Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Friday, July 3, 2020

Emmet’s Place

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.  The young and great jazz pianist, Emmet Cohen, has created a Monday night streaming jazz session from his Harlem apartment which is nothing short of sensational.  He has an irresistible personality, prodigious talent, and a reverence for the history of jazz and its legendary performers.  It all converges at Emmet’s Place.

It is probably sacrilegious to observe that in many ways these live, streamed performances are at least as soul satisfying as seeing him and his bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole in person.  Streaming those performances mandated getting a Fire Stick as soon as Amazon got them back in stock.  Now we can enjoy these on the “big screen” with surround sound in the comfort of our home, as good as seeing them in a Club but without people talking, serving distractions or viewing obstructions.  The first time we saw Emmet perform was in NYC at Dizzy’s Club and honestly, we were blown away.

It’s just so special to watch him perform in the intimacy of his apartment and interface with his group and with special guests remotely or, more recently, in his apartment, such as the jazz vocalist and scatter supreme, Veronica Swift.   Most recently he hosted jazz legend, singer and pianist, Johnny O'Neal who sang his iconic “I'm Your Mailman.”  O’Neal also displayed his virtuosity on the piano. 

The last time we saw Emmet and Trio live was on the Jazz Cruise back in February, where we made sure to catch as many of his gigs as possible, sometimes having to bypass other sets to get a seat reasonably close to the stage.

We also admire Emmet the man: he is self effacing in spite of his remarkable talent.  His reverence for his predecessors and mentors greatly impresses us along with his genuine admiration for his fellow artists.  But putting those aside, he is one of the best and most versatile jazz pianists we’ve ever seen and he just turned 30.  Yes, 30.  We wish we could be around to witness his full maturation.

We’ve been blessed over the years to see some of the jazz piano greats in person:  Oscar Peterson, Claude Bolling, Bill Mays, Admad Jamal, to mention a few.  I should add Benny Green and Tamir Hendelman to the list, both of whom we saw on the ship.  Oh, I also used to see Dave Brubeck but that was in my dentist’s office in Westport!

The Emmet Cohen Trio has coalesced over a five year period to the point where they can playfully hand off to one another at unexpected times and in unexpected ways and it’s never quite clear whether anyone is  in charge.  They just sense when to dive into the musical conversation or pause and it makes for interesting, mesmerizing listening.   His side men bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole are outstanding performers in their own right and sometimes carry long solos.

Emmet has given himself over to a Jazz Masters series, playing with some of the greats.  He channels them as well as those who are no longer with us, with strains of Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk.  The point is, he can and does play all styles, straight jazz, stride, swing, rhythm’n’blues, and in synthesizing these, he creates his own unique, soulful style.  He can transition from block chords to light; fast improvised ascending and descending arpeggios which definitively land on the base note.  Just listen to him paying homage to the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin, playing his "Original Rags" at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola @ Jazz at Lincoln Center some four years ago (when he was only 26!).

This is indeed what makes this young man so special.  In addition to his talent he has a genuine outgoing personality and a kilowatt smile.  A couple of months ago he was soloing at Emmet’s Place, taking requests from the audience via the YouTube’s streaming comment feature and I was typing “please play Johnny Mandel’s ‘Where Do I Start?’ and I wasn’t but a few keystrokes into the message, and he played it!  I almost fell out of my chair at how serendipitously that happened!  I emailed him afterwards about the strange coincidence and expressing my love of Mandel’s music (and wishing him a happy 30th birthday which was just coming up, noting that it coincided with my wife’s, who is a mere 49 years older) and he was good enough to reply “That's so crazy!! Wonderful when the universe works wonders... Thanks for all the kindness, and happy bday to Ann!!”  That’s a mensch.

This last week Johnny Mandel passed away.  Perhaps Emmet will mark his passing with another Mandel medley in his next session.  I hope so.  The afternoon before I learned of Mandel’s death, I felt this strong compulsion to play some of his songs on my piano.  I ended up playing ALL of them (at least all of my favorites), even including “Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless).”

It was as if something drew me to his music and that night reading the NYT, I learned that he died.  Now that is just plain bizarre.  I couldn’t help but think of that stunning medley Cohen played but a few weeks before, and the entry I wrote, now, more than two years ago about Mandel’s place in The Great American Songbook.

