Nicki Parrott: A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening

If civilization has come up with a better way to spend an evening than a good dinner (including wine) with a floor show consisting of master musicians performing standards from the Great American Songbook, I don’t know what it is.

nicki parrott

Nicki Parrott: a double threat on vocals and stand-up bass.

The other night I was at Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut to see the triple-threat act of Australian-born singer/bassist Nicki Parrott (pronounced Par-OTT), clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski (one of the best in the world), and sparkly pianist John di Martino.

Parrott, who was resplendent in a little black dress, lives in Connecticut now so this was a local gig for her. Peplowski, who’s always working, had just flown up from Miami that day (though he seemed fresh). And di Martino was catching a 2:30 a.m. flight to Bangkok. This kind of mobility is necessary for today’s peripatetic jazz musician.

The three recorded an album together for a Japanese label–all Carpenters songs. Here they are on Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love With You”:


Parrott (a ringer for the actress Kirsten Dunst) could be anybody’s stand-up bassist/vocalist, and indeed, after making the big leap to come to the U.S. and study with Rufus Reid, she fulfilled that role with the late Les Paul for years. But now she’s stepping out front, most recently with an album tribute to the great Blossom Dearie. They aren’t far apart stylistically, though Blossom’s voice was higher.

From that repertoire, Parrott gave us “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” via Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and Cole Porter’s “Give Him the Ooh-La-La.” Parrott, a happy singer of sublime taste, could put this stuff over with just her bass, but with multi-instrumentalist Peplowski and di Martino in the house the whole affair swung like a watch chain.

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski, having a good time. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Parrott sings the songs straight, but she’s a fine scat singer too. Peplowski is best known on clarinet (and played some trills that were out of this world), but he was excellent on tenor, too, especially on ballads where he had some of the breathiness of both Ben Webster and Stan Getz.

Other highlights included the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh vehicle “Walk a Little Faster,” Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” and, from the great Burton Lane and Frank Loesser, “The Lady’s in Love With You” (featuring a strong bass solo and Peplowski back on clarinet).

nicki parrott

Parrott in full flight. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never fallen in love with Ella Fitzgerald’s take on Sam Coslow’s “Mr. Paganini” (though it was a big number for her), but Parrott got through it as painlessly as possible.

Here’s another video, this time an instrumental version of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” with Peplowski on tenor:


The Sarah’s Wine Bar Jazz Masters Series is worth checking out if you’re anywhere near Connecticut. Up next on January 28 is a duo of Mark Shane, piano, and Terry Blaine, vocals.

In Maine, Lobster Rolls, VWs, and Bert and I

Bert and I records are an acquired taste, but nothing could better epitomize Maine. It’s comedy, but with a unique regional twist that makes the spoken word almost like music. The Maine accent is so thick that anthropologists are undoubtedly baffled by it.

bert and i

Bob Bryan (left) and Marshall Dodge were Bert and I, seen here in 1981.

Island Port Press, the publisher, calls the first album, Bert and I … And Other Stories from Down East, “perhaps the most important comedy album in New England history.”

Bert and I were the late Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan. The characters are fishermen out of Kennebunkport whose boat is the Bluebird (and later Bluebird II). The routines, adapted from classic Maine jokes, were recorded in the 1950s and ‘60s and released on locally available LPs. In the next two decades, they spread far and wide, making Dodge and Bryan into minor celebrities.

cadillac mountain

The view from Cadillac Mountain. (Jim Motavalli photo0

To give you the flavor, 85-year-old Arnold Bunker “from Bailey Island way” goes to court, and is asked if  he’s lived up there his whole life. “Not yet,” he replies. Deadpan, of course.

VW Atlas

The made-in-USA VW Atlas is competing in the highly competitive large SUV class. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I picked up a Bert and I record in downtown Portland yesterday. It was a Maine thing to do. I needed a shot of that extra dry Maine humor. I was in the lobster state for a drive in the smooth running Volkswagen Atlas and Tiguan SUVs. The auto company eschewed the customary press conference about the wheelbase and engine options—that had already happened—and instead just gave us the keys and a map of Maine, from Portland to Bangor.

Here’s a classic “you can’t get there from here” Bert and I routine, “Which Way to Millinocket?”


