In March “REMEMBERING MARIAN” was presented at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.  Marian McPartland, Ms. McP, as I had come to know her, passed the preceding summer leaving a gap in NPR programming where her “Piano Jazz” featured a who’s who of jazz weekly.

Here, too, there was a parade of McP worshipers both in the star-filled audience as well as on the stage.  Host, Jon Weber, who took over the radio hosting, opened the proceedings with Eddie Gomez on bass playing Marian’s P-J theme, “Kaleidoscope.”  The tearing had begun.

Long-time friend and colleague Barbara Carroll followed with Broadway’s “Hey Old Friend,” a perfectly chosen selection.  Another pianist associate, Bill Charlap played Marian’s “A Delicate Balance.”  His accompanist also with great chops was bassist George Mraz.

Surprise#1!  Out walked Tony Bennett dramatically unannounced.  After a few dedicatory words he offered up “The Way You Look Tonight” with Charlap.  The crowd went wild!  You expected something less?

On a notable Piano Jazz the late Dave Brubeck played an impromptu composition called “Marian McPartland.”  A six-note evocation, Brubeck went on to record it as well as play it live wherever he went.  Brubeck scion, son Chris, played the piece representing his dad.  More tears.

Sitting at two contiguous 9-foot grands were Kenny Barron and Helen Sung.  Barron, the established pro, gave Sung, a major comer, plenty of room to stretch.  The tune, the popular jazz waltz, Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” was hardly enough, but, alas, the program was running long.  In retrospect the duo was the highlight of the evening for me.

Surprise #2!  Michael Feinstein walked jauntily to the piano, introduced himself –as if he had to having been greeted by spontaneous applause, but unannounced nonetheless– to offer Irving Berlin’s “I Love A Piano,” something both Marian and Michael agreed upon.

Other highlights included saxophonist Bria Skonberg and Weber playing “Singin’ The Blues,” the tune made famous by Bix Beiderbecke who was replaced in the Wolverines by Marian’s husband Jimmy.  It was dedicated to the latter.

Trumpeter Jon Faddis, Weber, saxophonist Grace Kelly –chops for days– bassist and McP alum Bill Crow joined for McP’s “Stranger In A Dream.”  Thrush Neena Freelon closed it before the expected all out blow.

I have been to some of these “Live Piano Jazz” presentations and have many tapes of broadcasts (men in black please feel free to ignore), which I listen to frequently, but this one was something special for me and the assembled.  It was our final farewell to the host of the uniquely entertaining, erudite and educational series.

© arnold jay smith April 2014


The first thing you notice when you walk into the Upstairs Westside Theatre is the set by Lee Savage for Satchmo At The Waldorf.  You’re in the backstage dressing room of Louis Armstrong at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  There sitting on a table are his famous open reel tape recorders, on which Louis –he preferred Lew-is– recorded everything, and I mean everything from minor conversations complete with intimate squabbles with wife Lucille to late-night after-gig chit chat.  Lucille and I talked about it during our few conversations prior to her visit to my Jazz Insights course at the New School in 1979.  I also have heard some of the tapes.

Lucille and those tapes are the inspiration and probably the main source of author and playwright Terry Teachout’s information.  I never got the chance to speak with him or the star of the one-man show John Douglas Thompson, but I did record their conversation with WBGO’s (Newark Public Radio) Rhonda Hamilton.  The two, Drama Critic –Wall St, Journal– Teachout and corporate salesman (computers)-turned actor –”Othello,” “Antony and Cleopatra”– Thompson sat across the mic from Hamilton.  The play had it’s workout premieres at regional theaters in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Favorable word-of-mouth preceded the New York opening.

Thompson’s “Satchmo…” portrayal is a true tour-d’force.  He not only does Armstrong, but also his manager Joe Glaser, a gruff, rough, former, street-savvy, misogynist, racist Chicago Al Capone mafioso, as well as a snippet of Miles Davis.  I heard that other characters are in the offing, notably Dizzy Gillespie.  Thompson also does a brief turn as Lucille.

Armstrong did not like bebop, but Gillespie loved and respected Louis.  The man who created it all and the man who changed it all performed together only once on a Timex All Star Jazz TV show.  It’s on YouTube; you are hereby urged to watch.

“Satchmo At The Waldorf,” the play, is based on Teachout’s warts and all 2009 book “Pops” which I reviewed for the currently on hiatus The review is still available on Google.  Teachout was so impressed by the tapes that he was encouraged to write the book.

There’s nothing magically uncovered in the play.  I first found out about the insiders’ Satchmo from the Gary Giddins book and film of that title, which I show intact every semester in my Jazz History courses at New Jersey City University, than any new info gleaned by Teachout.  The book, however, does uncover new information about the great trumpeter and innovator; a re-review is now in order, to be reported in another space and time.

