Sunday, January 30, 2011


Basie’s Orchestra Carries the Torch Without the Count

When Count Basie and his Orchestra last appeared in the Louisville area Dec. 6, 1983 at the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, the great bandleader told me during an interview he was thinking of breaking his band up the following April.

“I think I’m going to wrap things up and spend a little time with my daughter in the Bahamas,” he said.

Basie’s words turned out to be cruelly ironic. He died of cancer in April 1984. But the explosive sound of his mighty orchestra continues to live on. During a concert last night at Whitney Hall in the Kentucky Center for the Arts, the current edition of the Count Basie Orchestra proved beyond a doubt that Basie’s unique style of big band jazz will never die.

The Basie band hasn’t actually changed much since losing its leader. Tenor saxophonist and flutist Eric Dixon, who now directs the band when he’s not soloing, has been with the orchestra for 17 years. Ditto trumpeter and manager Sonny Cohn, and guitarist Freddie Green, the patriarch of the band first joined Basie in 1937.

They opened last night’s concert, which was part of the Hilliard Lyons Big Band Series with “Strike Up the Band,” a tune that has been part of the band’s book for a decade or more. This traditional big band flag waver featured tenor saxophonist Kenny Hing playing several frenetic choruses while the brass section roared behind him.

Next, the mood turned mellow as alto saxophonist Danny Turner, another Basie veteran, came up front to play the ballad “Easy Living.” He started off at a slow tempo, later switched to double time, then ended with a cadenza that showed off his technique with a flourish of well chosen notes.

Basie’s replacement in the band is pianist Tee Carson. Carson is hardly a newcomer. He started his career in 1946 as an accompanist for Ethel Waters. Over the years he’s played piano for everyone from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald. Carson fills Basie’s role with impeccable style, using dynamics and special chord voicing’s in all the right places.

The Basie Orchestra has always been famous for its ability to move from a whisper to a roar. Last night, pianist Carson and the band’s rhythm section - bassist Cleveland Eaton, guitarist Green and drummer Duffy Jackson - began playing “It’s Only a Paper Moon” in a light, soft, swinging style. At just the right juncture, the entire brass section added an ear-piercing exclamation point that lifted some members of the near capacity audience right out of their seats. They did this several times and each time Carson feigned surprise by covering his ears.

The Basie Orchestra is also well known for all the great jazz arrangers it has employed over the years. Last night’s concert was filled with songs from the pens of Sammy Nestico, Ernie Wilkins and Frank Foster. During Foster’s “Good Time Blues,” an arrangement salvaged from the Basie band of the ‘60s bassist Eaton bowled the audience over with a masterful solo.

Guitarist Green got a lot of attention during the performance. At one point Hilliard Lyons president Gilbert Pamplin presented him with a large box containing a gift and thanked him for his 47 years with the Basie band.

During the second half of the concert, the band featured vocalist Carmen Bradford. Bradford was with Basie when he appeared here a little over a year ago, but she has improved a lot since then. She began her set with an up-tempo version of “A Foggy Day in London Town.” She handled the song smoothly and seemed quite at ease.

Bradford then showed everyone she also knows how to sing the blues. After taunting the crowd with some humorous blues lyrics, she launched into a powerful version of “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.”

As I mentioned earlier, the Count Basie Orchestra hasn’t changed much at all. Last night after playing their theme song “One O’Clock Jump” and receiving a standing ovation, they closed the show with same all-stops-out encore they’ve been using for years, “Woodchoppers Ball.”

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
January 23, 1985

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gail Wynters Sings Her Song

Gail Wynters sings with guitarist Greg Walker in 2006.
photo by Danny O'Bryan

A Jazz Legend Finally Recognized

She lived and performed in New York City for 20 years at some of the most prestigious concert venues on the planet, including Carnegie Hall, the Village Vanguard, and the Village Gate.

She shared the stage and recorded with jazz horn players like James Moody, Jon Faddis, Al Grey and Clark Terry, plus a monster roster of pianists like Adam Makovich, Roger Kellaway and Fred Hersch. The list goes on and on.

Singer Peggy Lee gave her three of her gowns. Jazz great Annie Ross listed her as one of her favorite singers in Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler’s Biographical - Encyclopedia of Jazz.

She was lauded in the New York Times by famed jazz critic John S. Wilson on many occasions.

No, I’m not talking about Ella, Carmen, Sarah, Helen Humes or Rosemary Clooney. They are all dead. I’m speaking of Gail Wynters, who is very much alive, though sometimes terribly ignored in Derby City.

But last night she got a chance to prove her mettle. Backed by pianist Chuck Marohnic’s superb trio consisting of bassist Chris Fitzgerald and drummer Jason Tienamen, Wynters tore through two sets of hand picked standards plus a tribute to Billie Holiday, one of her mentors, in a stellar performance at Louisville’s Jazz Factory.

