess of the Hunt (Miller) … Fool on the Hill (Lennon and McCartney, arr Jensen)

McLorin Salvant onstage to sing Easy to Love (Cole Porter) … If It’s Magic (Stevie Wonder) with the beautiful last line “ … there’s enough for everyone” + a stellar coda

Big Top (Rosnes) … Nocturno (Cohen)

McLorin Salvant onstage to sing Pirate Jenny from Threepenny Opera (Kurt Weill) after which she noted that “Nina Simone sang [Pirate Jenny] here” … Cry, Buttercup, Cry (Maxine Sullivan recorded this song by Rocco Accetta)

Step Forward (Ueda, inspired by Piano Etudes for Children by her teacher in Japan) … Frida Kahlo (Aldana)

Horace Silver piece played in slow funk … Cécile’s last song … ENCORE: Fine and Mellow (Billie Holiday) … Dear Reader, Please help with these titles and any other comments.

A note about photographer Enid Farber: last month at the Freespace Jazz Festival in West Kowloon, Hong Kong, she spoke about Women in Jazz and  presented many of her photos of women jazz musicians, as well as a slide show on a 19 foot LED screen featuring her work from 1978 to today. In Hong Kong! Then she came home and documented Artemis at Carnegie Hall. For information or to present her historic photos, contact enid@enidfarber.com.

Mingus Big Band and George Lewis’ Soundlines

Mingus Big Band getting ready to play, October 14, 2019

Monday nights at The Jazz Standard on East 27th Street in New York City are for the Grammy Award-winning Mingus Big Band! In 2010 they won the award for Best Large Ensemble Album. It’s time for their next Grammy, and the set I saw on Monday, October 14, could have been a contender, had it only been recorded.

Early on, leader Alex Foster introduced young bassist Marcos Varela, new to the band. He was ready and showed no fear. Theo Hill on piano (new to me) was percussive and exciting. And veteran Earl McIntyre on bass trombone rocked the room. The trombones are the solar plexus chakra of the MBB. This may be an ill-advised metaphor. The heart of the set was “Fables of Faubus” (Orval Faubus was Arkansas Governor in 1957 and obstructed the integration of Little Rock Central High School) leading to “Haitian Fight Song.” Several young people from the audience stepped up and talked about the current life-and-death crisis in Haiti. Afterwards they were raising money at the door.

On Friday at NYU, composer George Lewis’ Soundlines concert opened with percussionist Steven Schick narrating and accompanying his story of his 700+ mile walk from San Diego to San Francisco. Twenty miles a day, six days a week, seven weeks, more than a million steps. While he walked he tried not to overthink, but sometimes he couldn’t stop himself. “My calves are screaming!” was one outburst. A small ensemble played on a platform above him, and electronic sounds like gulls and traffic washed in from the sides. Big orange signal lights pulsed on and off. 

Soundlines is a work in two parts. More small string/winds/voice ensembles materialized for the second composition, P. Multitudinis. The Latin text comes from philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-77). “The right of the commonwealth is determined by the power of the people . . . . for the good of all men.” In the program notes, Lewis writes that “the performance is achieved through negotiation and consensus, and its success will be less a question of individual freedom than of the assumption of personal responsibility for the sonic environment.” 

A conductor zigzagged from group to group, cueing the ensembles to follow invisible (to the audience) written instructions like “Create a short solo,” “Play as fast as possible,” “Wait for another ensemble to stop, then imitate their action.” The order was random so every performance will be different. Experiencing it is like watching eggs hatch in nests around and above the stage. When the house lights came up, we knew it was over. 

These two musical evenings bracketed my “work week” in mid-October, here in New York.

After Soundlines, composer George Lewis (left) of Columbia University and
the International Contemporary Ensemble strides onto the stage, October 18, at NYU Skirball

On the road with the Choirs of St. John the Divine and a postscript from Jazz Camp

The bus driver loaded our suitcases into the baggage compartment and shut the doors. We lined up on the steps for a photo. That’s when I realized There are a lot of kids here! Twenty-four choristers from  the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York City.

Here we are just before leaving for the airport

Choristers and the Tower  in London, August 15, 2019

The choristers, community chorale members (including me) and professional singers spent seven days in London singing as one at St. Paul’s Cathedral (late 1600s) and two additional days at the Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop, was murdered half a century earlier. The choristers brought youth. The cathedrals brought history.