Thompson gets it all down beautifully.  Armstrong’s anger over Glaser’s not leaving him more in his will especially in the light of Armstrong making the Glaser managerial talent –Associated Booking was his– a standout over all those years, and Glaser creating a star from a dirt poor waif from New Orleans.  “They hated/loved each other,” Teachout said on WBGO.  “Every black musician had to have a white man running in front,” he said.  Duke Ellington had Irving Mills.  “Every [racist] white person knows one Nigger whom they love,” Armstrong said referring to himself.  “I’m just lucky to be that Nigger whose dirty draws they love.”

Louis was also angered that his Hollywood friend Bing Crosby “never invited me to his home,” Thompson quotes Armstrong in the play.  In all fairness, I  have heard that Crosby rarely invited anyone.

If truth be told, and it wasn’t in the play, while Glaser made Armstrong a household… whatever, he in effect curtailed him cold in the influence department.  The Armstrong concerts were the same almost note-for-note wherever he went.  His creativity was shackled by fame and his penchant to entertain.  The downside of that is what we were left with: a facade casting a giant shadow, albeit for jazz a truly spectacular one, by the great creator of the jazz idiom, from 1950 forward.  Remember, it was Armstrong who first scatted, who first solo-ed, who was jazz’s first entertainer and ambassador –more about that in a later post– who made more movies and more appearances on Ed Sullivan’s TV show than any other musician.  And all those high C’s!

The play does not go into that detail, as well it shouldn’t.  Thompson is Satchmo in  his failing year.  He needs oxygen; he can hardly walk across the room, or bend down to tie his shoes.  Thompson does not mimic the famous raspy Armstrong speech pattern.  The segues from Armstrong’s amiability to Glaser’s wise-ass grousing to Davis’s “Uncle Tom” attitude are masterful moments of lighting by Kevin Adams, and mood.  Thompson himself uses body language to display each role.

There’s no music save for some taped excerpts, and a brief vocal by Thompson, for us to grab hold of.  We have to take on faith that what Teachout is telling us through Armstrong’s words is gospel.  It all sounds familiar, but what is truth and what hearsay?  The Playbill notes that what we experience is at least part fictional fleshing out from inferences and innuendo.

Even if fictionalized it is respectfully and introspectively performed by Thompson as directed by Gordon Edelstein.  That said, you have to know the subject matter to separate “this work of fiction, freely based on fact.”

© arnold jay smith April 2014


The first time I heard the name CLARE FISCHER was on the Dizzy Gillespie LP “Dizzy Gillespie Plays Duke Ellington.”  It was on Verve and it was s freebee given to Down Beat subscribers, of which I was one.  I thought he was a she.  I also heard lots of gaffs, spaces, dissonances and Ellington and Strayhorn played in a manner in which I was unaccustomed.  (“Chelsea Bridge” remains a favorite chart.)  I was in high school and still a neophyte jazz listener.  It was an ear-and-mind-opening experience.

I quickly learned the “gaffs” were intentional as were the spaces and the dissonances.  I was so entranced that I wrote to DB editor John Tynan for the (unlisted) personnel and information as to where I might find more of this arranger.  Tynan responded via postcard and I found myself in a world of intricate sounds not only arranging, but full blown compositions.  I tried some out on the piano but the rhythmic patterns were too complex for that young mind and my small group of band mate friends.

On February 28, 2014 Manhattan School of Music, in another of their tributes, conductor and guru of the school’s Jazz Orchestra Justin DiCioccio offered up a complete rendering of Fischer’s Extension plus two other selections from the Fischer book, Pavillion and Funquiado.

Coincidentally. Fischcr’s son Brent produced two CDs of his father’s music: “Music For Strings Percussion And The Rest,” and “After The Rain, Concert Originals.”  The former includes the Grammy Winning Pensamientos For Solo Alto Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra.  Suddenly I was engulfed in a sea of Dr. Clare Fischer.

The MSM Jazz Orchestra was filled with instruments unusual to jazz, in fact unusual even to orchestras in general.  In addition to french horns with mutes, there were contrabassoons, contrabass clarinets, sopranino sax, two other kinds of clarinets in different keys plus tuba.  Perhaps orchestra is not the right word for this band as there were no strings but mostly jazz band configurations: trombones, trumpets, horns and a rhythm section comprising as many as six players.

The opening movement of Extension, “Igor,” featured one of those rhythm section components, vibes, followed by “Quiet Dawn” with muted french horns.  The next section, the beautiful “Bittersweet” contrasted with the succeeding “Canto Africano.”  “Canto” was “polymetric” said my partner in this visit, pianist Mike Longo.  “5/4 x 2, 4 and 3,” he went on to explain.

Another time change and we’re into “Soloette and Passacaglia” this time in 3/4 with a tenor sax solo interlude.  I’m very glad I carefully took notes as so much time has elapsed between hearing and writing (other business; apologia).

Reeds return for “Ornithardy” (alto and tenor saxes) with flugelhorns added for contrast.  The title movement, “Extension,” featured another tenor solo.