Starting off with “My Secret Love,” a song she claimed she had never sung before, and wearing an ersatz gardenia in Lady Day’s honor, Wynter’s turned the Jazz Factory into a first rate New York City cabaret.

When she sang Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You,” you could tell it was no lie. Gail Wynters lives and loves to sing.

During the show she prefaced each song with witty stories about her life and philosophy. The daughter of an Ashland, Kentucky minister, Wynters hasn’t forgotten how to preach to the congregation, which last night consisted of music lovers.
And everyone present got their money’s worth. As the great jazz bassist Lynn Seaton once told me, “There are singers and there are “singers,” Gail Wynter’s is a Singer!

The control and rapport Wynters has with other musicians, and she is definitely a musician, is marvelous to watch. As one local drummer recently said, “You can’t lose this woman!”

It is hard to believe that an artist of this caliber has lived in Louisville for over six years with so little recognition. The late saxophonist Gordon Brisker, who worked for a time as jazz legend Anita O’Day’s musical director, once told me he preferred Wynter’s singing to O’Day’s.

Maybe last night’s feature gig at the Jazz Factory will be the beginning of a new kind of local recognition for one of the world’s greatest jazz singers, one who is still alive and just happens to be from Kentucky.

By Danny O’Bryan
March 2007

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Danny O'Bryan interviews jazz orchestra leader Woody Herman - April 1978

from the up-coming book "Derby City Jazz."

D. O. Welcome to Louisville, Ky Woody.

W. H. Thank you.

D. O. Jazz like everything else is in constant flux. What direction do you see the music going in 1978?

W. H. Well, I think we’re in a very healthy period and I’m pleased about it.

The fact is, there are a lot of youngsters involved in jazz today. Listening to it and participating in it by being members of stage band in high schools and lab bands in colleges. There is probably more interest in jazz today among young people than there ever was, in all the years I’ve been around. So, I feel there is a very good future particularly for big band jazz. Because we’ve got thousands upon thousands of kids involved.

When you think of 15 to 18 players in a high school stage band and we have in the neighborhood of 40 or 45 thousand of these bands in this country alone. And that’s not counting the college bands. It’s a good healthy scene. And of course there is a great deal of interest in Europe and Asia, actually jazz has always been more popular there than here at home.

D. O. You mentioned in an article in Downbeat magazine in 1976 that in a very short while there will be a new sophisticated audience for jazz.

W. H. I think they are here now. I really do. I think that all these young people that are involved in music and studying and learning is making up the most musically educated audience we’ve ever had in the history of American pop music. When I was a young man, a song was good if you could hum it by the second time and that was good enough. In unadulterated rock music they still depend on simplicity. Simplicity can be a real asset but it also can lead to a great deal of monotony.

D.O. Do you think that’s true even though the commercial radio stations are still playing disco and plastic music?

W. H. Yes, but radio has been doing this for years. We’ve had a top 40 for ever. And most of the kids in the stage bands would never have heard about jazz if they weren’t participating in it. But I think we are on the brink of a big change. I hope so and I pray for it every night.

D. O. What do you think will happen to the Big Bands after all the main leaders like yourself are dead?

W. H. Well, I think some of the most important band leaders right now are not as ancient as I am or Count Basie. I think Buddy Rich has quite a few good years left. And I feel the same about Maynard Ferguson. I’m hoping there will be a whole new era of new bands made up of young people.

D.O. What do you think of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band, which is one of the first big bands written for and led by a woman?

W. H. No, that’s not really true; well I guess it’s true to some degree. But women have been involved in big bands and playing in big band since year one. I think Toshiko is doing some very interesting music but I don’t think it’s something that will go on to great heights. It’s really a glorified rehearsal band. And I’m proud that it’s around. But I just don’t think that it’s strong enough in its music.

D. O. Why don’t they work more steadily?

W. H. They depend on studio players. They use players from San Francisco and Los Angelus. Those people will not go on the road. They feel that’s it’s beneath their dignity or something. You have to start from scratch and build bands. Bands of that particular ilk include bands like the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, which is another glorified rehearsal band. The only time you hear about is when they are in New York playing Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. That’s when all the all-stars that are in town jump in there and have a happiness night. (laughter) And when you see that band somewhere else in the world it’s a whole other group of people, because the New Yorkers won’t leave.

I can’t put much faith in these kinds of groupings. That’s why the people I mention or the people who work constantly, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, my band and so on.

D.O. Do you think that one day it will be economically impossible to travel with a big band?

Danny O’Bryan interviews Woody Herman

Local 11 “Musicians Ball” April 23, 1978

W. H. It has been for many years. (laughter) But those of us who are struggling continue to do it. The last years that Duke Ellington had a band he financed it partially with his tremendous earnings from ASCAP. The Author’s and Composer’s Society of which he was a triple A member. So, he made a great deal of money each year, which he re-invested in the band in order to keep it going.