I actually know the way to Millinocket, because I was there a month ago, and wrote this story about the town’s devolution since its mill closed. This trip, along coastal Maine in the VWs, highlighted how the state is somewhat schizophrenic these days.

VW lobster car

The VW lobster car was encountered at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The prosperity of Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor (ice cream shops, fine lobster dining, yoga studios) are sharply contrasted with the hardscrabble economy of the state’s interior. The literature here is Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine, which captured the mobile homes and the cars rusting in the yard. Living in places like that is made much harder when the few good jobs—at places like the Northern Paper mill in Millinocket—disappear.

Here’s another classic Bert and I story, from the first album:


Even along the coast, Maine today is oases of prosperity joining vast stretches of making do, of antique malls and lobster pounds. Even downtown Portland looked a little seedy to me, full of hard-eyed men smoking cigarettes. But I stopped for a bite at the welcoming Local Sprouts Café, whose window informed me that Black Lives Matter and that immigrants were, most emphatically, welcome. I appreciated the “Take Back the Tap” message, which was enforced with a big jug of tap water and plentiful cups. The food was great wherever we ate in Maine.

red's eats

Everybody wants the lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Maine has its own indigenous music, of course, and slotting in neatly next to Bert and I is the folk of Gordon Bok and Cindy Kallet, who have played together. Bok, born in 1939 out Camden way, has a lovely baritone and on 34 albums sings mostly about Maine and the traditional approach to fishing. Kallet is a great singer and songwriter, and I once told her she could have been another Joni Mitchell. She laughed it off.

VW Atlas

The Atlas can swallow a lot of luggage.

Another Maine folk great is Anne Dodson. I once told her she could sing disco. She laughed it off. All these folks are on the herb-tea-and-brownie coffeehouse circuit. I recommend Dodson’s Tranquility Grange album.

Did you ever notice that Maine bookstores sell a lot of Stephen King? I appreciate the state’s antique/book malls. The Big Chicken barn is worth visiting.

Big Chicken

Maine’s Big Chicken antique barn has something for everybody, including lots of auto shop manuals.

The Tiguan and Atlas are worth considering if you’re looking at big and medium-sized SUVs. They’re comfortable, reasonably responsive, and surprisingly affordable. I wrote about them in more detail here.

Maine’s an intriguing state. It’s being convulsed by change, but also benefiting from it. Tech firms and four-star restaurants are coming in with new jobs, but maybe not enough to make up for those lost in logging and paper making. The accents that made Bert and I so special aren’t heard all that often anymore—the state is full of those immigrants welcomed at Local Sprouts, some of them from neighboring states—but it still has a wicked sense of humor.

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Way, Way Back: Roochie Toochie and Oldtones 2017

NORTH HILLSDALE, NEW YORK—Performer after performer said from the Oldtones stage that this is their favorite summer festival, and it’s easy to see their point. Oldtones Roots Music Festival is run by and for musicians, and features the very best in old-time country, as well as a healthy sidelight in its racier offshoot bluegrass.

Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings

Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings love props. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Every festival has its stars, and at this one it was Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings, explorers on the trail of the old weird America. Roochie Toochie goes way, way back, even before the historic recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927.

roochie toochie

It’s 1910 again, a time when a person felt naked without a fez. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Roochie Toochie focus is on music recorded on wax cylinders, and the group’s new album is even recorded that way. The cartoonist R. Crumb has maintained that electrical recording ruined music as we know it, so here’s his band. The group—made up of crack musicians, with multi-instrumentalist and singer Aaron Jonah Lewis a standout—has a repertoire of the half-heard songs from a nearly vanished era. And they perform them with a verve and theatricality that recalls vaudeville and makes something ancient new again.

mary ann

Mary Ann enjoys the old-time music. At Oltones, chairs matter. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Highlights included “3000 Years Ago,” which featured costumed crusaders in the audience; “My Isle of Golden Dreams,” with tiny bubbles adding the Don Ho effects during the Hawaiian sections (Hawaiian guitar was an early American music craze); and “Doing the New Lowdown,” which I recall “Hotlips” Page covering ably. Here’s the group on video with “Ragging the Scale,” Edward B. Claypoole’s ragtime recording from 1915:


The group, wearing red fezes, is highly visual. Singer/fiddler Lindsay McCaw took over to demonstrate “17 (period) Dances in Two Minutes,” and there were live Egyptian priestesses and gorillas roving around. See them if you can. The group is currently touring Maine, from whence springs ukulele ace Tim Findlen.