Thus ended the Extension part of the program.  As printed “encores” were two Fischer classics.  “Pavillion,” (“butertfly”) from his Ritmo LP, featured the standard big band configuration, if anything by Fischer could be called standard.  Also from Ritmo came “Funquiado.” with fiery solo work by trumpet, trombone. alto and the trumpet section.

This Extension, the MSM Jazz Orchestration, was its premier performance.  It’s hard to believe this work has been under wraps for this long.  Now, thanks to DiCioccio, it’s it the MSM Library and can be pulled out at any time.  It’s these kinds of things that keep me and my musical colleagues coming back to MSM.  Kudos.

© arnold jay smith April 2014


Word has reached JAZZ INSIGHTS that Alan Bergman –the lawyer not the songwriter– has passed away.  He had undergone surgery for cancer but he told me that doctors told him that they “got it all.”  Does anyone really know?

Alan was one of the good guy lawyers.  His clients were mostly, if not all, jazz oriented.  He was knowledgeable about the music biz and its foibles.  Dr. Billy Taylor was one and when I was doing Dr. T’s publicity for Peter Levinson Communications and beyond we conferred constantly.  Both Billy and his wife Teddy loved him.  Bergman was Taylor’s guiding light as to legal matters, and sometimes musically as well.  Bergman was an accomplished, and recorded, drummer.  Their relationship made Billy very comfortable on many levels.

We met formally when I was asked to  join a team representing Dreyfus Jazz Records.  The French label had a stable of superlative musicians: Michel Petrucciani, Richard Galliano and Birelli Legrene among them.  The last two were unknown in the U.S. while Petrucciani was already star quality.

Dreyfus owner, Francis Dreyfus, treated Petrucciani, who had an affliction called “glass bones,” as if he was his son.  The pianist did his best work for Dreyfus Jazz.  Accordionist Galliano and guitarist Legrene had to be handled differently.  The former a fabulous player from a French discipline called musette, had his own way of doing things and didn’t know quite how to handle the record industry publicity machine.  On the other hand, the latter was pure gypsy guitar, young, raw, fleet, right out of the Django tradition and extremely cooperative who did not read music well, if at all.  Between his broken English and my petit peu Français we made it work.  Need I mention that Birelli learned English and how to read music in very short order?

Alan Bergman handled it all in stride.  He juggled keeping that one ball in the air.  The erudite M. Dreyfus was kept away from we crude Americans as much as possible. We were, after all, just hired hands while Alan was a sophisticated confidante.  The current Dreyfus PR Don Lucoff has fared better.

The personable Billy Taylor was another story altogether.  I am proud to have called him mentor prior to my Levinson affiliation and when it became formalized we remained friends.  We spoke a great deal.  Dined and entertained together.  Teddy confided in me about the relationships with Levinson and Bergman.  The latter always warm; the former not so.

Alan Bergman had another side in addition to lawyer-ing and drumming; he was an art collector and he hipped me to one of his faves, a woman who painted watercolors of Cape Cod scenes.  Myself and a then girl friend from the Cape were year-rounders in Provincetown for a minute so we searched her out.  I bought a print of hers which still hangs in my bedroom.

After my friend Billy Taylor left us Alan asked me to do some PR for another client, also a pianist.  When I demurred he asked, “You just wanted to do publicity for Billy, didn’t you?”  We remained friends.

© arnold jay smith March 2014



In my first encounter with the Sam Ash Music Store on Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn, N.Y.  I was in Seth Low Junior High School, now Middle School, leading a small combo consisting of alto sax, trumpet, drums, with me at the piano.  The trumpeter went onto first chair N.Y., Phil and the drummer was studio drummer Terry Snyder’s nephew.  So we had some pedigree and creds.  The trumpeter was the sight-transposer; I was learning that from him.  Snyder supplied us with all the 78 rpm jazz records we could carry.  My folks called it “popular” as opposed to classical.  It was from Terry that I learned it was jazz.  But I digress.

We were habitue’s of the Sam Ash store, to which we traveled from our Bensonhurst home by bicycle, for everything from manuscript paper to the hand percussion instruments, to which I later gravitated in the Catskill Mountain resorts, to the more sophisticated accouterments for the front line, i.e., sax and trumpet.  And repairs.  We dealt mostly with boss man Sam.  Everyone did.  His was a hands on operation.  As I remember there was someone dealing with stock.  Young Paul?

It wasn’t until many years later that I met Paul Ash  the scion of the Ash family who would succeed Sam as pres.   We would remain friends until his passing in 2014.  People would approach us to ask if we were related as we both had beards and were small of stature and we were both active in the jazz community, me as a writer and notorious hanger-out, and he having married one of jazz’s major progenitors and promoters Cobi Narita.  If truth be told, Paul helped support Cobi’s efforts to keep jazz alive and youth-functioning at her movable feast-cum-performance-spaces called “Cobi’s Place.”