D. O. Is it hard to find out-standing soloists like Sal Nistico and Bill Chase to travel with the band?

W. H. It’s always difficult to find the right ones and then watch them develop and then they get to one of their peak periods. That’s usually when they make a move. It’s for many reasons. They want to try other things. Other yards look greener.

D. O. I asked Count Basie two weeks ago when he was here if Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis would ever be back in his band. And he said “Oh no,”

He thought his band was too restrictive for a top soloist like that.

W. H. I don’t know I never thought of it that way. There are some players who like to be more inventive and have more blowing time and they should be in a small group. There is no reason for them to be in a big band. But most of my players leave because they get tired of the road and want to stay in once place for a while.

D. O. John Hammond in his recent biography said that a lot of the young players today have great techniques but don’t know how to swing.

W. H. We all have a different concept of what is and isn’t swing. It’s pretty hard to make a statement like that and make it stick. There are some outstanding young players and there are a lot of great technicians who are not outstanding players so, you can’t mix one with the other really. I’ve had some marvelous soloists in the last few years and they are certainly all very young.

Even in this current group I have a trombonist who I think is really outstanding, a young man by the name of Bruce Johnson and my rhythm section I’m very pleased with and they are all extremely young guys and they are blossoming.

D. O. Do you think that since jazz is experiencing a renaissance today that the media will start to loosen up a bit.

W. H. I think that’s what everybody is hoping for. We try to make them aware of what’s going on but it’s a real tough nut to crack because unfortunately for the last many years the most creative people have been delegated to the outside of the business. The people in the media today are dollar sign people. They are only interested in bread. I guess there is nothing wrong with that either but I still think they should hire people who are capable instead of trying to do themselves.

There was a very interesting thing on “60 Minutes” on CBS. It was on the Disco business. The question was do you think this is an American fad. Once again it’s the monotony of it. If you keep a steady beat to the point of stopping, it will stop. I don’t think that’s conducive to creative thinking, composing or finding a direction. The whole purpose of it is to make dollars. It’s about bucks.

D. O. Money ruins everything it touches.

W. H. When it gets to the point that it’s that obvious, our whole system it’s typical of the age we’re living in. That’s because most kids today whether they are interested in music or not, are definitely interested in how to become Super Stars, because that’s how you get all the bread and how you become very important to your peers. There’s very little thought on how to learn to do something very, very well and become a perfectionist so, sometimes I think we are being mis-guided, all of us.

D. O. Do you think that despite this there is hope?

W. H. Yes, I do and I think the music educators should be commended because they are doing the greatest service that could be done for American popular music.

D. O. Do you think music reflects the mood of the time?

W. H. Sure, definitely we had a long period of heavy Acid Rock. Now there is a lot of cross-over music but usually it’s crossed over to try and get some dollars once again. But I’ve lived with the very old philosophy, “money is only important when you don’t have any.” Then it becomes terribly important. Not too many people think of it that way.

D. O. Besides that it’s relative. When you have a little bit, you spend a little bit. When you have a lot you spend a lot.

What do you think of electronic music?

W. H. It’s almost like anything else, if it enhances the performance by adding it. Then it’s doing a service. But if it’s just used to get people excited in hurry, then it’s not very important.

D. O. I want to thank you personally for the great contributions you’ve made to jazz. You’ve been a patriarch of jazz.

W. H. Well, I’m old. (laughter)

D. O. You’ve given us people like Stan Getz, Flip Phillips and Bill Chase.

W. H. I have a great full career and a good life with it. It’s a hard existence and as you get older it gets harder. But basically if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably do it pretty much the same, because I enjoy the music very much. All the other hassles I don’t. Music I truly enjoy.

D. O. Music is constantly changing but the main thing is to keep the quality up.

W. H. Stravinsky said it best “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.”

D. O. Here in Louisville the Louisville Orchestra has been doing a lot of work with jazz performers. Sarah Vaughn was here recently and Buddy Rich performed with the orchestra. But a lot of the critics seemed to think the mix didn’t work.

W. H. I don’t know how they were presented but I’ve made quite a few different attempts at working with classical orchestras and I think they were reasonably successful. I don’t think we did anything earth shattering. For instance I had an album called “The Children of Lima” that we did with the Houston Symphony and I’m very proud of it, a good performance by both the orchestra and the band. And I think it was a reasonable wedding.

D. O. You mentioned early in the night that you had a new album out.

W. H. Yes, it’s called “Road Father.” It’s our first direct to disc album. It’s just been out a few weeks and it’s doing very well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Lionel Hampton ‘Flies Home’ in Grand Style

One of band leader Lionel Hampton’s biggest hits was a song called “Flying Home.”

This week Hampton flew home to Louisville, where he was born 72 years ago, to receive an honorary doctorate from Bellermine College and to play a concert with his orchestra in Whitney Hall at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

During last night’s concert Hampton cruised the stage, smiling, during his orchestra’s first song, an up-tempo blues. Then he began playing his vibraphone, improvising, even throwing in a quote from “My Old Kentucky Home,” while his band’s brass section blew some loud high-note blasts behind him.

