Sunday, February 28, 2016

Svend Asmussen - 100th Birthday Today!

Svend Asmussen (photo by Leif Å.Andersson, 2003)
Today the phenomenal Danish jazz violinist, Svend Asmussen can celebrate his 100th birthday. The Keep(it)swinging blog likes to mark this great day by inserting some examples of music by Svend Asmussen from a career that spans more than 80 years of artistic activity at an absolute toplevel by international standards. A short career profile in English is available here.
Always attentive (photo in public domain)
Svend Asmussen debuted in 1933 with his own quartet - inspired by Joe Venuti's Blue Four. In 1935 he recorded his first record under his own name Tiger Rag / My Blue Heaven with a sextet - Here is Tiger Rag 

In 1940, Svend Asmussen recorded the initial version of June Night, which has become his signature tune, in a trio setting. Asmussen contributes the lead vocal and plays violin as well as vibraphone

Svend Asmussen's orchestra - most often a quintet with changing sidemen - had great success in Denmark during the 1940s. Denmark was occupied by the German Nazi regime 1940 - 45, which cut off the opportunities of an international career for artists like Svend Asmussen. Nevertheless, some of his best recordings were made in those years, unfortunately mostly unknown outside Scandinavia until much later. Below some highlights recorded in 1940 are inserted to mark this important period of Asmussen's recording career. - Here is first Honeysuckle Rose 

Also from 1940, Asmussen and his quintet recorded Some of These Days 18.08.40, the leader again contributes the vocal and great violin playing

Another great recording from this period is the quintet's version of After You've Gone, recorded 11.09.40

Svend Asmussen's career has been rich in facets as a musician, but also as an actor and entertainer. He has appeared in a number of Danish music films and revues 1943-57, where he performed with the siblings Gerda and Ulrik Neumann (1943-45).Cooperation with the latter led to the establishment of the successful trio Swe-Danes (1958-61) with the Swedish singer Alice Babs. - Here I'll mark this corner of Asmussen's career by inserting two examples of  musical entertainment at the highest artistic level, first a TV performance by Asmussen and his companion Ulrik Neumann presented in Dutch TV 1961

Together with Swedish singer Alice Babs, Svend Asmussen and Ulrik Neumann had success internationally as the Swe-Danes, here is a short TV performance of the trio's signature tune, Scandinavian Shuffle 

Svend Asmussen has made a number of recordings with internationally acclaimed artists including Duke Ellington, pianists John Lewis, Jan Johansson and Kenny Drew and instrument colleagues Stephane Grappelli and Stuff Smith. - Here's an example from Asmussen's cooperation with Duke Ellington in 1963, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, from Ellington's jazzviolin sessions feat. Stephane Grappelli and Ray Nance besides Asmussen, who is playing the viola

Svend Asmussen stands out as one of the greatest Danish jazz musicians ever. He has enriched the 1900s and the beginning of a new century with a wide range of timeless recordings, ranging from the Swing era of the 1930s and 1940s to seriously balanced cooperation with the best musicians of a younger generation. - To mark the succesfull years of Asmussen's later career with his jazz quartet feat. excellent Danish sidemen including Jacob Fischer on guitar, here's a recording by this ensemble performing Stardust 

Let's end this small musical portrait of Svend Asmussen's long and succesfull career enjoying his signature tune, June Night, one more time and this way express our best wishes for a Happy 100th Birthday!

Storyville Records has just released a box-set of 5 CDs + 1 DVD of recordings by Svend Asmussen - more info to be found here


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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The WASO Quartet - Part 2

Georg Lankester
Georg Lankester has collected info about the legendary Gypsy swing ensemble WASO and shares the story in two parts. Below follows the second part, the first part is available here 

WASO Further in the Eighties

By now WASO frequently was a welcome guest in the jazz scene of the Benelux and France although Fapy sometimes also was invited to play in England. There he joined other musicians and occasionally performed with Koen. NOTE: It is a fact  that the British were always very fond of Django’s and Stéphane’s performances and that their swing style is appreciated up to the present day.
WASO Quartet (courtesy
In 1983, two special events are worthwhile to be reported.
LP - WASO, Gipsy Swing Vol. 5 (info, click here)
Due to WASO’s continuing successes “Munich Records” made again studio recordings in March, which shortly afterwards, were issued on the album  Gipsy Swing Vol. 5 

This record includes 13 tracks and it is striking that again a great variety in the repertoire is shown. Django themes, French ‘chansons’ and compositions of Koen and Fapy, all of these can be found on this fine long play record. Just a few examples: Sweet chorus, Waso, (composed by Koen) Django’s tiger, Minor swing and Fapy’s composition Aurore !