Paul was a quiet presence wherever Cobi was, later her personal aid as she got around via wheelchair.  He was always smiling, while remaining in the background as Cobi did the greeting, more precisely as we greeted her as hers was a regal bearing whether at Flushing Town Hall where they hosted a grand table, or at the Duke Ellington Society meetings, or at Jazz Vespers and All Nite Soul at what is fast becoming the former Jazz Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran.

I always stayed back to talk with Paul who knew stuff.  It was from him that I learned that Terry Snyder, nee Schneiderman, was known as “Itchy” in the trade.  I never got to call him that.  When my children then grandchildren began playing instruments it was to Paul I turned for insights into what instruments to purchase.  He gave my son his first clarinet, a one piece metal affair.  Then I purchased a used Buffet from Sam Ash Stores through Paul’s aegis.  While visiting a Sam Ash store near their home in Orlando my grandson picked up a clarinet and began playing it!  Alas, neither grandson nor granddaughter play anything anymore.  He’s a Legos whizzbang; she’s a champion figure skater.

I continued to purchase items from Paul/Sam Ash Music such as bongos, congas and other smaller percussion “toys,” shakers, cabassas and the like, which still adorn my walls.  I found a cornet in the street –yes, I said found as someone was moving out– I turned to my friend Paul to ascertain its worth.  It wasn’t Satchmo’s or Bobby Hackett’s or anyone else famous.  He told me its worth and gave me the cost of repair.  I opted to use it as a demonstrator in my classes.

I still tell anyone who cares, and even those who don’t, that I was one degree of separation from Itchy Snyder.  Thanks to Paul Ash.

© March 2014 by arnold jay smith


The near-legendary Pete Seeger was many things to many people: a folk singer, an alternative political figure, a major musician who saved an instrument from oblivion, leader of a major folk group which influenced others and spearheaded an international folk revival, a voice of protest, an environmentalist and all around man of the people.  He was 94 and passed quietly.   (

I was fortunate to have met him and on a few occasions actually got involved in political and musical conversations with him.  I booked his group, The Weavers, into Brooklyn  College, championed his social causes personally as well in print and caught him in musical contexts anathema to his folk musical calling, unless you consider the blues folk music as some do.

He was a self-avowed Communist –he would say “with a small ‘c’ “– when that word was tantamount to “criminally violent overthrow.”  When brought up on charges of contempt of congress, eschewing legal counsel at one point he sang his defense.

Its was the 1950s.  Gordon Jenkins, orchestra leader, composer and a & r man for Decca Records — the label which brought you Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and a bevy of big bands– he who later arranged sappy strings for ’50s and ’60s Capitol Sinatra, signed Seeger and produced the Weavers first hits.  Such songs as Huddie “Leadbelly” Lebetter’s “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top Of Old Smokey,” and originals by Seeger were in their portfolio.  You just knew they were asking for trouble as some of those tunes were what we now refer to as “protest,” Southern slave laments, containing lyrics that had to be adjusted for a.m. radio.

Seeger’s and The Weavers –nee The Almanac Singers– were first banned from radio, dates canceled, then hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  It became a cause célèbre sometimes leading to fisticuffs between pro and anti Weavers.  [The Weavers were Seeger, (Ms.) Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays.]

Seeger, not wanting to endanger his friends, resigned and was replaced by Eric Darling and later by Eric Weissberg, who later went on to score a hit “Dueling Banjos” music from the movie Deliverance.

In 1959-60 as Vice President of the Senior Class it fell into my purview to book our fund-raising final concert at Brooklyn College.  I had already spearheaded jazz concerts at the College for the past four years bringing in Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, Stan Kenton, Chris Connor, a Count Basie Reunion Band with vocalist Joe Williams and The Four Freshman among them.  So the committee looked to me for ideas.  I suggested The Weavers.  “Whoa!” was the look and body language of those politically appointed professors/advisers save Dean Francis P. Kilcoyne, our Senior Adviser, who winked in my direction, and who later went on to be interim President.  I had called Weaver Manager Harold Leventhal and got assurance that Pete would definitely NOT attend thereby securing acceptance.  Understand that BC was and is a City University component and any “pink-o” affiliation –it already had a reputation of being a “Little Red Schoolhouse”– would be embarrassing.  After much debate we finally agreed with barely enough time for publicity –I was in charge of that as well– and box-office coordination.  Tickets –only two-per, please– within almost literally minutes of going on sale, gone.  It remains the quickest sale of tickets for any event at the School.

The concert with its wildly cheering audience came off without a hitch, save for the constabulary presence.  This was different from any other Weavers performance in that there were six people on the Walt Whitman Auditorium Stage that evening, the  extras being those who had taken Seeger’s place since his indictment.  The group had already been dropped by Decca, Columbia and now lighted on Vanguard Records under the aegis of Leventhal, Moe Asch and John Hammond, who had released their massive-selling Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert which had also broken the Hall’s sell out record.

