After Hours Diary

"It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place...." It was just the four of us, fairly late Wednesday night - John Loach and his trumpet, John Alcorn singing without a mic, Mark Eisenman at the keys and me on bass - huddled around the piano at Loach's place in a tight circle, playing a few "good old good ones", the songs of our lives, making music for our own pleasure. It was all about the mood and the moment and this surely was an after hours, jazz one. There was no audience (save for Patti Loach padding about in the kitchen), no requests, no money, no sound-system or wires, no pressure. Just four guys who love to play together, picking bits of music from the air and sending them back out, the songs and sounds drifting into the silence of the night and fading, never to return. Our little jam session hadn't been planned at all and that's partly why it was so satisfying. We'd gathered earlier at the Loaches' house to mix 23 tracks we'd recorded there last October over three nights, with Warren Vache on cornet and Reg Schwager on guitar, Loach at the dials. I don't often say this because it isn't often true, but I really felt back then that we'd caught lightning in a bottle those three nights, especially the last one. The playing seemed very spontaneous and effortless, the result of good musical chemistry, intent listening, superior songs, parked egos, a relaxed atmosphere in a studio just made for making music, i.e. the Loaches' music room. So we drank a little more [...]

Unsung Bassists, Part Five

The series continues with a look at four bassists who had prolific freelance careers mostly in the mainstream, small-group swing field - John Simmons, Al Hall, Al Lucas and Gene Ramey. These men were born within five years of each other and their careers often overlapped and intersected in the patchwork quilt of New York jazz in the 1940s and '50s. Sometimes, one would replace another with a given artist; for example, each of them played and recorded extensively with Teddy Wilson at one time or another. Simmons and Lucas each played with Illinois Jacquet and pianist Eddie Heywood in the '40s; Lucas and Hall were with Mary Lou Williams for a time. Hall and Simmons both played with Erroll Garner, Simmons and Ramey with Thelonious Monk early in his career and also with Art Tatum. If you have multi-CD sets by certain artists - Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Wilson, Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young - it's not unusual to see two or three of these guys in succession. Each of them was well enough regarded during their prime that they worked constantly with a wide range of people, but this very versatility and the passage of time have pushed these fine bassists into the shadows somewhat. 7.  a) - John Simmons.   I've learned over the years that if you want a meaningful assessment of how a given jazz drummer plays, don't ask another drummer, because they've likely never played with the guy in question and are apt to give information that's too specific or technical. For more [...]

I’ve Got the Hippie, Hippie Shakes

Recently I got into a discussion with two female library colleagues who are my age, about the young of today and some of their customs and..... "idioms". You know....Who Bruno Mars is (which they knew but I didn't.) How Facebook is rapidly becoming old-hat and being replaced by things like Instagram and Snapchat. The preponderance of ghastly plaid shorts and stupid, undersized straw fedoras on young men. How old words like "hip", "cool" and "hipster" have become co-opted by the young, but with new and different connotations. This is wryly ironic for us oldsters, if we're not too grumpy to see it. One of these ladies mentioned that her teenage daughter downloads new tunes to her (the mother's) iPhone, to keep her informed on the "now sounds of today's music", under the heading "I'm A Hip Mom." I jokingly replied with, "Or a hep mom", but neither of my friends knew that word. I explained that it was an old term we used to use, meaning the "royal we". Fortunately, hep was a word from before our time and I hate to admit it, but there aren't too many of those left, boo-hoo. I'm not sure if hep preceded hip or was just an offshoot of it, but it was used back in the early days of bebop - mid to late-'40s - by modern jazz fans and the music press, it was kind of corny even then. Often it was joined with "cat" as in "hep-cat", one who dug the way-out sounds of progressive jazz and knew how to "go man, wail daddy-o, you dig?" You know, the type who sported a beret, goatee and didn't more [...]