Again recordings which belong to the gems of my collection.

Hot Club de France  - Holland

The spring of 1983 had seen the birth of a Django society in the Netherlands. On my ininitiative and in close cooperation with some jazz friends I founded such a society in order to keep the Hot Club Music alive.

At the end of that particular year, my society invited WASO for a club concert in Utrecht. I had heard them before in the city-theatre of Haarlem and was most impressed. Here was an opportunity to show this ensemble to the members of our society with - among them - many guitarists. During an unforgettable evening concert we could experience one set where Fapy was playing violin while Koen took his guitar for accompaniment and solos..- A rare photo shows their unique performances that particular night (10 November 1983).
WASO in live performance (Utrecht, 1983)
After a few more years playing in the usual line-up, the end of this formation was now approaching. Towards  the end of 1985 a change within the quartet would follow. Fapy, who then had some health problems, considered to leave the formation. He was thinking of a new career and had received a few offers. So early 1986 the WASO line-up fell apart after abtout 11 years of existence.

I happened to be present at their very last concert which took place in a jazz café in the town of Haarlem. In a cosy ‘ambiance’ the four musicians - for the very last time - created a gypsy swing in which those present could taste the unforgettable sounds of the  past. As far as I remember this must have been early 1986. My story ends here.

For those who never were aware of this extraordinary Gypsy Jazz formation, I would strongly recommend to listen tracks  on the Internet, or  try to obtain some of their vinly albums or cds. You will enjoy listening to one of the best Django groups Europe has had.

Koen’s WASO quartet would continue with different musicians, thereby often performing with great jazzmen and producing more jazz albums (more info, here). Since 2003 the latest formation (WASO 7) includes several of Koen’s children (all experienced in gypsy swing, jazz and French chansons).
Young Koen and Fapy, 1969 (courtesy
Some caracteristics on the leading WASO men (1975 – 1986)

Fapy Lafertin, 1984
Fapy Lafertin (born in March 1950). Growing up in a very musical environment  this talented Romani son concentrated on all kinds of instruments, but in particular the guitar. As he once told me, he studied very seriously to get control over this string instrument and he indeed managed to master the Django technique completely, however, always adding to his improvisations his own interpretation.

Fapy can be considered as the guitarist who comes the nearest to Django. He produces a beautiful liquid tone in charming melodies and has a strong but fluid rhythm. He can play ten instruments, among which also the guitarra (Fado guitar).

Apart from WASO he played with great jazzmen in the UK and USA and formed several own formations, which is illustrated by lots of cds.. He is a highly respected  jazz improvisator.
Koen de Cauter, 1983
Koen de Cauter  (born in 1950). Was already as a boy fascinated by music, especially Flamenco guitar. Became a pupil of masters such as Manitas de Plata and Manolo Sanlucar. Very interested in gypsy  music he started (at early age) to play with Fapy Lafertin, Vivi Limberger and many others.

Became a singer and multi-instrumentalist, capable to play (next to guitar): banjo, violin, clarinet, soprano- alto- and tenor sax. Is active in gypsy swing, jazz eg. New Orleans and also Musette. Performs with his children in a family band and is moreover an  excellent interpreter of George BrassensHe can be considered as one of the best Belgian artists.
Koen and Fapy (courtesy
February 2016 – with thanks to my Belgian friend Jef Van Gool for very useful information

Georg Lankester


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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The WASO Quartet - Part 1

Georg Lankester
Georg Lankester has collected info about the legendary  Belgian Gypsy swing ensemble WASO and shares the story in two parts. Below is published the first part, the second part will follow here.

One of The Greatest Django Interpreters of The Benelux 

We have to go back to the year 1975 when Koen de Cauter  took the initiative to form,  together with his friend Fapy Lafertina quartet in the Hot Club de France style, which was created about 40 years earlier in France by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.
l-r: Fapy Lafertin and Koen de Cauter (courtesy
There is a certain parallel with the original French quintet. The new formation also had two great soloists because Fapy and Koen were both acknowledged musicians in Belgium.