An offshoot of Roochie Toochie, Corn Potato (“the eyes and ears of America”) is more in the old-time country vein, though it also swerves into the international music styles that are the forte of fiddler Aaron Jonah Lewis. He was incredible all weekend, in many different configurations.

Bill and the Belles

Bill and the Belles harmonize with style–the style of the 1930s. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Some of the best festivals feature groups you’ve never heard of, but discover at the event. I’d seen Bill and the Belles, at the Brooklyn Folk Festival, and they were a major find, too. Singer Kris Truelsen is a musical historian, and produces old-time radio shows at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in the aforementioned Bristol. As a singer, he mines the intersection of 1930s pop—that smooth, smooth sound—and country. Belles Kalia Yeagle and Grace Van’T Hof complement the sound with smooth harmonies and, especially, Yeagle’s ace fiddle playing.

Easy-Ridin' Papas

TheEasy-Ridin’ Papas. Bix would have recognized the trumpet solos. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Easy-Ridin’ Papas duo added pop/jazz touches, too, because they combined guitar with muted trumpet (in a style that Bix Beiderbecke would find archaic), and Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Wills tunes were featured. Kazoos came out. It went down easy.

The Downhill Strugglers

The Downhill Strugglers take old-time into the city–as the New Lost City Ramblers did. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’m a big fan of the Downhill Strugglers, a group intimately connected to the Brooklyn old-time scene and the Jalopy Theater there. Eli Smith, who plays banjo, runs the Brooklyn Folk Festival, and Jackson Lynch, one of the best fiddlers and a vocalist who recalls Charlie Poole at his raw best, frequently performs there. Here are the Strugglers on video, performing “Show Me the Way to Go Home”:


The group digs up a lot of rare songs, sourced from old 78s one presumes. An old sentimental cowboy song (a buckaroo saves the boss’ daughter from a rampaging bovine, but dies in the process) sounded to me like the source material for Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” Stranger things have happened. Windham Baird of the Wild Goats later performed an old tune called “Palms of Victory,” which Bob Dylan turned into the practically unchanged “Paths of Victory.”

Run Mountain

Run Mountain in full cry. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Speaking of Baird, he joined with Lynch later on the side stage to sing “I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape,” based on the rare recording from 1926 by the Nugrape Twins—about whom very little is known. But it’s a great ad for grape soda. Moonshine Holler, which sometimes adds a member and becomes Run Mountain, is also wonderful at reviving little-heard material.

baird and lynch

Jackson Lynch (left) and Windham Baird perform “I Got Your Ice-Cold NuGrape.” (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Strugglers frequently perform with John Cohen, formerly of the New Lost City Ramblers—their predecessor in urban old-time. Walker Shepard completes the band on a variety of instruments. Here they are essaying “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” on video:

Little Nora Brown

Little Norah Brown, channeling Ola Belle Reed. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Bluegrass was well represented at Oldtones with Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show, plus The Feinberg Brothers and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. I missed the Bash Bish Bluegrass Band. A highlight of Shifflet’s set was “Lonesome Road Blues” a la Snuffy Jenkins, from banjo player Brennen Ernst. What a player, with a great swing feel. Later he switched to guitar and began playing like Django on “Lady Be Good.”

The Wild Goats

The Wild Goats: original Americana and old stuff, too. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Wild Goats, formerly Dubl Handi (but now with a tuba), were delightful. Banjo player/singer Hilary Hawke is writing her own (very good) songs now, and still digging into the tradition. Baird gave her some sage advice: “If you tune with that capo on, you’re going to get fret wear.” Musicians, take note.

The Foghorn Stringband

The Foghorn String Band played for the square dancers. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Other valuable players, heard in different combinations, included Tamar Korn (who must have heard Sophie Tucker at some time in her life), Caleb Klauder, Reeb Willms (the latter two making up a great duo), and the wonderful Jesse Legé—the Cajun contingent, along with Chas Justice and the Revelers.

