Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Ron Busch/Jack Schantz Quintet at Bungalow Jazz House Concerts

"The Bungalow"

The Bungalow Jazz House Concerts are where Columbus, Ohio jazz insiders go for a good evening of friendly jazz. House concerts at the hospitable and eccentric Victorian home of Becky Ogden, empress of music and imagination in our city, are intimate and comfortable for audiences and musicians alike. Nothing beats the musical rapport possible between instrumentalists and listeners when they are two yards apart in Ogden's big living room with the acoustical-tiled ceiling and her beloved Mason & Hamlin piano that delights Mark Flugge and Bill Dobbins

On concert evenings, folks stroll in, drop their financial contributions in the basket, and are likely to be greeted by a squawk from the extraordinary roaring parrot even before one of Becky's friends, enlisted for the job, point newcomers the way to the table laden with food that friends contribute, pot-luck style: Friends always hope that Rosemary Litzinger will have come and brought something she baked. There's beer, soda and coffee in the kitchen; bring your own bottle if you like. And please bring your own kids. 
Early arrivals can stroll around Becky's lovingly maintained gardens, tour her rooms full of her ingenious, antique collector's fanciful tableaux, or chat with friends and musicians until the music starts.
Because of the small size of Ogden's room and the comparative ease with which she can reach her network of jazz fans, she has been able to book musicians Columbus might not otherwise hear as they visit local friends or pass between New York and Chicago. She has booked trumpeters Brad Goode and Dominick Farinacci, pianists Terry Waldo and Tamir Hendelman, guitarist Gene Bertoncini, and flautist Ali Ryerson. She regularly books the most imaginative and energetic players in Columbus, like the Aaron Scott Trio (with Dave Dewitt and Derek DiCenzo), or pianist Bobby Floyd, and saxophonists Bryan Olsheski and Michael Cox. She provides the ideal intimate stage for the torchy queen of local vocalists, Mary McClendon; and she gives the stage to new blood, the up-and-coming college ensembles and soloists. Recently, she added vibes to her collection of instruments that includes not only the admirable piano but a Hammond B-3 organ.

Jack Schantz, Bob Fraser
On May 5th, the Cleveland-area Ron Busch/Jack Schantz Quintet played Bungalow Jazz. Ron Busch, on vibes, has long been a force in Cleveland jazz not only for musicianship on his queenly instrument, but for his being co-owner of the legendary club, the Bop Stop. The club's doors open now only for private engagements, but its importance as a locus for Cleveland jazz was inestimable. 

Jack Schantz, professor at the University of Akron, was the artistic director for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra until he retired from the position in 2009, handing it over to his former student, Sean Jones, late of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The liner notes to his first record, Speechless (Azica AJD-72201, with Chip Stevens, piano; Jeff Halsey, bass; Val Kent, drums; and Howie Smith, alto sax) describe the person and player very well: "When you first meet Jack Schantz...his manner is so quiet and unassuming that you would never imagine that here is a man who has been trumpet soloist with the Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman Orchestras. Then he steps onto the stage and a complete metamorphosis occurs! The musician before you is now a commanding presence, able to meld power and sensitivity..."

The guitarist Bob Fraser has long been central to Cleveland jazz (he and Busch were high school classmates and have held down the scene for years). In April he received a call-out in Jazz Times for his collaboration with vocalist Ki Allen at the Tri-C Jazz Festival. Their partnership is of long-standing.

Doug Richeson, bass, and Jim Rupp, drums, are pillars of the Columbus jazz community who perfected their skills during long careers in big bands and touring with major vocalists, Richeson having spent years with Tony Bennett. You can listen to a fascinating interview about Rupp's early career here.

Ron Busch
My delight in an evening of jazz like the one the Busch/Schantz Quintet delivered is the pleasure of an eager listener who's receptive to whatever the ingenuity of the ensemble produces. As in any art form, poor technique will elicit lackluster response, but heartless display of fine technique will too. For me, the ideal is when performers demonstrate the kind of reflection that I come to art to find. It's great when formal beauties are enhanced by the musicians' own human responses to the content of the music.

Busch/Schantz fulfilled my listener's dream with a beguiling performance of  "I Fall in Love Too Easily." The well-known lyrics by Sammy Cahn often reinforce the mood of reflection in Jule Styne's tune: "I fall in love too easily/ I fall in love too fast./ I fall in love too terribly hard/ For love to ever last./ My heart should be well-schooled/ 'Cause I've been fooled in the past./ And still I fall in love too easily" etc. 

Their performance demonstrated beautiful ensemble work. Schantz's solo set a moody atmosphere that he'd try to rise out of musically, but the effort to achieve something more swinging failed, as if a heavy hand kept pulling him back. And so it went with each subsequent solo. The entire performance was unified by a sense of experience—the difficulty of overcoming regret, the  tenuous capacity to "bounce back." It was an extraordinary performance not only for the tightness of the musical ensemble, but also for the musicians' deeply shared awareness of what happens in life. 