As we are self quarantined until there is an effective vaccine, which, who knows, could be for the rest of our lives, we’re hoping that Emmet’s streaming sessions will continue as it is our only way to be so close to the music we love and to preeminent musicians who bring it to life.  It’s one of the reasons we’ve joined Emmet’s “Exclusive” Club.  It gives members access to a “unique and ongoing creative feed’ and more significantly allowing us to feel that we’re part of his and his group’s journey, one well worth supporting, particularly as their tour revenue has dried up in these times of COVID-19 and uncertainty.  This support provides “a path for new innovative and creative endeavors to come to life.”  Indeed it does, and thank you Emmet for sharing your creative genius at Emmet’s Place.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Two Different Musical Eras

We attended concerts two nights in a row.  As it turns out, they are like the bookends in my life.

I began my love of music in my early teens, the music of rock ‘n roll.  In college my musical allegiance morphed to classical.  As I play the piano, my adult years have been consumed by the Great American Songbook, and Jazz.  As I’ve matured I’ve come to appreciate some opera and in particular the potent instrument of the human voice.

Last night we revisited a performance of one of the world’s great tenors, Emmet Cahill, who returned to the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.  Last year when I reviewed Cahill’s concert I had thought that his titanic talent warranted “a bigger boat” but nonetheless he returned to this same church and I understand why.  He began singing as a child in his home church in Ireland with his family and besides being a proud Irishman from the town of Mullingar; he is a religious young man as well.  Interestingly his love of these essential elements of his life transcends the ambition of many of his contemporaries.  Thus, he is content to allow his career to develop rather than rocketing overnight which perhaps it could if he pursued it at the expense of other values.  I have profound respect for him as a human being, not to mention as an astonishing artist.

He is also loyal to the Robert Sharon Chorale, the 84-voice-strong local community chorale which appears with him at the church, usually performing as an opening to Emmet’s solo appearance but sometimes backing him up as well.  His voice, though, needs no backup, other than his very talented accompanist, Seamus Brett, an extraordinarily gifted pianist.

The format of last night’s concert was similar to last year’s with perhaps more emphasis on liturgical and Irish pieces, but still a number of Broadway pieces so suitable for his voice such as “This is the Moment” and “Bring Him Home.”  Of course, with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, his Irish upbringing impacted his musical selections this time around. 

Many of the pieces he sang were from his new CD Blessings of Music which includes “Be Thou My Vision, "Galway Bay," "The Gaelic Blessing," "Amazing Grace," "Ag Criost An Siol" (Christ is the Seed"), "Panis Angelicus,", "The Last Rose of Summer," "Moon River," "Danny Boy" and "How Great Thou Art."

As with last year, the audience was invited to shout out some pieces for him to sing and Seamus Brett would arrange them on the fly and Cahill performed them as if having rehearsed them for that particular concert.  I asked him to sing “Children will Listen” which he knew was from Sondheim, but said he’d better practice that.  And so I wait for Cahill to take that next step in his career.

I had selfishly asked his publicist about those plans and she said “Emmet has returned to his first musical love, opera, so don't be surprised if you hear him sing a bit of that at his concert. He's been training with a voice coach and fans will tell you Emmet's voice has more resonance now (and he sings in a higher key!). Yes, he'd love to do a Broadway musical one of these days. He told me that opera is a way to get into musical theater.”

And opera he sang, a superlative rendition of “O Sole Mio – which he also performed last year, but this time with a discernible intensity of voice and clarity which elicited another rousing standing ovation.

And as he said, he would not be let out of the auditorium on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day without performing “Danny Boy” which I managed to get a brief clip of and posted on my Twitter feed.

Emmet, you had us at the words “glad to be back” and we gladly look forward to your next appearance here and will watch your career with interest and amazement.  You are a unique talent, a captivating personality, and are truly blessed with a golden voice.

It’s hard to segue from Emmet to the dynamic denizens of Rock ‘N Roll, so apologies to Emmet’s fans, but welcome to those who remember the 50’s.  The night before seeing Emmet I experienced that other end of the “bookend” referred to at the beginning of this entry, and that is seeing One Night in Memphis at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.  This included the original cast members of the Broadway hit Million Dollar QuartetIn effect it's a concert rendition of the show which was about a legendary one night session in Memphis at the birth of Sun Records, a jam session featuring Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. 