Tamar Korn

Tamaa Korn and her pickup band. (Jim Motavalli photo)

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A Relaxing Time at the Summer Hoot 2017

One of the highlights of my music festival season is the Summer Hoot, run by Ruth Unger (daughter of Jay) and her husband, Michael Merenda. Maybe their rugrats help, too.

downhill strugglers

The Downhill Strugglers featured John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, fiddler/singer Jackson Lynch and guitarist Eli Smith. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Hoot, held at the Ashokan Center not far from Woodstock, New York, keeps getting better. There have been five Summer Hoots, and I’ve been to three of them. The audience keeps building, as the word of mouth about a really fun, low-cost, low-pressure and eclectic Americana festival.

Avi Salloway

Avi Salloway of Billy Wylder. Influences included U2 and African music. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The acts are, pretty much, stuff Mike and Ruthy (now known again as the Mammals) like, and it ranges from the African-inflected rock of Billy Wylder to the Pete Seeger-era protest folk of Hoping Machine.

Hoping Machine

Hoping Machine: Pete would have approved. (Jim Motavalli photo)

My problem with events like Falcon Ridge is that they don’t change much, year to year. The Hoot evolves, and doesn’t have much carry-over—except for some of the children’s performers. On that front, this year benefitted from multiple performances by Sara Lee Guthrie (daughter of Arlo). I particularly like her adaptation of her father’s lyrics, especially “Go Wagaloo.” Here it is:

The funny thing about that part of New York State is that in August it’s hot during the day, then gets freezing at night. So I was wrapped in towels when Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers came out. I knew nothing about them, but I have since learned much. Hunt, from Texas but now in Brooklyn, has hooked up with an ace backing band there. The great playing complements her powerful voice and strong songs (fiddle, too).

Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers

Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers take on a Pewter Session. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Just as good, and with as strong a band, was the Sweetback Sisters. I first heard them in the “Band in the Box” feature in the Performance Hall, backing up volunteers from the audience essaying classics like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Faded Love” (the latter with a 12-year-old fiddle player).

The Sweetback Sisters

The Sweetback Sisters were aces. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Standing out was an Ohmigod guitarist named Ryan Hommel. Like Jerry Miller in Eilen Jewell’s band, Hommel can play any style of American music—he’s a walking encyclopedia of classic guitar styles. Hommel’s a master of the pedal steel, and traded riffs with Rob Stein of the Mammals.

The Sisters were great, too, and previewed a bunch of country swing songs from their new album, King of Killing Time. Both Emily Miller and Zara Bode are great singers, and Miller’s songs are both clever and smart. If she was born a few decades earlier, she’d have been selling tunes to Patsy Cline. Here’s a Sweetback video:

Lily and Duncan, both of whom play fiddles and sing well, were interesting. But Lily’s somewhat challenging songs could use a few more entry points. Didn’t they call them “hooks” at one point?

The Bunkhouse Boys, local to the Hudson Valley, played traditional Cajun (in French) rather well. Here they are with “Country Playboy Special”:

The Mammals were, not unexpectedly, warm and wonderful in a family-friendly kind of way. Ruthie’s fiddle tune, backed by Michael’s blistering banjo, was a highlight. If I have any issue with this group—which I’ve seen a half-dozen times recently—it’s that their sets don’t vary all that much from one gig to another. They have a stellar catalogue that should get some exercise.

Rhett Miller, the leader of the Old 97s, made a manic and literate solo performer. His best song was about having to compete for his partner’s love with Jesus—a hard act to follow.

One of my favorite acts was the Downhill Strugglers, featuring a veteran Americana artist–John Cohen of the highly influential New Lost City Ramblers. Eli Smith runs the much-loved Brooklyn Folk Festival, and plays and sings beautifully, and Jackson Lynch should be a star.

Geoff Muldaur

Geoff Muldaur: relaxed blues influenced by Mississippi John Hurt. (Jim Motavalli photo)

And I particularly enjoyed a solo set by Geoff Muldaur, the last performer I saw this year. He was there in the 60s, ran into Mississippi John Hurt, and was never the same. You may know him from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and he just made a duo album with Kweskin. Actually, both Muldaur and Kweskin have aged well, and their talent is intact.

