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Every Now and Den

Dan Morgenstern By

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It's been so long since the last Den that it should perhaps be renamed, "Every Now and Den." But here I am with some of the events that stand out from the past five months or so, not necessarily in chronological order.

I've never missed the annual Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans, and the August 12 edition was, as always, a delightful experience, climate down yonder notwithstanding. Among the excellent seminar participants from up North were David Ostwald, who interviewed me about my times with Pops, and director Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi from the Armstrong House Museum and Archive in Queens. Ricky again came up with some great new stuff from film and TV: Michael interviewing a first-timer, Stephen Maitland-Lewis, a businessman and author who first met Louis in his native England as a teenager, which led to a lifelong friendship. And George Avakian, whose memory at 92 is better than mine, talking to Ostwald about recording Armstrong.

The absolute highlight of the musical presentations was 101-year-old Lionel Ferbos, starring with Lars Edegran's Ragtime Orchestra. Ferbos played his trumpet as correctly and in-tune as always, and offered two delightful vocals in a strong and clear voice, on "Sister Kate" and the charming "Kiss Me Sweet," by A.J. Piron, who bought "Sister Kate" from young Armstrong for 50 bucks. Delfeayo Marsalis led a kicking big band that offered a surprise among selections of more recent vintage, a fine reading of Benny Carter's classic "Symphony in Riffs." Congrats to Marci Schramm and her staff for an excellent production—and come on down, y'all, for Satchmo Summerfest 13—always the first week of August, Thursday through Sunday. Free!

Back home in pre-Sandy New York, Anat Cohen offered a most unusual four consecutive nights at the Jazz Standard, each presenting the clarinetist/saxophonist in a different context. Called her Invitation Series, it began and ended with a duo. First came the wonderful Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo. They had worked together before, but never in this intimate relationship, and it turned out to be marvelous, in a program featuring jazz standards, Brazilian pieces and originals. On clarinet and tenor, Cohen and Lubambo made beautiful and often moving music, including a swinging "All the Things You Are," a soulful "Darn That Dream," and a delightful choro—the New Orleans jazz of Brazil, with much in common with ragtime, and in which Cohen is at home. It's based on improvisation and, like blues and ragtime, sprang from many world influences. Choro (SHOH-roh) means "to cry" in Portuguese, referring to the weeping qualities of the instrument, usually a flute or clarinet.

The second night paired Cohen with another guitar virtuoso—one she has often duetted and recorded with—none other than Howard Alden, plus special trumpet guest Jon-Erik Kellso, with whom she's often played in tubaist David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band. Standouts were Duke Ellington's "Jubilee Stomp," renamed by clarinetist Kenny Davern and pianist Dick Wellstood as "Fast as a Bastard," which indeed it was, with Cohen on soprano, and Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp" in the pocket. With Kellso, there was a peppy "Weary Blues," with appropriately superb ensemble work, and a properly Slavonic "Dark Eyes," with plunger stuff. They wrapped with another fast one, "Limehouse Blues," with Cohen on tenor, with the Flip Phillips line that he bequeathed to Alden.

Night three featured Cohen with her big band, and here my note-taking was sketchy. There was a very hip Johnny Griffin original, I think from the Clarke-Boland book, on which Cohen's tenor showed she has her own conception on the horn, as she does on clarinet, which came to the fore on "Oh Baby," a recreation of Benny Goodman's 1946 version; lots of fun but without tongue in cheek, and on "Cry Me a River," which she has already recorded in a big band setting.

Cohen's partner on night four was the splendid pianist Fred Hersch, and this was very special from the start—the challenging "You Stepped Out of a Dream," as "Lee's Dream" (guess which Lee), and quoting saxophonist Charlie Parker's line as well. An Egberto Gismonti original came to a happy choro-like end and featured special piano moments, while "At the End of the Day," another Hersch original, showcased Cohen's flawless intonation, and "Songs with Words Number 4" evoked a languid duet. The set ended with a Cohen special, "Memories of You," the best I've ever heard her do, abetted by a repeated phrase from Hersch. All told, a wonderful four nights. One hopes that at least some of them will live again on record, though those in attendance (there were many) will not soon forget.