Something that would pull this ensemble together in any event, it seems to me, is the wonderful instrumentation. To my ear, the vibraphone is one of the most beguiling of sounds and here it's at its best. The sound of the vibes is like a peppermint. It's "cool." "Cool" affects many senses: blue and silver colors, low temperatures, but also physical hardness. The sound of vibes, however, while generated by mallets on metal ("hard" when it is initiated) resonates so far and decays so slowly that it becomes extremely "soft" as it lingers in the air and collects subsequent tones around it. Like mints, vibes' sound is cool without retaining the other important sensory associations we make with coldness. 

What's more, though vibes are percussive, they also resonant like an electric guitar. They can provide a wide, resonant foil for the narrow focus a trumpet. A vibes/trumpet quintet is on the face of it a brilliant collection of sounds. Here's a Busch solo from Kurt Weill's "Speak Low." Not only is Busch's dance across rhythms a delight, but so is the sound of his instrument in its relationship to bass, guitar, and drums. 
Bob Fraser
Bob Fraser's elegant guitar solo from another outstanding ensemble performance, of Steve Swallow's "Ladies in Mercedes," shows off not only his own artless, warm playing, but the beauty of that guitar-vibes pairing. Their voices pass back and forth between similar and distinct, adding another kind of sonic interest. Rupp's propulsive shakers and brisk percussion pop in contrast to the guitar and vibes, making this, for me, a magical two minutes. 

Amidst all this shimmery chordal dynamic, the flatter, focused trumpet sound has a special place, which Schantz uses to great effect. Within his two-minute solo he creates a virtual narrative, moving up the scale with long notes into a more suspenseful passage of eighth notes and triplets that bursts into a pair of held high notes constituting a musical and emotional break. As if we have been watching the cool lady in her in convertible gliding along the ocean parkway, those notes break the climbing line into irregular patterns that fall all over the beat—it's dizzy with excitement. The whole perspective changes: Perhaps we're no longer observers but now we are in the Mercedes, we are that woman, feeling the tumbling exhilaration and freedom.
Doug Richeson
Richeson showed his gift for emotion and storytelling too in his many solos during this gig. Every bassist is dramatic in his or her physical relationship with the (full-scale, upright) instrument. Richeson sits on a tall stool and surrounds the bass with his large upper body, holding his broad shoulders parallel with the instrument's, his head resting low over the neck. In this solo from "All or Nothing at All" (followed by Schantz), Richeson achieves both a simplicity and privacy that I find as touching as musical. The slow decay time of its notes creates a hushed cloud around a bass solo in any event, and here Richeson uses it to create something that seems particularly personal. He plays like someone who speaks love and truth at the same time.

In the past year I've several times heard people predict the demise of jazz. This forecast has been made on the basis of small turnouts for performances or audiences disproportionately representative of the "blue-hair" generation. Recently, the host of a jazz series  announced a promotion that rewarded concert-goers who would bring to the next show guest who were under forty. The host himself, and all the performers save one on that occasion were at least fifty, and most well over that.

Jack Schantz
On the one hand I can appreciate the nervousness of artists who see the ravages of time in the core audience for their art, with no big influx of youth knocking at the doors. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if jazz has not grown so broad that it doesn't now include several generations with several audiences. They may share jazz history, but their histories in the world are very different indeed. 

Columbus has two universities with flourishing jazz programs whose students are a vital part of the local scene and keep local clubs at no loss for good music. There is of course great collegiality and exchange between the elders and the youth in town, but I think it is true that there are distinctions  in the music. The generation that grew up while bebop and post-bop flourished knows jazz in a different way than the generations who grew up with bebop as a legacy, and sophisticated rap dominating the airwaves. The life perspectives of musicians in their 60s and 70s have to affect the way they interpret jazz standards; new generations will bring their cultural and personal experiences to them as well. 

I doubt that the audience for an ensemble like the Busch/Schantz Quintet is about to disappear. I think that a mature, jazz-loving audience prizes the refinement of their musicianship, and understands the clarity of the group's observation and reflection—the valuable content of their music. This theme statement to Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" epitomizes this point, I think. Of course the music is available to anyone with ears to hear and a mind to consider it with. But performance is a self-portrait too. In Schantz's solo 
and in the patient, certain placement of every chord, note, and beat behind him, we hear a performance with aggregated personal histories as the musical momentum. It's a thematic statement with an awful lot to say.
Jim Rupp
A good experience of jazz gives the audience not only the great music, but the awareness that the music is coming from the fact that those musicians are glad to be there, working—playing—with other musicians whose instincts and ideas they appreciate. You can see these successful relationships; you certainly hear them. (Even those these Cleveland and Columbus units don't work together quite so regularly as they might in one town, Ohio is one town for these purposes.)

As the evening closed at the Bungalow, the band asked for suggestions from the audience. It was the night of the "super-moon," when the moon was the closest to the Earth that it will be for another thirteen years, so they ripped into "Old Devil Moon" at Ogden's suggestion.

They closed, though, on a final suggestion, that proved the perfect thing, Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring." I'm so glad to have been there with a recorder, to be able to enjoy again the tempo, the voicing, and the tempered ebullience of their beautifully balanced performance: Fade to delight.

Becky Ogden serves pasta to Jack Schantz. "Make yourself at home."

I am grateful to Thomas A. Johnson who edited my recording of the May 5, 2012 Busch/Schantz session, and to Sarah Hippensteele of Ash Secure for helping me post the recordings.

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