Next, Hampton was off chasing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” while the rhythm section smoked in the background.

Prancing up to the microphone, he sang the lyrics of the old song, and even added a few choruses of scat singing.

The orchestra’s next tune, “Jeanine,” was more modern in style, and featured several outstanding solos by orchestra members on tenor and baritone saxophones, trumpet and trombone.

Throughout it all, Hamp stood behind the vibes, smiling and swaying back and forth to the music.

After singing a medley of songs that included “Basin Street,” and “The Birth of the Blues,” Hampton and his orchestra were off again on a more modern tangent, tipping their hats to Miles Davis with a spirited version of “Four.”

Hampton’s first ballad of the night was Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss.” He followed that up with one of his own compositions, “Midnight Sun.”

The second half of the concert opened with the orchestra running through the changes of the old bebop tune “Good Bait.”

After a rousing version of “It’s You or No One,” Hampton mentioned that February is Black History month, and honored the occasion by having baritone saxophonist Dave Schumacher play a beautiful rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” It drew loud applause from the large audience at the concert, which was part of the Hillard Lyons Big Band Series.

Singer Lisa Cable was introduced next. She sang her way through “Blues in the Night” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” but did little to make either song memorable.

And of course, what would an evening with Lionel Hampton be without the old flag-waver, “Flying Home?” He did the whole Milt Buckner arrangement last night, complete with dueling tenor saxophones.

Then he took the audience all the way home with “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie.”

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
February 26, 1986

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Monday, January 24, 2011


Wedged-in Buddy Rich and company give short shrift to first show at Seville

Jazz drummer Buddy Rich and his Orchestra have played concerts in a lot of different settings in Louisville over the years. Once on the Belvedere, once at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and most recently last spring at Bellermine College’s Frazier Hall.

But Rich’s first show last night at t he Seville Diner & Pub, 2246 Bardstown Road was like the old college prank of discovering how many six foot freshman can fit into a phone booth.

The 68-year old master percussionist and his entire 15 piece orchestra were crammed together on a stage barely large enough for a quartet. To make matters worse, half the horn section wound up blowing high notes into a kitchen wall because of the stage’s location in a far corner of the diner.

Oddly enough, the acoustics weren’t all that bad. And although one of the bartenders turned on a drink blender just as the band started playing its first song of the evening “You Gotta Try,” it looked for a while as if Rich and his band were going to put on a show no matter how uncomfortable they were.

After the first song, which featured a good solo by tenor saxophonist Steve Marcus, Rich, who was casually dressed in a yellow sweater, paused for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Well it’s different.”

Two more swinging arrangements followed with Rich leading the way and shouting encouragement to his band members.

Next, tenor saxophonist Marcus, who has been with Rich’s swinging machine for 11 years, was featured on Thelonius Monk’s classic “Round Midnight.” He took the song through a couple of interesting tempo changes and ended with a long and imaginative cadenza.

Pianist Barry Kiener and bassist Mike Boone were featured with Rich on a trio version of “Just in Time.” Rich put down his drum sticks and switched to brushes on this one. And he and Kiener traded fours before the song ended.
Bill Cunliff’s interesting modern arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ ‘n Rhythm” followed. It featured a wonderful soprano saxophone solo by Marcus. The rest of the band backed him up with various percussion instruments and Rich provided a wild jungle beat on the drums.

Things were just starting to loosen up when Rich jumped up from his drum kit walked over to the microphone and announced a 20-minute intermission. But not before he did a little of his stand-up comedy routine, adding a few things like, “This is really strange” and “We don’t work for many walls.”

Returning a few minutes later, Rich told the crowd that he was mistaken and that the intermission would last for an hour. That meant it was the end of the first show and the room had to be cleared for the second performance at 9:30 p.m.

Mark Smith, part owner of the Seville, said that he was hoping that Rich would do at least an hour for each show but his contract allowed him to stop after 45 minutes.

Tickets for last night’s concerts at the Seville cost $20 and $25. That’s pretty expensive entertainment when you consider that during the first show, Rich’s orchestra was on stage for 45 minutes and played only seven songs.

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times, January 16, 1986

From the up-coming book Derby City Jazz

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Etta Jones and Houston Person are a Jazz Lover’s Delight

There aren’t many old pros left in the jazz world anymore. But last night during their first show at the Page Four Lounge, 1502 W. Broadway, jazz singer Etta Jones and tenor saxophonist Houston Person taught a medium-sized audience what being a jazz veteran is all about.

Jones, 57, got her start in jazz in the early 1940s after entering an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. She worked with Buddy Johnson’s band and later with Earl Hines. She was with Hines at the same time Louisville-born trumpeter Jonah Jones worked with the band.

During an interview before last night’s show, Jones said, “A song has to mean something before I can sing it. It just can’t be a lot of words thrown together.”