Muldaur plays a relaxed blues that owes a lot to Hurt and other pre-war country blues artists, and he tells a great story. He recently moved to Kingston, so he fit right in to this ultra-laid back festival.

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The Worst Gig Ever

I’m reading a book called The Worst Gig, and it’s quite amusing. Musicians do it for the love, not the money, and definitely not for the luxurious dressing rooms and detailed tour riders. (Did you see Arcade Fire’s fake rider? Vegan hot dogs are involved.)

the whispering tree

The Whispering Tree got stiffed at a death metal bar–in Belgium. (Whispering Tree photo)

I’ve seen shows in bars where management declined to turn down the blasting TV in the room, as a folkie struggled to be heard. I’ve been to concerts where the folks on stage outnumbered the audience. (Dr. John, faced with this, said, “You’re a small crowd, but you’re a mighty crowd.” That’s the power of positive thinking. )

Highlights of the book include the group Eisley getting stuck in a huge snowstorm—in Texas, where it never snows; and The Screaming Sirens showing up for a gig in St. Louis where the booking agent who’d signed them had been fired. “Screaming Who?” the club owner said. This was after they got a $75 speeding ticket and sent all the money they had on ahead. They slept in their van, though eventually played the club for the Supertramp after party.

Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch played a gig to the bartender, then had to turn the PA off. (Gillian Welch photo)

Here’s Gillian Welch on her worst gig:

In Nashville, before we ever had a record out, I decided I wanted to play this writers’ night. I went down there by myself and waited like three or four hours to play. They kept me waiting and kept me waiting as the crowd thinned out. Finally, the guy who had been playing his own songs between every three writers, he got up when there were about three people left and played three more songs. Then he said it was my turn. There was literally nobody left in the place but the bartender and the MC. The MC said, ‘Okay, you can play now. Will you turn the PA off when you’re done?’ So I got up and played a couple songs to the bartender, then I walked over and turned the PA off.

Michael Merenda of the Mammals has a story he tells in his sets, describing traveling eight hours to West Virginia for a “house concert” that ended up being in an abandoned house without electricity in the middle of nowhere. It was on the weekend, and the West Virginia university students go home on weekends. One fan from his mailing list showed up, and the show was punctuated by the sound of gunfire from the target practice that was going on upstairs.

On my radio show, I hosted The Whispering Tree (quiet dream pop) and asked them for their worst gig. “Our worst gig ever was this show in Belgium at a death metal bar. We walked in and they were blasting death metal and there was a woman behind the bar wearing a swastika earring. We ended up playing to two (completely uninterested) people in the basement—it was painful. The only reason we kept playing was because it was a paid gig. Then we found out that the owner had run off before we’d finished our set and was refusing to pay us.”

It’s got to be unique that your worst gig ever is in Belgium.

Summer Jazz at Caramoor

KATONAH, NEW YORK—I’d previously been to Caramoor mostly for Americana events, so how would the sylvan glades take to the sounds of Coltrane, Monk and Miles? Just fine, as it turned out. Acoustic jazz is a natural sound, and it not only carried well when unamplified, but sounded right to the setting.

Camille Thurman

Camille Thurman heating it up, Coltrane-style. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Caramoor jazz festival was produced in cooperation with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and was all the better for it. On the bill were a series of acts I was unfamiliar with, but many were nurtured at JALC, and now the talent is reaching a wider audience. Camille Thurman, Riley Mulherkar, Christian Sands, Zaccai Curtis, Michael Mwenso, these are the stars of tomorrow.

McCoy Tyner

Pianists play with their backs to the audience, so here’s a shot of the back of McCoy Tyner. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The two acts I did know, McCoy Tyner and Mary Halvorson, could not be more different, but are widely varying roots from the same tree. Tyner was John Coltrane’s pianist in the critical years from 1960 to 1965 (as a very informed talk by Seton Hawkins of JALC explained), and Halvorson is today’s most cutting-edge guitarist. The former briefly adorned the open-sided Venetian Theater; the latter appeared in a more intimate setting—the Sunken Garden glade, with bassist Stephan Crump.

Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson was heard in duet with bassist Stephan Crump.

The jazz setup is much the same as Americana—concurrent shows in the open air, some on stages, some in forest clearings, leading up to a more formal gala show in the evening. Luckily, the weather cooperated, as it always seems to do when I’m at Caramoor.

Michael Mwenso

The muscular Michael Mwenso came with his own dancer. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Michael Mwenso and the Shakes offered the very muscular leader with an international cast from South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and London. An in-house dancer provided appeal, and the group boasted strong singers and players. The only thing they lacked was good material; my mind wandered a bit when the songs started to sound the same.

JALC

The JALC Youth Orchestra Ensemble serenaded early arrivals. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I wish I’d heard more of Camille Thurman, who was gigging with the Darrell Green Trio. She has a firm, Coltrane-derived tenor saxophone sound and a chocolatey voice somewhat reminiscent of Dee Dee Bridgewater or Jean. She’d sound good, as Dee Dee and Jean did, chanting about the creator on those 1970s spiritual jazz records.

trombone trio

Spontaneous groups like this trombone trio enlivened the Caramoor grounds. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Halvorson and Crump were suitably challenging. The two, who have recorded together, essayed a pair of intense, rapidly shifting duets. If I’m not mistaken, they were called “Emerge” (by Crump) and “In Time You Yell” (by Halvorson). Her guitar was played through some effects pedals that bent the notes in appealing ways.

Riley Mulherkar

The great Riley Mulherkar tears into some Dizzy Gillespie. (Jim Motavalli photo)

My camera was running low on battery power, so I didn’t get video of the Caramoor  performance, but here the pair is at New York’s great Cornelia Street Café playing “In Time You Yell”:

My two big discoveries for the day both featured Riley Multherkar on trumpet. He led a program with a small group called “In the Land of Oa-Bla-Dee.” If you’ve never heard that particular Dizzy Gillespie song, you owe it to yourself, because it’s the strangest thing in his canon. Here’s a video:


The group played “Salt Peanuts,” “Be Bop,” “Tin Tin Deo” and other Dizzy classics, and Multherkar was on fire whatever the period. He plays very fast, but also very cleanly, fully articulating every note. And he was a good guide to Dizzy’s music, too. I’d never heard “Pickin’ the Cabbage” before.

The Westerlies

The Westerlies offered intricate arrangements of their own music and some well-chosen covers. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Multherkar must have had track shoes on, because almost immediately after the Dizzy show he was in one of the glades as a founding member of the Westerlies. I love the idea of two trumpets and two trombones, all played by high school friends who grew up in Seattle and studied with Wayne Horvitz. The arrangements were intricate, and they played them without sheet music—a lot of woodshedding in evidence there.

The music was quite varied, including a group of songs recorded by the Golden Gate Jubilee Singers. “I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago” is similar to a song recorded by folk groups as “The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World.” Their originals were great, too, with influences ranging from New Orleans parades to European classical music.

Here they are on video, unfortunately cut a bit short by my batteries running out:


Pianist Zaccai Curtis and his quartet played latin jazz. I thought he sounded a bit like Hampton Hawes, and they cooked on a Mongo Santamaria number. Also in a Latin mood was Pedrito Martinez, a Cuban percussionist. The jazz content wasn’t all that high, so I’m not in a position to judge.

Zaccai Curtis

Zaccai Curtis likes it Latin. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Another highlight was a solo piano set by Sullivan Fortner, during a tribute to Thelonious Monk. His work was brilliantly broad in scale, showing how Monk grew out of stride piano, but also quoting from “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and just about everything else. As pianist Christian Sands, who had to follow him, put it, “Sullivan played all of the piano.”

And then it was time for the headliners. Helen Sung was a last-minute substitute for Geri Allen, whose passing was a major blow. Playing with the house rhythm section of Gerald Cannon on bass and Francisco Mela on bass, she heated up Tyner’s “Inception” (from his Impulse album of that name).

Craig Taborn was next, and he also gave the master’s music a good run. Tyner himself, 79 now, only played a few numbers, and notably flagged after the second one, but since we were hearing living history nobody seemed to mind.

I learned a lot of new names at Caramoor, and had a brilliant day of jazz.