The Origins of the Gypsy Jazz

The  original Hot Club quintet was founded in 1934 and received international reputation due to the unparalleled playing of Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt and the great jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, backed up by a three-men rhythm section.
Quintette du Hot Club de France (1937)
These five musicians formed the first jazz string quintet the world had ever seen and which surprised jazz fans all over Europe and even in the USA. The many records of this French quintet -  in particular those released between 1934 and ’39 - are still available everywhere, even today. These show marvellous guitar and violin improvisations in a unique swing rhythm  – a new kind of jazz, but now created in Europe. When the second  World War broke out the cooperation between the two giants suddenly ended. During five years Stéphane stayed in England whereas Django lived in Paris, now playing with clarinettist  Hubert Rostaing. -  It is probably the latter formation which has inspired Fapy and Koen after  listening to the records of the Forties of last century.
Quintette du Hot Club de France (1940s)
The First Years of WASO

WASO quartet - early 1970s
In the early days of the formation  WASO included: Fapy Lafertin solo guitar with Jeff C. Wickle rhythm guitar, Koen de Cauter clarinet/sax, violin & vocals and Michel Verstraeten double bass. - As far as I know this Django-formation of the Seventies was one of the first in the authentic line-up of the war time, in which the focus was on guitar and a reed instrument. Several Django compositions formed part of the group’s repertoire, sometimes re-arranged by Fapy or Koen and it also included American jazz standards and some own compositions.
Koen with Sammy Rimington
During the first year WASO made a tour in Belgium with the British soprano saxophonist Sammy Rimington. They often performed in Gent and one of  their ‘live’ concerts was recorded in April 1976, later released on an LP  titled WASO ‘live’ at Gringo’s.
WASO - Live at Gringo's, LP (1976) (info, click here)
The album reveals interesting recordings which show ‘Django guitarist’ ’Fapy Lafertin in all tracks  and  the versatility of Koen on soprano- and alto sax, violin and in vocals. Remarkable is a certain New Orleans influence in Koen’s clarinet playing. - Some titles: Hot lips, Running wild, Swing ’41, Tears and the first recording of Fapy’s beautiful composition Fleur de lavande.

In the course of 1976 rhythm guitarist Jeff went back to the USA and was replaced by Vivi Limberger (member  of a well-known gypsy family in the Benelux). Vivi formed part of the “Piottos” and his strong rhythm on guitar (and vocals) could from now on be heard  giving the right swing to the WASO quartet.
WASO - late 1970s
Increasing Popularity

The performances of the reformed WASO group were more and more noticed and the formation was invited in the UK, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France,  where they played in jazz clubs and in all kinds of theatres.
LP 1977 - Rommages (info, click here)
In 1977, a second WASO album  was released called Rommages on which the musicians in several tracks could be heard with singer Jacques Mercier – born in the French Ardennes and called Valentin. The recordings  were made in Belgium, probably partly in the preceeding year. Some of the 12 titles are: Une petite amie, Tu restes, Credo and, of course, Rommages (an homage to the Romani). In the cover text Fapy’s  name gets special attention.

That same year Didier Geerts joined the group for a short time on drums.

In the late Seventies WASO got a Dutch impressario (Elly Joosten) and as a result the band had more bookings in Holland. The musicians could now be heard at big Jazz Festivals eg. in Maastricht and Breda as well as in jazzclubs throughout the country.
Later, when the Django society for Holland was founded, I invited them as well (see further on in this review).

More Albums And a (Recorded) Radio Broadcast

At the end of 1979 “Munich Records”in Heelsum (Holland) arranged – on the initiative of WASO’s management -  recordings for a new LP record. The producer was Job Zomer, an enthusiastic jazz specialist and his engineers were experienced in recording small groups as well. The result was an album with 12 fine jazz tracks with Django themes such as Si tu savais and Cavalerie, the Hawkins theme Mop Mop and Summertime.

LP  1979 - WASO 4 - "Gipsy Swing" (info, click here)
The different titles offer again a lot of variety because – next to Koen’s clarinet and sax playing - he can be heard on guitar and in vocals. Fapy’s guitar solos are charming and  show his own interpretation of Django Reinhardt’s playing in the Thirties/Forties.

One year later, in August, a radio broadcast was made from a popular jazz café in Laren (not far from Amsterdam) where jazz sessions frequently took place. Their ‘live’ concert that evening was recorded by Polydor and later released on an album called WASO live in Laren. It is a great and historical album also because of the enthousiastic audience which created a real jazzy atmosphere,
LP 1980 - WASO Live in Laren (info, click here)
The formation was in top form and one can now hear the announcements which Koen usually made and some of his special vocals. Beautiful ballads as well  as up-tempo themes demonstrate the quality of the group as a unit, but also in the individual improvisations of Fapy and Koen. Some titles: Douce ambiance, Si tu savais, It had to”be you and the unforgettable Le danseur de Charleston with Koen’s special vocal and announcement.