Carl Perkins was my first favorite as a kid, a cross over performer of rockabilly and country.  His big hits were the original rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes” (before Elvis’ version), “Honey Don’t,” “ Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby” and he was quickly followed by Jerry Lee Lewis  (“Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On,” “Great Balls of Fire”), Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues," "Ring of Fire") and of course the most famous of them all, Elvis Presley (“Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up”).  These are but a FEW of the songs performed by the four talented guys in the show. 

Normally, I don’t seek out performers who are imitators of famous entertainers, but will make an exception for this show as with every passing moment they seemed to BECOME the originals.  This particularly applied to the performer who played Elvis, as he was under the most scrutiny and at first your senses reject him as Elvis, but quickly he won over the audience.  I still have Elvis’ first 33-1/3 record he recorded for RCA.  My wife, Ann, actually saw him in person in 1956 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta as an Elvis crazed teen!

John Mueller who played Carl Perkins was particularly effective as his guitar playing accompanied all the performers throughout the show.  Blair Carman as “the Killer” is a very talented pianist, convincing as Jerry Lee Lewis, even “tickling” the ivories with the heel of his shoe.  Shawn Barker plays the "Man in Black," Johnny Cash and in one song manages to sing a lick an octave below bass.  Truly, a crowd-pleaser.  Finally, Brandon Bennett as Elvis undergoes that transformation before our eyes.  And boy can he twist and shake!

Heartfelt thanks to all the many talented artists in this world who bring the joy of music into our lives.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Kansas City!

We all know the famous lyrics:
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
They got some crazy lil' women there
And I'm gonna get me one.

Well I already had my own crazy lil’ woman, Ann, a “Janeite” and when she suggested that I accompany her for the annual Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) meeting she usually attends, I said why not.  The meeting was to celebrate the 200th anniversary of what is arguably her best novel, Persuasion.  I like Austen’s works and we’ve never been to Kansas City.  So, I became a “Janeite” and we planned to make a week of it, arriving several days before the conference began to explore the city. 

More on the JASNA experience in a separate entry as this one covers the unexpected pleasures of the city itself and will be long enough.  For that entry click here.

The convention hotel, the Westin Crown Center (highly recommended, great hotel), agreed to give us the convention rate for the entire week and after a flight connection in Atlanta, we arrived at the crowded, outdated Kansas City Airport (MCI) where we immediately got an Uber into the city.

Imagine our surprise when we were picked up by a couple that could have posed for Grant Wood’s American Gothic.  Well, I thought, we ARE in Kansas City so why shouldn’t they look like that?  Turns out the driver’s companion was indeed his wife and he takes her on Uber rides to and from the airport on Sunday afternoons.  They were friendly as all get out: in fact, all the people we met in our city travels were as we took an Uber everyplace.

As Anne Elliot says in Persuasion, “…altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.”  Actually, ours were more than agreeable.  Kansas City, MO (there is a KC side in Kansas as well), has everything a jaded East Coast resident who considers everything between here and CA flyover country, could want, culture, jazz, historical sites, food (particularly Joe's BBQ), world class museums, and did I mention jazz and great food?  It also has something I did not expect…..hills!  Yes, imagine that, hills in Kansas City.  Living in FL, I am envious.

It’s called the City of Fountains and there are many striking ones, but I’d call it a city of diversity, different districts each with their own focus, the Union Station/Crown Center, Crossroads Arts District, Power and Light District, the River and City Market.   Our first order of business was to get on their FREE streetcar which travels throughout the entire Downtown area to reconnoiter.  Once we had our bearings, we went back to the hotel, with its fabulous view of the entire city, changed, and then began to explore.

Many of the places I will be mentioning are extensively covered on the Web, especially the museums, so expect nothing much more than our own personal reactions.

Union Station is a nearby walk in an enclosed overhead walkway.  It was one of the most heavily traversed train stations in the US, particularly during WW II, went into disarray after air travel devastated rail traffic, but has subsequently been restored into a tourist Mecca.  It’s simply beautiful and one can get a good sense of what it once was and its importance.  Freight train traffic still heavily rumbles nearby as well as one Amtrak train. 