Throughout her career Jones has chosen her material wisely. In 1959 she won a gold record for her hit single “Don’t Go to Strangers.” In 1981, her album “Save Your Love for Me” was nominated for a Grammy.

Jones has worked with tenor man Person for 17 years. Person is an exponent of the big-toned, no nonsense, mainstream school of saxophone playing. He started the show last night with a dynamite version of “If I Should Lose You.” Person is a big man, and he has a way of playing the saxophone that makes it look effortless. His technique is like greased lightning, you can hardly see his fingers move from the horn.

Person’s band is made up of organist David Braham and legendary drummer Billy James. James is a veteran of innumerable 1950s and ‘60s recording sessions with the likes of saxophonist Sonny Stitt and organist Don Patterson.

Person’s trio came on hot and stayed that way through a string of standards that included “These Foolish Things” and “Broadway.” The three also played a rarely heard bossa nova “Never Trust Your Heart.”

Next it was Jones turn. She bounced on to the stage, Person kicked off the tempo, and they ran through a swinging version of “It Could Happen to You.” Jones phrases like a horn and sings behind the beat. She patterned her style after Billie Holiday’s. She said during the interview, “One time when I was working 52nd Street in New York City and Billie Holiday was working at a nearby club, someone told her to come and see me because I had a style just like hers. She came in while I was singing and stood by the cash register. It nearly scared me to death.”

On the next number Jones slowed things down a little by singing Sammy Cahn’s classic “All the Way.” After she sang the first chorus Person followed with a beautiful solo of his own.

Jones has a wonderful musical relationship with Person, not unlike the one shared by Billie Holiday and great saxophonist Lester Young. While they’re performing together it’s almost as though there were two horns on stage instead of one. They compliment each other perfectly.

Jones said, “I was thrown in with great musicians from the beginning of my career. I’ve worked in bands with all the greats, drummer Art Blakey, violinist Stuff Smith. I even worked a couple of jobs with Charlie Parker. The musicians were a great help to me. I don’t read music, but I can feel it!”

Jones certainly felt everything she sang during last night’s performance. Several times people in the audience yelled out, “Yeah! Yeah!” while she sang songs such as “But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got it Bad.” Evidently a lot of them could feel it too.

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times - April 6, 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”


Etta Jones and Houston Person are a Jazz Lover’s Delight

There aren’t many old pros left in the jazz world anymore. But last night during their first show at the Page Four Lounge, 1502 W. Broadway, jazz singer Etta Jones and tenor saxophonist Houston Person taught a medium-sized audience what being a jazz veteran is all about.

Jones, 57, got her start in jazz in the early 1940s after entering an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. She worked with Buddy Johnson’s band and later with Earl Hines. She was with Hines at the same time Louisville-born trumpeter Jonah Jones worked with the band.

During an interview before last night’s show, Jones said, “A song has to mean something before I can sing it. It just can’t be a lot of words thrown together.”

Throughout her career Jones has chosen her material wisely. In 1959 she won a gold record for her hit single “Don’t Go to Strangers.” In 1981, her album “Save Your Love for Me” was nominated for a Grammy.

Jones has worked with tenor man Person for 17 years. Person is an exponent of the big-toned, no nonsense, mainstream school of saxophone playing. He started the show last night with a dynamite version of “If I Should Lose You.” Person is a big man, and he has a way of playing the saxophone that makes it look effortless. His technique is like greased lightning, you can hardly see his fingers move from the horn.

Person’s band is made up of organist David Braham and legendary drummer Billy James. James is a veteran of innumerable 1950s and ‘60s recording sessions with the likes of saxophonist Sonny Stitt and organist Don Patterson.

Person’s trio came on hot and stayed that way through a string of standards that included “These Foolish Things” and “Broadway.” The three also played a rarely heard bossa nova “Never Trust Your Heart.”

Next it was Jones turn. She bounced on to the stage, Person kicked off the tempo, and they ran through a swinging version of “It Could Happen to You.” Jones phrases like a horn and sings behind the beat. She patterned her style after Billie Holiday’s. She said during the interview, “One time when I was working 52nd Street in New York City and Billie Holiday was working at a nearby club, someone told her to come and see me because I had a style just like hers. She came in while I was singing and stood by the cash register. It nearly scared me to death.”

On the next number Jones slowed things down a little by singing Sammy Cahn’s classic “All the Way.” After she sang the first chorus Person followed with a beautiful solo of his own.

Jones has a wonderful musical relationship with Person, not unlike the one shared by Billie Holiday and great saxophonist Lester Young. While they’re performing together it’s almost as though there were two horns on stage instead of one. They compliment each other perfectly.

Jones said, “I was thrown in with great musicians from the beginning of my career. I’ve worked in bands with all the greats, drummer Art Blakey, violinist Stuff Smith. I even worked a couple of jobs with Charlie Parker. The musicians were a great help to me. I don’t read music, but I can feel it!”