In June 1979 a festival in Belgium named “Folk aan Zee” took place where a friend of mine played with his group .During this festival WASO was also present with a real gypsy repertoire. My friend remembers that he heard great  gypsy themes which  they produced like Tu djaial and a beautiful execution by Fapy of the waltz La Gitane (composed by Tchan-Tchou). Koen also played violin and Vivi was singing as well.
WASO feat. Denis Vereeckeren (1978)
Both in 1979 and 1980 WASO occasionally had Denis Vereecken as a guest player on guitar.(here shown on a rare picture above).

To be continued here

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys

Streetview, West 52nd street, NYC (1947) (William P. Gottlieb collection)
The Onyx Club was a jazz club located on West 52nd Street in New York City. The Onyx Club opened in 1927 at 35 West 52nd Street as a speakeasy. In February of 1934, after the end of prohibition, the Onyx Club became an authorized club in a new location — 72 West 52nd Street. The Onyx featured musicians that included the Spirits of Rhythm and Art Tatum, who then was the regular intermission pianist. It burned down in 1935, but was rebuilt and reopened July 13, 1935 with Red McKenzie, Stuff Smith, Jonah Jones, John Kirby, Maxine Sullivan, and others. (info excerpted from Wikipedia)
Stuff Smith outside the Onyx Club (YouTube still photo)
Violinist and vocalist Stuff Smith had come to New York early 1930s after having toured and recorded with the Texas based Alphonso Trent and his Orchestra. In 1935, he was discovered by saxophonist and empresario Dick Stabile, who booked Smith to play at the Onyx Club with his regular ensemble. In 1936, Smith signed a contract with Vocalion that labeled the band as Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys.
Stuff Smith a.h. Onyx Club Boys (1936)
The initial formation of The Onyx Club Boys consisted of: Stuff Smith (v,voc), Jonah Jones (tp), Raymond Smith (p), Bobby Bennett (g), Mack Walker (b) and John Washington (d). This sextet recorded four sides for Vocalion on February 11, 1936, among them was Smith's I'se A Muggin'

I'se A Muggin' was in two parts, the inserted audio video only covers the first. The text is non-sense, if you are unfamiliar with the slang and jive talking associated with Harlem's 'tea parties', another word for social gatherings involving the consume of narcotics, i.e. marihuana (reefer), a customary habit among jazz musicians at the time. There was in fact a whole catalog of songs at the time associated with the consume of narcotics, often referred to as reefer songs, and Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys also contributed to this catalog with another song, You'se A Viper that was a hit with the reefer smoking public

A viper is another word for a person addicted to smoking reefer (a marijuana cigarette). As mentioned, the song became a hit for The Onyx Club Boys, it was recorded at the second session for Vocalion on March 13, 1936. The sextet had now a change of personnel, as Raymond Smith was replaced by James Sherman (p) and John Washington was replaced by Cozy Cole (d). This formation of The Onyx Club Boys recorded twelve sides for Vocalion at four sessions from March to August 1936. The flip-side of You'se A Viper also recorded March 13, 1936 was the sextet's version of the standard After You've Gone - a tune, which Smith had recorded with Alphonso Trent and his Orchestra in 1930 (- Trent's version is available here)

On July 1st 1936 the Onyx Club Boys and Stuff Smith recorded three tunes, among them was a version of It Ain't Right 

Also from the July 1st session was a recording of yet another popular song, Old Joe's Hittin' The Jug

On August 21 1936 The Onyx Club Boys recorded another song associated with the catalog of reefer songs - Here Comes The Man With The Jive

There were no new recordings by the ensemble until May 1937. Now the sextet had been extended to a septet by adding Buster Bailey (cl); piano player James Sherman further was replaced by Clyde Hart. This formation of The Onyx Club Boys recorded four sides for Brunswick/Decca on May 4, 1937, among them the instrumental Upstairs - a hot swinging tune featuring great solos by Jones, Hart and Smith

Another tune recorded at the same session, which in fact was the last session labeled as Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, was dedicated to the Onyx Club. The title of the tune was Onyx Club Spree, which was recorded in two versions (takes)

The recordings of Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys 1936-37 belong to the core of small band swing contributions of the 1930s, the leader's violin playing was among the foremost examples of swing violin at the same high level as i.e. Stephane Grappelli. Later Stuff Smith would continue his career in other combinations, but that's another story.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mads Tolling Quartet Feat. Jacob Fischer - Celebrating Svend Asmussen