Not long after the interval, and unbeknownst to me as I read some informational Senior Class boilerplate from the stage, their was a buzz.  A certain celeb had surreptitiously waltzed backstage.  And out he came; Peter Seeger was in the house!  The cops were uncomfortably pacing.  The professors were fidgeting not knowing what to make of the wild cheering and stomping.  The SO which ensued for sometime has been burned in my brain.

The rest of the expanded Weavers concert was nothing short of spectacular considering Seeger hadn’t performed much due to the political environment.  One who stepped up to the plate was Village Gate owner Art D’Lugoff.  D’Lugoff, another of the cadre of left-leaners from the entertainment arena, booked Seeger and the blues duo of pianist and composer Memphis Slim (aka John Chapman) and bassist and blues shows entrepreneur Wee Willie Dixon.  The trio opened the sets; then Slim and Dixon did a set of their own as did Seeger including his patented sing-along with audience harmonies on “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”  Seeger rejoined for a trio finale.  Seeger played 12-string guitar and five-string banjo.  He was a renowned and respected expert on the later.  An LP was released on Folkways.

David Amram, the french hornist, pianist, composer, conductor, native flautist and hand percussionist sent the Seeger family the following slightly abridged and edited personal note which he sent to me as well.

“It is not often that many 83 year-olds like myself have the chance to have someone older than themselves to look up to and to spend time with, as well as to collaborate with musically.  Now I won’t have a chance tp play with Pete Seeger anymore but I will continue to look up to him every day of my life.

“I first heard Pete 65 years ago when my mother took me to a [Presidential candidate] Henry Wallace rally in 1948 when i was about to turn 18.

“All the hundreds of times I have played with him since then have always been a joy as well as an honor.  He chose his path and stayed on it, walked the walk and talked and inspired generations to raise our voices in song, to always think of others, to respect ourselves and share whatever blessings we have.

“[Pete] shared his incredible gifts with everybody setting examples to musicians of what our job is all about, to make contributions while we are here, to honor young people and to show love and exercise responsibility to planet earth.”

Guy Davis, Pat Humphries and David played some for Pete’s family in his hospital room.  As they sang goodbye “we could feel his spirit fill our hearts” with the energy that was uniquely Pete Seeger’s.

In addition to the music his legacy is a cleaner Hudson River.  There’s even talk of renaming the new Tappan Zee Bridge replacement after him.  How about that for turnabout?!

© January 2014 by arnold jay smith




The 2014 NEA Jazz Masters Awards were presented at Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Allen Room in early January.  The awardees were Jamey Aebersold, Anthony Braxton, Richard Davis and Keith Jarrett.  Hosted by Wynton Marsalis and tv anchor Soledad O’Brien, it ran 90 minutes overtime half of which was takan up by a Braxton ramble on topics even the astute among us could not fathom.

An important veteran observer noted of Jarrett’s acceptance speech that “on a night where the three previous recipients were all music professors and spoke at length about their careers [Jarrett] noted that he was kicked out of music school and fired from his first gig.”  [Jarrett] also said that “you can be educated about everything there is to do with music and you are still zero until you let go of what holds you back.”  My feeling is that short oration was a subtle and polite reaction to what went on before.

When I was coming up as a pianist –very short-lived– one of the first things I was told is that you don’t take long solos because that will open the door for others to do the same and ruin the set for the audience.  Braxton might have heeded that advice.

The rest of the evening was boilerplate, masterful in moments, but to these ears  pedestrian at best.  Aebersold, the publisher of a long line of excellent How-To-Play-A-Long-Books and a multi-instrumentalist in his own right, spoke at length (setting the stage?).  He did, however, demonstrate the theme of these awards, neophytes and vets playing together as he was joined by a young rhythm section.  Vocalist Ann Hampton Calloway sang with, among others, this year’s Thelonious Monk Competition winner saxist Melissa Aldana and excellent newbie pianist Amina Figarova.

Previous NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Owens and Kenny Barron, trumpet and piano, respectively, honored fellow Master Frank Wess with the latter’s “Placitude.”  Wess had recently passed (see my blog item below).  Bassist Richard Davis, veteran of rock, r&b, jazz, pops, and symphony orchestras, some of which were delineated, offered a masterful a-cappella improvisation.

Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa” was an “extra” by Joe Lovano, tenor, Warren Wolf, vibes, Kris Bowers, piano, Yasushi Nakamura, bass and Mark Whitfield. Jr., drums.  Whitfield, a scion of a musical family, has a lot to say; watch for him.

As the exhausted audience were already retreating, guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Jason Moran played Jarrett’s “Memories of Tomorrow.”  NEA Master Jimmy Heath, tenor, wound it down playing his own “New Picture” with Aldana, Chris Pattishall, piano, Russell Hall, bass and Jamison Ross, drums.

