Sonny Brings the Presents to His Own 80th Birthday
The Louis repertory has remained Stripling's working menu. And, sure enough, he served up "St. James Infirmary" and "Sunny Side of the Street," both with extended vocals and high note climaxeshe has a way of making those final high ones seem higher than they are by hamming them up. On "Potato Head Blues," with a chart including New Orleans clarinetist Johnny Dodd's classic solo, it was fun to hear Anat Cohen reading it off. On "Struttin' with some Barbecue," Stripling played his best solo, free of histrionics.
The trumpeter had competition in the vocal department from Wycliffe Gordon, featured on "Basin Street Blues." Wycliffe is, of course, a great showman as well as a superb trombonist, and it was brave of Byron to engage him in a scat duet, which was a lesson in strain versus ease. As it turned out, the evening's musical climax was a lovely rendition of "Nuages" by the duo of Anat and guitarist Howard Alden, by now a seasoned team, and a blessed relief from noisy antics. Anat also played some of that fine soprano sax.
The excellent young drummer Marion Felder and the not-that-much older bassist Dwayne Burno did well; the bassist got a lot of solo space, though Stripling apparently is unfamiliar with the adage, "Give the drummer some," and confined Felder to a few exchangesnot a single solo outing. It seemed to me that midway through the second half (the first was very long), the audience had lost much of its early enthusiasm for the leader's antics. But I may be wronglet's see if there is some angry mail!
The Kitano New York, at 66 Park Ave., one of the pleasanter places to enjoy jazz (and sushi), played host in September to a quartet headed up by the happily more and more visible young piano wiz, Ehud Asherie. Ehud can be seen but mostly heard on the tube, in that new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, a Prohibition epic also featuring Vince Giordano's superb Nighthawks. Here, he had Harry Allen's tenor, new to me, and good Clovis Nicholas on bass, and longtime favorite Chuck Riggs on drums.
They made great swinging sounds, pushing the good old "Trolley Song" into warp speed. Harry has become a true master of his instrument; to make real music at this tempo is the domain of a bare handful. Ehud excelled throughout the set, but it was his solo feature, a veritable rhapsody on Eubie Blake's "Love Will Find a Way," that stays in mind. Ehud's solo CD on Arbors Jazz is highly recommended.
That jazz is a natural for musical therapy should go without saying, but there is a special relationship between Beth Israel Medical Center and the legacy of Louis Armstrong. The fifth annual What A Wonderful World Awards ceremony at The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at BIMC, on September 20, was my first experience with this most worthy enterprise. I was honored to have been chosen as presenter to one of the awardees, none other than Dave Brubeck. Unfortunately, Dave was not feeling well. Fortunately, his eldest son, pianist- composer-educator Darius Brubeck, was visiting his parents and stepped into the breach.
I hadn't seen Darius for a very long time; he's getting to look more and more like his father. Among other accomplishments, he brought jazz instruction to South Africa, where he was a professor and founder-head of the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of Natal, in Durban. The ties between Dave and Louis are strong ones, Dave and his wife lola having created that memorable musical vehicle for Armstrong called "The Real Ambassadors."
There were other honorees, among them Greg Thomas, the V.P. of CareFusion, sponsor of George Wein's most recent New York festival. His presenter was Phoebe Jacobs. A remarkable teenage honoree, Kimberly Sue, though deaf, performed a song.
While the acoustics in the BIMC atrium leave much to be desired, the musical interludes by Lew Soloff and Mulgrew Miller were splendid. Lew's "West End Blues" cadenza was, truthfully, the best rendition of that treacherously difficult trumpet trap I've ever heard. (I made a mini-study of such attempts, dating back to Louis Metcalfe's disastrous one in 1929.)
The duo also scored with "I Cover the Waterfront" and managed to make a musically enjoyable statement on the event's unavoidable theme song, which really should only be done by Louis himself. The evening's charming hostess was Mercedes Ellington.
Finally, at the Shanghai in Madison, NJ, Daryl Sherman and her regulars, guitarist James Chirillo and bassist Boots Maleson, who are so delightfully attuned to each other, strutted their effervescent stuff on Sunday, September 18. A highlight was Daryl's unveiling of a Sidney Bechet original, "Who'll Chop Your Suey (When I'm Gone)," tailormade for a Chinese restaurant, though the dish is long gone from most menus.