Pier 9, A New Spot

A new jazz spot in Manhattan is Pier 9, at 802 Ninth Avenue—a cavernous Italian restaurant and long bar, with a resident trio of Ed Vodicka, piano, Steve LaSpina, bass, and Tony Tedesco, drums—with occasional bass subs. Nice trio, with special guests. We caught cornetist Warren Vache, in fine form, inspired by the presence of trumpeter Joe Wilder—these two are a mutual-admiration society. When in the mood, Vaché has few peers today, and he did indeed shine on "My Shining Hour," offered a tender "Embraceable You," and drew laughs with one of his vocal (and instrumental) specials, "Fat Man Blues," aka "A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind." A happy evening, and thanks to Ed Berger, fellow Institute of Jazz Studies emeritus, for bringing Joe.

The Second Annual Gala for the Armstrong House Museum and Archive—and what could be a better cause—was as big a success as the first. It took place at the Manhattan Penthouse, a venue unbeknownst to most of the attendees, on Fifth Avenue at 14th Street, with great views of the city by night and excellent catering. The honorees, Stanley Crouch, Jimmy Heath and George Wein, were individually celebrated—Crouch introduced by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis—and responded with remarks, among which Wein's reminiscences of Armstrong stood out. Music was provided by David Ostwald's Gully Lowers of Birdland fame, this incarnation including Bria Skonberg, who can do a mean "West End Blues" cadenza, on trumpet; the inimitable Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Anat Cohen, clarinet; James Chirillo, banjo (who can coax more music out of, and keeps better time on this instrument than anyone else I've heard), and young Marion Felder, drums. They did a rousing "Jubilee," and of course capped it with "Swing That Music." David draws on a pool of exceptional players. A recent Wednesday at Birdland had Randy Sandke on trumpet, joining Anat Cohen and Wycliffe Gordon—and his band is now in its 13th year at Birdland.

Year of Heavy Losses

The past year was one of great losses, some very personal. Jersey Jazz has noted most of these passings, notably that of Mat Domber (Jersey Jazz, November), founder of Arbors Records and producer of so many memorable festivals. I can only add that Mat was one of the best friends it was my good fortune to meet rather late in life. We were contemporaries and had comparable tastes in music (and food). Mat was one of the kindest and most generous men I've known, and will be sorely missed. His legacy will live on.

There was no New York Times obituary for Donald L. Maggin (July 5, 1927—August 31, 2012), nor was his death noted in the jazz press or online. He should be known to our readers for his outstanding biographies of saxophonist Stan Getz (Stan Getz: A Life In Jazz (Harper Perennial, 1997))) and Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie(IT Books, 2005)), and he had almost completed a biography of drummer Max Roach. But these were late-in-life accomplishments for Maggin, whom I came to know when he began doing Getz research at the Institute of Jazz Studies. It was clear to me from the start that this was someone special, though it was only gradually that he revealed more about his background—such as when he presented IJS with a tape recording of Gillespie's monumental funeral service at St. John's Cathedral, mentioning in passing that he had organized it. I also took Maggin for much younger than he was. And while we did become friends, it was only posthumously that I learned he had been active in Washington under several Democratic administrations, starting with Lyndon Johnson—he was National Field Director of Project Head Start—and continuing under Jimmy Carter. He also took part in Robert Kennedy's runs for the Senate and White House.

Maggin was a graduate of the Horace Mann School in New York, where he befriended Aram Avakian, George's younger brother and remarkable filmmaker-to-be, who introduced him to jazz, taking him to the Commodore Music Shop, and to Nick's, where one night he heard Billy Butterfield, "so brilliant that he hooked me forever on jazz." He then went on to Princeton and Oxford, and worked for a while for a famous management consulting firm, living in Europe—garnering experience that proved useful when he entered politics. There is so much to this fascinating man's life that someone should write his biography. Maggin was also a poet, and editor of a literary magazine, The Reading Room. He authored Bankers, Builders, Knaves and Thieves (Contemporary, 1990), a book about the savings and loan scandals.

Donald Maggin's memorial service was held September 14 at St. John's Cathedral. There was music by trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who also Spoke; pianist Mike Longo; pianist Paul West; Ray Mosca, and singer Carla Cook, with a postlude by pianist Jill McManus. I had the honor of being one of the remembrance speakers. Afterwards, a reception was held at the Columbia University Faculty House, where I discovered yet another musician friend of Maggin's, pianist Connie Crothers.

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