What passes for the JALC A-List came to be seen dressed from furs to jeans, but they nodded during the speeches.  Perhaps cue cards shouting “ENOUGH!” is the answer, or someone making the “cut” motion across their throat.  (Hey, Frank Sinatra was rudely cutoff at a Grammy Awards national telecast.  Each time I look at that piece of tape I cringe.)  It’s a tough call, one I wouldn’t want to make; these are, after all, our Jazz Masters.

© January 2014 by arnold jay smith


Tenor and alto saxophonist, flautist, composer, selfless mentor.  Just some of the impressions you got at St. Peter’s Lutheran.  We were there for the appreciation of the late Frank Wess‘ contributions not only to jazz but to humanity; Frank left us late in 2013.  The date of the memorial was significant: it was on the celebration of  his 92nd birthday, January 4, 2014.

Organized for the family by his friends and colleagues Jimmy Owens and Jerry Dodgion, the parade of players and limited talking heads showered us with Wess’ love for the music he gave us along with his quietly ebullient personality.  The appreciative throng packed the church to SRO.

Host Dennis Mackrel opened the proceedings with fellow drummers Winard Harper and Akira Tana, a fanfare of a different sort.  “Video Guy” Bret Primack presented an interview of Frank with Dr. Billy Taylor playing Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”  But it wasn’t until the music began in earnest that the warmth of Frank Wess shone through.  His was the softer solo attack on sax in the “New Testament” Basie Band of the 1950′s with Frank Foster the harder. (metal mouthpiece?)  His flute soloing rose to the surface during that period.  Frank was always quick to point out in interviews that his flute improvisations were not the first in jazz just the longest lasting and the more important in leading the parade of flute players who followed.  So sustained that it is still casting influential shadows.

The parade of jazz luminaries and the people Wess touched followed.  Most tunes were by Wess except where noted.  Terell Stafford, trumpet, Lew Tabackin, tenor sax, Michael Weiss, piano, Rufus Reid, bass, and Tana were the “Frank Wess Quintet” playing “Backfire.”  Joe Temperley, baritone sax and Kenny Barron, piano, offered a sumptuous Ellington “The Single Petal Of a Rose” to sustained applause.  An septet (billed as a nonet) was led by multi-reed specialist Scott Robinson on bari, Ted Nash, tenor, Stafford, Weiss, Steve Turrre, trombone, Nuriko Ueda, bass, and Mackrel did “Small Talk.”  Robinson turned to a cappella bass flute for Kenny Burrell’s “Listen To The Dawn.”

An octet made up of Robinson, Nash, Frank Greene, trumpet,, Stafford, Turre, Richard Wyands, piano, Peter Washington, bass and Mackrel played one of  my favorite Wess titles “Tryin’ To Make My Blues Turn Green.”  Antonio Hart’s alto was on for “Ménage à Bleu” as were Ilya Lushtak, guitar, Tal Ronen, bass, Tadataka Unno, piano and Harper.  Save for Hart and Harper excellent new-comer voices.  Between Owens and Weiss (Wess’ “Placitude”) and Jimmy Heath, tenor, and Barron (the standard “Easy Living”) came Duke’s “Cottontail,” a jam-my trib to Wess by “The Joy Of Sax”: arranger Dodgion and Steve Wilson, altos, Doug Lawrence and Dan Block, tenors, Jay Branford, bari, and a rhythm section of Wyands, Reid and Mackrel.  A mighty swinger very much in the spirit of the honoree.

There were warm, loving tributes by Todd Barkan and Larry Ridley.  An unannounced Wynton Marsalis was joined by Barron for a moving moment on the Gershwin standard “Embraceable You.”

The Basie Band led by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart concluded this love-fest with Wess’ “Half Moon Street,” and his ” Segue In C.”  The band obligingly played the family request for Fos’ “Shiny Stockings.”  No one minded.

Oh, the “Magic” in the above title refers to Wess’ late-in-life sobriquet and the title of two of his last CDs.  It was, disappointingly, not played.

© January 2014 by arnold jay smith






December 2013 was a busy month.  i was out selectively galavanting eschewing the club scene and proving once again that if it doesn’t happen in New York City it just doesn’t happen.  herewith some highlights.

ASCAP JAZZ WALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY –                         December  9

each year the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) hosts an awards show that is unique in that it is dedicated to jazz, exclusively.  within its boundaries in the ASCAP Gallery is a wall inscribed with the names of ASCAP and BMI members chosen annually by a select committee.  there are living honorees as well as jazz greats from the past.  their names appear superimposed on a blowup of a famous photo of King Oliver’s and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Seven.  2013′s inductees included Cab Calloway, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Arturo Sandoval.  also honored were 29 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers, Jazz’s future, introduced by Wycliffe Gordon and Jay Leonhart.  it brought tears to some in the audience to see jazzers as young as pre-teen and students from other countries who are studying our music with serious intent.  gets ya right here.  we pray they find places to play and recording companies willing to take a shot.

bassist/vocalist Esperanze Spalding received the ASCAP Vanguard Award.  this super bright –and young– player, composer and educator has already received many awards including a controversial major Grammy New Star.  her presentation was the initial musical portion of the afternoon.

in what rapidly turned into a bottom-feeding frenzy the bass choir of Boris Kozlov, Leonhart and Rufus Reid saluted Mingus with his widow and activist Sue Graham Mingus accepting.  Koslov, incidentally, owns a Mingus bass and plays in the Sue Mingus-propelled aggregations of various sizes of Charles’ music.