Here’s Ann in front of the Amtrak waiting room and the waiting room itself.  Just like a painting.

The interior of Union Station, cleaned and restored. 

Love the ceiling.

Art work hangs in the station including this Homage to Hopper— Harvey House Union Station Kansas City, MO by Marlin Rotach.

They say that maybe a million people sat on this bench during the station's heyday.

From here on in, days and nights get a little convoluted, transposed, so I’ll take them by venue:

Museums range from traditional to modern to subject specific.  Towering above all is The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art which, like NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, has something for everyone, from early European, to Egyptian and Greek and Roman, right through contemporary, from all corners of the globe.  It is massive and free!  Its marble lobby and skylight announce its imposing presence.

They had a special exhibit there which drew me, “The Big Picture” – the Hall Family Foundation gift for photography acquisitions, photography being one of my special interests.  The exhibit ranges from historical photographs, such as this one which is attributed to Silas A. Homes, a Salt Print of New York City’s Union Square from 1856.  Some one hundred plus years later I would be crossing Union Square after getting off the subway from Brooklyn on my way to work.  To me, the photograph is a time capsule.

Another favorite is Robert Frank’s Hoboken 1955, capturing a certain kind of ironic sadness at a patriotic parade.

And what better time to display Andy Warhol’s homage to baseball?  His ‘Baseball’ 1962, is his first photo-silkscreened painting.  It celebrates an American institution using news photos of Roger Maris.

My heart be still.  A photograph by none other than the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, depicting two writers of his generation, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.  I had no idea Ginsberg indulged in photography as well.  Note his handwritten description at the bottom of the photograph.

This is just a sampling of this unique collection, including one by Diane Arbus, but space in this blog is limited so the best way of seeing the collection is by saying (singing?) “Kansas City here I come!”

I’m including some representative works from their regular collection, ones that have special appeal to me.  Such as Willem de Kooning’s Woman IV which, I shall never forget, was a favorite of the playwright, William Inge.  Then Claude Monet’s Mill at Limetz 1888 is as striking by its style as its presentation.

Armor for Man and Horse 1565 is carefully preserved and dramatically exhibited:

And what museum would be complete without a Rodin?
A recent acquisition is “Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.  The 17-foot-tall gilded doors, weighing 4 1/2 tons, are casts of the original doors created in the 15th-century workshop of sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti for the east facade of the Baptistery of the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence, Italy.  Ghiberti’s original doors can be found inside the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Casts were made in 1990, and a set was installed on the outside of the Baptistery in Florence.

This pair at the Nelson-Atkins is a sister set to those at the Baptistery.  The installation in the Nelson-Atkins will be the first time the casts will be seen in a U.S. museum.  No photograph can do it justice, but I include some of its detail here.

I include the Nelson-Atkins bust of Caracalla, probably Italy, 215-217 CE because it speaks to our times. Wikipedia summarizes the nature of the man and his “accomplishments:”  The Roman historian David Magie describes Caracalla, in the book Roman Rule in Asia Minor, as brutal and tyrannical and points towards psychopathy as an explanation for his behaviour.  Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, takes Caracalla's reputation, which he had received for the murder of Geta and subsequent massacre of Geta's supporters, and applies it to Caracalla's provincial tours, suggesting that "every province was by turn the scene of his rapine and cruelty”.  The historian Clifford Ando supports this description, suggesting that Caracalla's rule as sole emperor is notable "almost exclusively" for his crimes of theft, massacre, and mismanagement

Finally, an enjoyable lunch in their Rozzelle Court Restaurant was a welcome respite.

Outside the Kemper Museum of Modern Art is a giant sculptured spider and the irony of a modern message across the street.

This is another one of Kansas City’s gems, free to the public, and its special collection of paintings by Angela Dufresne had just opened.  She is known to be from “The School of Gena Rowlands,” interpreting cultural histories of fine art, film, literary and oral histories.  Her pieces “The Line” and “Lonely Are the Brave” are shown here.

Then again, we needed a break and had to have lunch in the art lined dining room of Kemper’s CafĂ© Sebastienne.