We’re walking up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral, August 16

We sang at the Evensong services. (The regular choir was taking its August break.) Evensong begins with the cantor singing O Lord, open thou our lips. We respond And our mouth shall show forth they praise …

Our choir stalls WITH LAMPS. We loved the lamps, arches and domes, mosaics and stained glass

… followed by the Anglican chant of a Psalm in four part harmony. To me the Psalms feel like the heart of the musical experience, where poetry meets harmony. They are mysterious. I often don’t know what they mean. We rehearsed them line by line.

 

Director Kent Tritle coached us on every vowel (most are diphthongs) and reminded us time and again to articulate our consonants just before the beat, so they would be heard throughout the lofty, lengthy cathedrals. Bryan Zaros also rehearsed and conducted us and never broke a sweat as leader of the tour. Ray Nagem, our organist in New York, played for most services in England. Dean Clifton Daniel shared the entire trip with us. I loved meeting every person in and out of the choir. The music was magnificent. On Sunday, after our third day at St. Paul’s, I wrote this email home:

Looking  into St. Paul’s dome

“Today we sang the Eucharist service, then the Evensong. The services move fast here! I like that. There were lots of people attending. . . . The choristers all sing soprano. In rehearsal [on the request of the director for the benefit of us singers], a chorister produced a beautiful, in-tune high A and held it. Then she released, and the note continued to sound. After the air finally stopped reverberating, she shyly smiled.”

In our off hours we visited the House of Commons. The chamber is extremely small. It’s impossible to imagine 650 people crammed into it. We spent a day in Oxford. Soprano Glenda Strothers, alto Abigail Huffman and I visited to the National Gallery. I found the Charles Dickens House. We went to the Handel and Hendrix Museum, and heard a good jazz band – The Brass Monkeys – at Pizza Express. I want to mention trumpeter Chris Dowding whose playing and composition for Esbjörn Svensson moved me.

Checking in to YHACanterbury

London was the lion’s share of our  trip, but we made it to Canterbury for two more Evensongs, a Cathedral tour,  reception in the Archdeaconness’s home (she is from New Zealand), and a last-night dinner at an Indian Restaurant

Home on Saturday afternoon, August 24. I have been happy ever since!

 

Two weeks before the choir tour, I was in Burlington VT at Jazz Camp thanks to organizer Roni Ben-Hur. Music ranged from Thad and Sam Jones to Brazil and beyond. Thank you, Helio Alves, for the lessons. I barely took a single picture.

I love the stretch from jazz and improv to singing and reading. But are they really so far apart? I’m thinking about this. Comments are welcome.

 

 

 

Side trip: Handel & Hendrix in London

 

Glenda Strother, soprano in the St. John the Divine Community Chorale, outside the Handel&Hendrix site

I’ve posted out of order! Preceding  impressions from my August 2019  trip with the St. John the Divine Community Chorale from NY to London, here’s the story of a single residence we found — home to two musical figures, centuries apart. Finding the Handel House / Hendrix Flat is like solving a puzzle. We knew we were close when we saw this message on the tiled wall of a downward-sloping alley: From the summer of 1723 until his death on 14 April 1759 Handel lived and composed many of his greatest works at No 25 Brooks. It stands among other multi-story houses from that era, now occupied by art studios and boutiques.

 

And here’s the twist. Two hundred years after George Frederick Handel and his harpsichords lived there, another musician moved into the upstairs flat. Now Jimi Hendrix’s room is restored, with  a very good exhibit about his brief residency in 1969.
Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham decorated the room in fabrics, spreads and rugs. Based on her memory and many photo sessions that took place in this flat, the bedroom is restored and features a replica left-handed guitar. “Etchingham remembers that this guitar was always on the bed or propped up against the bed so that Hendrix could write songs, noodle away or jam with his guests.”

There are sample covers from his record collection, and a list of his records from Acker Bilk and Albert King through The Beatles, Bill Cosby and Handel himself to Richie Havens, Roland Kirk and Wes Montgomery.

Hendrix also entertained musicians and went out to hear music. The  timeline says that in March 1969 “Hendrix goes to [the club] Ronnie Scotts to see Roland Kirk play” … there’s a photo … “and continues to return to the Speakeasy [a neighborhood club] to jam with the likes of The Gods and Billy Preston.”

This was a peak time in Jimi Hendrix’s career. Also a short time — a few months. Hendrix died in London in 1970 at age 27.

 

Berlin and beyond