Leonhart presented the Calloway Award to son Chris Calloway Brooks, guitarist and vocalist with Reid joining in.  there is also a daughter of the same given name, i.e., Chris Calloway.  another Calloway was present and happily mingled during the reception.  i made sure that the youngsters were properly aware of her presence as we engaged in conversation.

Ornette Coleman is a favorite son of ASCAP.  they hosted a special ceremony when the alto saxophonist, trumpeter, violinist and composer won a Pulitzer.  he also owns a MacArthur “Genius” Award and a Grammy Lifetime.  performing was a band led by son Denardo and featured Roy Campbell, Jr., trumpet, with two (2) more basses this time, an electric bass guitar and an acoustic.

Cuban trumpet star Sandoval dedicated his very moving a cappella selection to his adopted country.  i am very proud to say that it was i who first brought his sound via a tape of the Cuban band Irakere to ears here.  Dizzy Gillespie, of course, was his sponsor.  [see my Cuba blogs]

i look forward to these annual events as ASCAP does them up so specially befitting what jazz represents as the United States’ only…you know the mantra.  Paul Williams closed the presentments.


so why am i again writing about this jazz icon?  haven’t we praised Caesar enough?  actually, i wasn’t supposed to be here; i was trying to cadge a ticket to this frenziedly sold out event for a Las Vegas friend, who injured herself, so there i was with a ticket thanks to a colleague at A.P.  there were rewards aplenty.  (i burned CDs from my Jarrett LP collection as a get well for her.)

in this all acoustic night celebrating the trio’s 30-year anny Jarrett was in rare form.  he even answered an audience member calling tunes without going into one of his renowned hissy fits.  more noteworthy the New York Times ran a photo of Chick Corea with Jarrett’s name as the caption.  Jarrett made light of it, but there is at least one reader who will never forget  that gaffe.

the tune fare ran the gamut from “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” for his grandchildren in the audience on through ’50s pop, “Answer Me My Love,” “Fever,” and originals such as “Is It Really The Same,” and Ahmad Jamal’s “One For Majid.”  in between there were the rarely played “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “The Masquerade Is Over,” seven in the first half and eight including encores after the interval.  all were played sans introductions keeping us on our historical toes guessing titles.

the trio was as loose as ever i’ve seen them even offering some blues, an improv on something called “G Blues,” the finale of five (!) encores.  among the encores was an Ornette Coleman piece. “When Will The Blues Leave.”  with its harmolodic echoes and overtones it was the penultimate encore and in direct contrast to the others.

i have seen Jarrett at his worst and best: leaving the stage because a patron in the front rows was whispering, or others were coughing; i have seen him ducking under the piano whilst still playing the keys –he did stand up.  i have heard him curse at his audience whether in a nightclub or a concert hall.  but this night was Keith Jarrett at one with and understanding his music, feeling the ballads, choosing from the Great American Songbook seemingly trying to please us.  when we cringed at the heckler steeling ourselves for a Jarrett onslaught it didn’t come.  what a pleasure.

AFTER MIDNIGHT” – Brooks Atkinson Theatre, December 18

there have been a spate of jazz-oriented shows running on and off Broadway in the last quarter of 2013.  [see my blog on "Lady Day."]  After Midnight is in the form of a revue.  there have been others over the years.  ”Black and Blue,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” and “Eubie” come immediately to mind.  they have been spaced so we tend not to remember the ills of what came before.  not being a book show like “Lady Day” this one is lively and filled with musicianship –the band is on stage– and dancing, primarily tap.James_Zollar,_Art_Baron_and_Alphonso_Horne_and_the_Jazz_at_Lincoln_Center_All-Stars_in_Broadways_After_Midnight_-_By_Matthew_Murphy

(l-r) James Zollar, Art Baron, Alphonso Horne

the title, as indicated, comes from what goes on in Harlem after hours when things get jumpin’.  for what it’s worth Nat ‘King’ Cole recorded an LP in the 1950s with the same title.  his trio brought in guests to play with them in a jam format.  that’s the After Midnight i remember.

the  enthusiastic cast includes host emcee Dulé Hill and singers Fantasia Barrino, who sometimes goes by her given name only, and Adriane Lenox, both emotional belters who know their way around black music, the blues, r’n'b and soul.