Kansas City also has several museums not to be found anywhere.  Two are actually housed in one building and you could easily spend an entire day there.  They are The American Jazz Museum and The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, naturally at 18th Street and Vine.

The American Jazz Museum has memorabilia, and best of all, hands-on- exhibits where you can interact with jazz musicians to deconstruct the music for a better understanding of what it means to “jam.”  They have an original Picasso extolling Ella Fitzgerald.

Posters and panels proliferate there.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a moving tribute to forgotten heroes who were denied playing in the major leagues, although some of the later ones, such as Satchel Page and Jackie Robinson, finally broke through the color barrier.

They’ve reproduced a field, built it and they came, with life size statues of some of the luminaries who have played there.

Original equipment and uniforms are on display, as well as a painting of the Kansas City Monarchs who were to the Negro Baseball Leagues like the NY Yankees were to the Major Leagues.

Finally there is the remarkable Arabia Steamboat Museum.  At first I thought this was simply a tourist trap housing some of the artifacts of the Arabia which sank in 1856.  But it is a veritable time capsule as it was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns.  But no, it took the imagination and adventurous spirit of five stalwart men to begin a treasure hunt that ended in the most miraculous collection we have ever seen.

Buried below ground in over four stories of river mud for over a century simply because the Mississippi River had changed course, David Hawley ultimately located the wreck in July 1987.  David, along with his father Bob, brother Greg, and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell, would soon return to the farm and begin an adventure consuming the next 20 years.  The excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.  And to the credit of the Hawley family, they decided to collect these thousands of items and once carefully excavated, clean and preserve them, and put them on display.  Nothing from this fabulous treasure was ever sold.  The net effect is overwhelming, tools, clothing, furniture, and every imaginable artifact so well preserved in a nearly frozen state entombed under a Kansas farm, some 45 feet below the surface.  This was a walk back in time and all due to one family’s efforts with the help of their friends.

Photographs cannot do justice to the breathtaking extent of this collection, but I post some, glassware and other cargo they reovered.

 The Arabia Steamboat Boilers:

Finally, on to the main attraction for an early arrival: KC Jazz.  That first night we hit the Green Lady Lounge, having heard that some of the best jazz in the city can be heard there.  It looks like a plush den of iniquity, and they don’t serve food, but, oh, the music, and with no cover as well.   

We were lucky to see the Steve Gray trio along with a great jazz singer, maybe the best we’ve seen in a long time, Shae Marie.  What is she doing in KC I wondered?  She belongs in Birdland, reminding me a little of Peggy Lee.  Here are two brief videos providing my point:

The next night we were at The Blue Room for a Jazz Jam.  The Blue Room is at 18th and Vine and is actually connected to the American Jazz Museum.  No food; just drinks and great jazz.

The following night we were at the Phoenix, a local bar reminding us so much of the one we go to here in Florida for jazz jams, Double Roads in Jupiter.  The Phoenix serves some good bar food but we came for the music.  The little area set up for the performers only accommodated drums and a piano so I was wondering what that would be like.  Pianist Mark Lowry, purported to be one of the best in KC, turned that duet into a trio, setting up an electronic keyboard on top of the piano and playing a walking bass, making the transition to trio.   It’s a brief 45 second video, but it is a must watch by clicking on here.

Our final jazz night was at The Majestic, downstairs where an old speakeasy resided in the days of prohibition (not very meaningful in KC, it was a wide open town).  But this is a top steakhouse as well so bring your appetites!

The night before the full conference we had to try another one of KC’s well known restaurants, Lidia’s.  One of their specialties is their unlimited trio of home-made pastas, changing the selection regularly.  We lucked out having wild boar ravioli, spinach pasta with shrimp, and farfalle with marinara and thick slices of fresh Parmesan, all you can eat, freshly made at Lidia’s, a PBS chef and author.  It’s in a KC warehouse building just adding to the fun.

That step back in time described by our visit to the Arabia is a good segue to the Jane Austen Conference, but best to break the narrative here and continue in another entry.  Suffice it to say, Kansas City was much more than expected, reminding us a little of Asheville, Seattle, and New Orleans in its own quirky individuality.  And, oh, did I mention great museums, food, jazz, and sights?  Did I say how much I loved Kansas City?