Jones certainly felt everything she sang during last night’s performance. Several times people in the audience yelled out, “Yeah! Yeah!” while she sang songs such as “But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got it Bad.” Evidently a lot of them could feel it too.

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times - April 6, 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jazz Educator Mike Tracey - "Derby City Jazz"

Saxophonist Jamey Aebersold plays at Dr. Ken Beilman's
"Celebration of Jazz."
photo by Danny O'Bryan

Louisville jazzman Mike Tracey is always teaching it or playing it

Remember the old 1950s stereotype of a jazz musician?

He was the guy who hung out in bars getting strung out on a reefer - or worse - while playing his instrument, usually a saxophone, and grooving to its sensuous, sinful sounds.

Over the last 20 years, that hedonistic image has been shattered by a new breed of jazzmen (and women) who have been coming out of the nation’s colleges and music schools with a serious and dedicated commitment to their art.

A case in point is saxophonist Mike Tracy, 33, who is now appearing with the jazz band Chameleon at Howard Johnson’s Greenstreet Tavern, 100 E. Jefferson St.

Tracy, unlike the 50s stereotype, neither smokes nor drinks, and his goal in life is to ‘become a better person.” He hopes to achieve his goal through playing jazz.

Tracy, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville’s School of Music, has been playing jazz and teaching jazz theory in local high schools and colleges for more than 10 years. Besides being an artist in residence for the Jefferson County School system, Tracy is teaching jazz classes at both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.

And he does this while holding down a four-night-a-week gig at the Greenstreet Tavern.

Tracy said his love of music developed early in life. “When I was a kid, my parents kept the stereo on all the time the way most people do the television. We listened to all kinds of music, from classical to big bands.”

When he was in the fourth grade, Tracy began playing the saxophone. Later, while he was attending Seneca High School, he played in a number of all-state and all-county bands, plus stage bands.

But it wasn’t until 1970 when he was a student at the University of Louisville School of Music that his jazz mania began. That year he met his mentor, New Albany jazz educator Jamey Aebersold, who was then teaching at U of L.

“Before I met Jamey, I never really thought about jazz and improvising - but after we met, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

In 1974, when Tracy graduated from college, Aebersold quit teaching full time in order to devote more time to his mail order record business. “I thought that was a perfect opportunity for me to jump in and start teaching because Jamey and I are a lot alike. We both like to teach jazz and be around young people,” he said.

Tracey said a lot of people have made comparisons between him and Aebersold because they are both thin and have a lot of energy. “But basically we just enjoy doing the same things. I enjoy giving and getting from my students. And I was fortunate that Jamey saw something in me that he could use,” Tracey said.

Over the last ten years, Tracey has traveled to Nova Scotia, New Zealand and Europe teaching at Aebersold’s jazz camps. “It’s been great and I’ve learned a lot and had the opportunity to teach with great jazz saxophonists like Joe Henderson and Dave Leibman,” he said.

Tracey is very excited about the new job at the Greenstreet Tavern.

“I think Chameleon (which includes pianist Glen Fisher, bassist Tyrone Wheeler and drummer Daryl Cotton) has the best rhythm section in town. Our goal is to play good jazz with a lot of variety, everything from fusion to bebop,” he said.

“Jazz requires you to search within yourself and be inquisitive about things. I’m very busy, but jazz has given me the freedom to look deep within myself and become a better person, a better teacher and a better musician.”

By Danny O’Bryan
Nightlife Columnist - Louisville Times’ SCENE magazine
October 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Friday, January 21, 2011


A Tale of two guitarists: Jimmy Raney and Scott Henderson

Bach’s “Goldberg’s Variations” poured from the stereo speakers in jazz guitarist Jimmy Raney’s East End apartment.

Sitting on a couch between the speakers was guitarist Scott Henderson, shaking his head and marveling at the music’s intricate patterns. “Scott’s about the only young jazz guitarist I know who likes to come over here and listen to classical music with me.” Raney said.

But Raney and Henderson have a lot more in common than their love of classical music.

Henderson, 27, has been an ardent fan of Raney’s music ever since Henderson’s family moved to Louisville during the early 1970s. Back then, he sought out the world famous guitarist and became one of his pupils. Last week, Henderson and Raney began playing together as a guitar duo on Sundays at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Ave.

Henderson, who graduated from Westport High School in 1976, has come a long way since the days when he was so enamored by Raney’s playing he transcribed an entire book of his recorded solos.

In recent years Henderson has traveled all over the United States and Europe playing and teaching jazz - but Raney is still his favorite guitar player.

“I’ve always wanted to make my guitar sound clean and precise like a trumpet. I think Raney was the first jazz guitarist to get that kind of sound and feel,” Henderson said.

Raney, who is a Louisville native, patterned his revolutionary guitar style after the bebop lines of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Raney’s “horn-like” improvisations on recordings with jazz greats like Stan Getz, and Red Norvo during the late 1940s and early 1950s were an important part of the evolution of the jazz guitar.