Dule Hill

Dulé Hill

Adriane Lenox

Adriane Lenox

the band, billed as the Jazz At Lincoln Center All Stars, features some of the finest soloists and section people New York has to offer.  and with good reason: Wynton Marsalis is their Artistic Director.

but it’s the dancers who demonstrate the fireworks.  Phillip Attmore and Daniel J. Watts duo in “Happy As The Day Is Long, ” a pop tune re-conceived by Duke Ellington as well as Duke’s “The Skrontch” with Domeshia Sumbry-Edward are standouts.  David Berger transcribed the Ellingtons for this outstanding aggregation of players.  the show, which runs without an intermission, contains 27 numbers with music by some familiar names: Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, Sippie Wallace, Harry James, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh and heaping helpings from the Ellington songbook.

Daniel J. Watts, Dormishia Sumbry Edward, Phillip Attmore,

Daniel J. Watts, Dormishia
Sumbry Edward, Phillip Attmore,

based on a presentation at City Center’s Encores! series, which i saw in its limited run a couple of years ago, After Midnight is a veritable romp through 1930s Harlem.  there are those who favor one or more of those revue’s mentioned above.  as for me it doesn’t matter what came before so long as it comes again.

text © January 2014 by arnold jay smith

photos © Matthew Murphy




this threesome –Rosenthal, piano, Noriko Ueda, bass; Tim Horner, drums– have been a working trio for sometime now.  the always innovative Rosenthal has reinterpreted pieces of Americana such as Gershwin and added his own touches to Europeans.  in “Wonderland” (Playscape Recordings) we find both.  they performed solid sets to sold out tables on a stormy night at the classy Kitano Room on Park Ave. in NYC.

in addition to the re-harmonized and re-melodized trad Christmas fare we find “Santa (Monk) Claus Is Coming To Town” –interjection mine– with Thelonious’ quirky rhythms and harmonies contained therein, Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” a swinging version which favorably compares to the standard bearer Ellington/Strayhorn from their “Nutcracker Suite,” features Horner’s hands-on-drum, and a completely startling bebop in a swift swing 4/4 reworking of the hymn “Angels We Have Heard On High” with Horner doing some fine brush work.  there’s even a thread of “A Child Is Born” woven into the intro to “Silent Night.”

Rosenthal’s own “Snowscape,” the surprise entry, closes the CD.  at Kitano he wrapped his beautiful melody around another from the collection, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” originally sung by Judy Garland to Margaret O’Brien in the film “Meet Me In St. Louis,” it has become a year-round ballad staple of longing and remembrance with the Holiday used as metaphor.

Kitano –which is a traditional ceremonial Japanese Samurai sword with crafted handles; i have four– is a tastefully appointed intimate room in the hotel of the same name serving cuisine with a decidedly Asian accent.  located just below Grand Central Terminal but with world-class jazz talent, you tend to get an admixture of out-of-towners and jazzers.  the acoustics are such that whispers may be heard clearly.  owner Gino greets and oversees every set.  the knowledgeable and affable bartender shakes his drinks to the rhythms of the tunes being played so as not to disturb.


the ever-to-the-left jazz singer O’Day recorded something decades ago which i never even dreamed she would: a Christmas album.  or did she?  hidden among the pine trees these evergreens have recently been removed from the forest and decorated for all of us.  (enough with the metaphors already!)  it has surfaced as “Have A Merry Christmas With Anita O’Day” (Kayo Stereophonic) a select collection of Holiday faves but a fine addition to anyone’s Holiday collection.

the CD presents the Anita O’Day bebop style she utilized –the three syllables made from one, “me-ee-ee” and “you-ooh-ooh”– beginning with the Stan Kenton band, then moving on to pop stardom with Gene Krupa –”Let Me Off Uptown,” “Murder, He Says”– then to recordings on her own for Verve and others.  O’Day has influenced more singers than most.  a highlight was her big hat and gloves appearance in the Newport Jazz Festival flick “Jazz On A Summer’s Day.”

the current CD in all of its 25+minute length sounds like a private recording, and that’s a supposition as there are no notes available to suggest otherwise save that it was recorded in the 1970s with an anonymous trio.  (on the CD  she calls her pianist “Castro;” that might have been Joe Castro who was her west coast accompanist for a time in that period.)

there is one reprise, “The Christmas Song,” which was from a radio broadcast live in 1942 accompanied by a phantom band.  the remainder of the tracks are  standard Christmas songs: “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  there is one selection new to these ears, however, a bauble called “One More Christmas.”  no composer credits.

O’Day was one of what i call the vibrato-less “breathless” singers, which included Chris Connor and June Christy, ex-Kentonians all.  she made it okay for singers with a limited range to not-really-sing the melodies but to work around the harmonies.

to my knowledge this is all we’ve got from the under-praised Anita O’Day singing Christmas fare.  this rara avis is a special surprise.

©arnold jay smith December 2013