Oucho Marks, or Bruising in the Bronx

The Boston Red Sox did some more crazy stuff over the weekend that ties in with the 20-run game I wrote about on Thursday. On Thursday night, I decided to treat myself to some home theatre, the Red Sox against their nemesis at Yankee Stadium II in the first of 4 games, they're always like Troy vs. Sparta. It was a four-and-a-half hour marathon with everything except flying elephants and a public beheading. The Sox won 9-8 after being up 8-2 and then giving up 6 runs to the Yankees in a seventh inning that lasted 45 minutes. Then, as they've done more often than any other team, they got to Mariano Rivera, scoring a run off him in the top of the ninth. The game finally over, I was exhausted, sweaty, panting and when my wife Anna saw me moments later, she asked, "What's wrong?" "Oh was your movie?" The next night we were at my nephew's wedding and I didn't see the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 12-8. So, 20 runs, then 9, then 12, that's 41 over three nights, not bad. On Saturday, Anna was recovering from the wedding (think The Wild Bunch meets Flashdance) and spent most of the day in bed, which allowed me to watch Part 3 of Sox-Yankees in the afternoon. It was a rare chance to catch some baseball while also achieving domestic brownie points, making lunch, dinner, serving tea, etc. Heh heh..... Anyway, the announcers mentioned on Saturday that the first two games of this set marked the first time the Yankees had scored at least 8 runs in back-to-back games and more [...]

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – Laughers

On Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 20-4 in Fenway Park. This is what's known in baseball as a laugher, so called because these kinds of games are inherently farcical. It's rare for any team to score as many as 20 runs and usually in these cases the losing team stops wasting pitchers and will use some bench/position players to pitch. This also gets pretty funny, often because these guys are not half-bad and stop the bleeding. Strange as the game was, seeing it at all was an odd coincidence too. If I'd been home I would have missed it, but my wife Anna and I went to my son Graeme's place to help him hang some of my dad's paintings. Graeme had the Yankees-White Sox game on with no sound, then switched to the Fenway game on some channel I don't have on my cable TV package. The Sox and Tigers were tied 4-4 in the fifth or so and I thought....hmmm, good game. I finished hanging a picture and noticed the Sox had gone up 5-4. About five minutes later I'd finished another and it was 10-4 - what the? Somebody must have hit a grand slam. and as I found it later it was Will Middlebrooks, Boston's suddenly red-hot third baseman. After that, every time I looked back to the game, the Sox had added on to the score - 12-4, 14-4, 16-4. It was getting silly, the Tigers kept bringing in their minor-league call-up pitchers and the Sox kept bashing them. David Ortiz hit two of Boston's total of eight home runs, a record for each team, but on opposite sides of the baseball. The more [...]

Unsung Bassists, Part Four

The series continues with a look at the great swing veteran Sid Weiss and three guys who are mostly overlooked, despite (or maybe because of) playing bass with famous big bands - Junior Raglin and Ernie Shepard with Duke Ellington, and Eddie Jones with Count Basie. 5. - Sid Weiss. If a soundtrack of The Swing Era was ever assembled, Sid Weiss would be playing bass on more than his fair share of it. He played with four key big bands - Artie Shaw (1938-9), Tommy Dorsey (1940-41), Benny Goodman (1941-45) and Charlie Barnet (1943) - as well as short stints with Jerry Wald, Bunny Berigan and others. He also did a lot of freelance recordings, some of them very notable. A person can only be in one place at a time, yet from 1935-45 Weiss seemed to defy this, he was all over swing music of both the big and small band variety. And yet he's almost completely forgotten now. Some of this has to do with playing bass in a big band, a sure ticket to anonymity because of the sheer numbers involved and the hierarchy of the Big Band Era star system. Highest up were the leaders, who were like royalty and often had names that reflected this - Duke, Count, The King of Swing etc. Then there were the star soloists, who were often leaders in waiting. For example, Benny Goodman's earliest bands hatched such future leaders as Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. The singers naturally attracted some attention, leaving the section guys further down the more [...]