CD front - Gateway Music (2016)
Later this month - the 28th of February - Danish jazz fiddler supreme Svend Asmussen can celebrate his 100th anniversary. On the occasion of this great day there has already been initiated several events to mark the centennial of the remarkable and world famous Danish jazz musician, a.o. a new book recollecting Asmussen's life and career was released in Denmark last year and a collection of poetry in English and Danish celebrating Svend Asmussen as a person written by his wife, Ellen Bick Asmussen, has also been published. Last year also presented the music of Svend Asmussen in a new constellation by the Mads Tolling Quartet feat. Jacob Fischer in a series of concerts around Denmark and Sweden. Now this ensemble has just released the above shown CD recorded October 2015 featuring some of the music presented at the concert tour appropriately titled Celebrating Svend Asmussen.
Mads Tolling (photo courtesy
Mads Tolling (b 1980) is an internationally renowned violinist and composer conducting a successful career worldwide. He grew up in Copenhagen and moved to the USA at age 20 to pursue jazz studies and graduated summa cum laude from Berkelee College of Music in 2003. While still attending Berklee, the renowned jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty recommended him to join Stanley Clarke’s band. Since then, Tolling has performed more than one hundred concerts with Clarke worldwide, including the Newport Jazz Festival. In 2007 Mads Tolling started his own trio and recorded the album Speed of Light. The following year the trio expanded to a quartet. With this quartet Mads Tolling released a live CD album in 2012 celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty, another CD
titled The Playmaker released in 2009 featured Stanley Clarke, Russell Ferrante and Stefon Harris. More about Mads Tolling's international career and recordings at the official website, here 

The Mads Tolling Quartet presented at the new CD has Mads Tolling playing violin in a repertoire of music known from Asmussen's own quartet live performances and recordings during the 1990s and 2000s. Besides Tolling this quartet has Scandinavian sidemen. Danish jazz guitar ace Jacob Fischer was a mainstay with Asmussen's quartet for 15 years and shares solo spots with Tolling, and they are accompanied by two very competent rhythm players, Kasper Tagel on double bass and Snorre Kirk on drums.
l-r: Kaper Tagel (b), Mads Tolling (v), Snorre Kirk (d), Jacob Fischer (g) (press photo)
There are eleven tracks at the new CD, four of them feature compositions by Asmussen - Take Off Blues, Hambo Om Bakfoten, Nadja and Scandinavian Shuffle. Also featued are two Gershwin tunes - Someone To Watch Over Me and I Got Rhythm, further two jazz standards in a duo performance by Tolling and Fischer - After You've Gone and Honeysuckle Rose. Two latin pieces are also presented - Piazzolla's Libertango and Jacob Fischer's Latino, and finally Asmussen's well known signature tune June Night

The arrangements of the featured tunes are excellent and so is the performance of the music, all members of the quartet contribute to the impression of a solid, swinging record.  The interplay between the musicians is great and well tested through several live performances at the time when the CD was recorded. Mads Tolling has the lead voice in all tracks and his touch at the violin resembles Asmussen's, a trained ear may also be able to trace other influences in Tolling's tone and approach, however, his versions of the featured tunes are great and leave plenty of space for his personal improvisation that gives renewed life and intensity to well-known tunes from Asmussen's book. It is hard to pick out highlights of the CD, all eleven tracks keep the attention of this listener at an intense level. Should I nevertheless point out a few highlights, then it must be the two duet recordings by Tolling and Fischer. Both men have ample opportunity to display their individual capacity as excellent improvisers and attentive musicians, especially the duo's version of Honeysuckle Rose marvels with inventive improvisation by both musicians. As mentioned, the rhythm section in the remaining tracks is competent and also gets solo spots a couple of times which generates a varied impression of the music when listening to the CD. 

- I highly recommend the CD as a splendid homage to the musical legacy of Svend Asmussen and not the least as an opportunity to celebrate his centennial while listening to the music.

The CD is released by Gateway Music and is available for purchase  here and here.

- If you are in Scandinavia this month, there are plenty of opportunities to attend a live performance by Mads Tolling Quartet featuring Jacob Fischer, a tour schedule is available at Tolling's website, here, or check out local media to keep updated on concert dates and locations.

To end this small review of the Quartet's celebration of Svend Asmussen, I'll insert a couple of uploaded videos of live performances from the quartet's concert tour in 2014. - Here is first a performance of It Don't Mean A Thing ...

Mads Tolling (v) and Jacob Fischer (g) - press photo
From another location, here is Tolling and Fischer's live duet performance of Honeysuckle Rose

Finally, here is the Quartet in a live performance of Asmussen's Scandinavian Shuffle


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