Henderson said that Raney’s style is very compatible with his own.

“I’ve studied a lot of Jimmy’s music over the year’s,” Henderson said. So, I’m very familiar with his technique. One of my friends said the other day that when we play together we almost sound like one guitar. That’s really the effect we’re shooting for.”

Raney added, “It’s a traditional thing for two guitars to play together. I even made an album in Jamey Aebersold’s play-along series called “Play Duets with Jimmy Raney,” for guitar players who live out in the boondocks and don’t have another guitar player to play with.

“The guitar is a ‘complete’ instrument like the piano. But it doesn’t have a piano’s overbearing tonal qualities. Two guitars blend well together,” he said.

The music Henderson and Raney create can be compared to classical chamber music, Henderson said. “We play a lot of standards like ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘Our Shining Hour,’ plus a few originals. But it’s different from a lot of jazz you hear. We play many lines in counterpoint. And the volume is down real low.”

Henderson just returned from New York City, where he led a trio with another Louisvillian, drummer Mark Plank. “Since I’ve been back in town, I’ve been playing all the Broadway Series shows. I get a lot of calls for those jobs because I read music well and can fit right in,” he said.

But Henderson never intends to become just another everyday studio musician:

“I know if I got involved with that studio nonsense it would hurt my playing. I think that it’s important that there are people around like me determined to play jazz. Jazz is the most significant art form of the 20th century, and someone has to keep it alive,” he said.

In the near future Henderson hopes to go back to New York City and record a jazz album with an all-star rhythm section.

Raney said he was very happy to see his former pupil doing so well. “He’s really come through the process perfectly. He has good phrasing and ideas, plus originality,” he said.
Henderson, who has eclectic musical loves, has composed a ballet; his tastes in classical music range from Bach to Charles Ives. He said that jazz is an international language.

“Last year when I was teaching jazz in Europe with Jamey Aebersold, some of the musicians I encountered couldn’t speak English well, but they knew all these jazz tunes. We couldn’t communicate verbally, but as soon as we started playing, bang! They were right on it. They were familiar with the jazz style, the stock endings, everything.”

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times “SCENE Magazine
Sept 7, 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The Great Baldini blows a hot one
photo by Danny O'Bryan

Body Talk

Every Body wants to
Be sexy desired
Looked at and
Lusted for
The poor aging
Sagging decrepit soon
To be defunct
Body wants
To Be Sexy

Danny O’Bryan



The beetle appeared miraculously inside
my computer keyboard, right below "O."
Stuck there, its bright yellow back
peering out at me. It must be dead,
I thought. Its winter, it must have flown in
and died during the warm months.

But closer inspection revealed tiny,
microscopic legs kicking frantically in the air.
It was alive, desperately seeking freedom.
It looked like a Lady Bug that hadn't flown
home, except it was yellow.

When I touched it, like a possum
It played dead, but after placing it
in a large bowl for safe keeping
and turning my head, I found it
arrogantly perched on the rim.

It did love life.
That's why a moment later
when it disappeared,
I didn't look for it,
instead, I let it go home.

Danny O'Bryan

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


photo by Danny O'Bryan

"You have to live a life in order to tell a life. It's better to tell it
because you are always in control. You're like God."

Spalding Gray

In early 2000 I taught for three years in Jefferson Community College and Technical School's prison progam in Oldam County, Kentucky. The following is from that time.

Indian summer ended abruptly in Central Kentucky yesterday. The sky was ominous with racing bands of dark clouds and the wind outside my office in the old Frankfort airport terminal stripped the recently turned leaves from the trees. Sheets of cold rain soon followed and I wasn’t in any mood to go to prison.

It was Fall break and school was officially out at Jefferson Community College where I teach in the prison program. But I told the prison coordinator last week I would go ahead and hold classes. I was in the middle of presenting my students with the literary antics of writer Charles Bukowski, the beat-down non-Beat who made poetry out of the most unpleasant situations. Something I think any thinking convict would appreciate.

Last week was devoted to parts of a video interview of Bukowski by Barbet Schroeder, one of the producers of “Barfly,” a 1987 movie starring Mickey Roark and Faye Dunaway, for which the author wrote the screen-play. Tonight was going to be devoted to the movie, which I’ve seen at least five times.

I was concerned over an incident that happened at the Kentucky State Reformatory over the weekend. A prisoner had sexually assaulted a female nurse. The man charged had been one of my students last semester. If I remembered right, he had written a rather violent poem glorifying his life of crime. This morning’s paper featured his photo with the headline. I recognized him and immediately thought about a TV program I had watched the previous night about the dangers of owning wild tigers.

But I was determined to teach my class despite the weather, which was getting worse. Large drops of cold rain struck my face as I mounted the steps of the prison’s medieval tower. By the time I reached the education building, which is on the far end of the yard, I was soaked like a water rat.

The men’s assignment was to write a two page paper on Bukowski’s short story “The Most Beautiful Women in Town,” an uncharacteristically warm Bukowski tale about his relationship with a bright and beautiful, self destructive woman. We did a round-robin with each man reading his paper aloud. The men were marvelous, reading their assignments, many which were carefully hand-written either because of the student’s inability to type or have access to computers or typewriters. Nothing is easy behind bars.

I complimented one man who wrote an exceptionally good paper. He told me he hadn’t finished the eighth grade.

“I’m from Boston. I ran away from home when I was 11 years old. I grew up in the “Combat Zone,” one of the worst sections of the city,” he said.

When I asked him how he had learned to write so well, he said that during one of his early prison stays when he was thrown into the hole (solitary confinement) he asked for something to read. The guards gave him a bible and a dictionary.

By the time we got around to the movie the yard was within a half-hour of closing, so we only had time for the first few scenes before the men had to return to their cells. It was during the part in the movie when Roark, as Bukowski and Faye Dunaway, as the gorgeous alcoholic Wanda sit and talk in their apartment after their first night of making love.

John Coltrane’s tenor is playing softly in the background and Wanda is showing off her legs and telling Hank, “If a man showed up with a fifth of whiskey I’d leave with him.”

The men were hanging on every word, every nuance of the film. They were reacting to all the lines and the movements of the actors. It was like the beginning of a good play. They were involved and I was seeing the movie for the first time.

Afterwards, I had a rare feeling of accomplishment and elation during my long walk back to my car through the prison’s yard. I had just reached a darkened area when I noticed a rather large, white and black, fluffy animal running along the path.
“Is that a skunk?,” I asked a nearby prisoner. “Yeah, we got at least two around here. They hang out with the cats. Don’t piss him off,” he replied.

When I got back to my office the first thing I did was grab a dictionary and read, “Skunk 2. (Colloq.) a despicable, offensive person.”

A perfect ending for a night of Charles Bukowski in prison.

Danny O'Bryan "Yardhog's Journals"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Singers Jo Ann Hale and Judy Marshall Reunited

Bridge to Nowhere
photo by Danny O'Bryan

‘Jazz Showcase’ reunites singers Judy Marshall and Jo Ann Hale

There was a special musical meeting in the Greenstreet Tavern in Howard Johnson’s 100 E. Jefferson St., during last Wednesday night’s “Jazz Showcase.” It was between two Louisville singers who normally get to work together only once a year.

That’s once a year for the last 25 years on the “WHAS Crusade for Children” telethon and radio show.

The two singers Judy Marshall and Jo Ann Hale, have a lot more in common than the crusade. Both women were staff singers at different times for WHAS in the early days of Louisville television.

Greenstreet’s house band, Chameleon, was playing its opening song and getting ready to bring Hale up to the bandstand when Marshall stopped at my table to talk about her singing career. The plan for the night was that each woman was to sing a couple of songs solo and then they would sing together.

“I first started singing on WHAS television’s “High Varieties” when I was 13 years old. Don’t ask me what year that was,” Marshall joked.

In the early 1950s, between her junior and senior years in high school, Marshall was featured on Jim Walton’s “Fun Fair” radio program on WHAS. After she graduated, she became staff vocalist for WHAS, the same job that Hale would take in 1960.

It was a very busy schedule that started early in the morning with radio shows such as “Fun Fair” and live evening telecasts of variety shows like “Hayloft Hoedown.”

“I loved working on the Hoedown.” Randy Atcher and ‘Cactus’ Tom Brooks were so congenial and easy to work with,” Marshall said.

Hale was in front of the band now, singing “Our Love is Here to Stay.” She caressed the lyrics with her smooth, creamy voice and inventive phrasing.

Hale is an experienced singer and knows how to “play” a microphone, holding it close to her mouth for soft passages and moving it away when she reaches for the high notes.

After she finished she pointed to the two microphones on the bandstand and said to Marshall, who was seated at a table. “We’re going to take a vote on who gets the best microphone!” Then after singing the standard “Just Friends,” a song that was more than appropriate for the occasion, Hale invited Marshall up to sing a duet with her.

Marshall, who had complained earlier of having a cold that affected her voice, was in surprisingly good form. She and Hale swung through an unrehearsed rendition of “I Go For That,” an old jazz vocal duet by singers Jackie and Roy Kral. It blended their voices perfectly.

Then Marshall took the solo spot and sang “Just in Time,” proving that she hasn’t lost any of her magic.

Hale said later, “It’s been like old home week tonight. Judy has been a big part of my life ever since we started doing the Crusade for Children together in 1961.”

The reunion of the two performers was the beginning of a new series of inventive “Jazz Showcases.” Everett Hoffman, who has been producing the “Showcase” at Greenstreet Tavern since last fall, said the project has been very successful. “We’re very happy about the way the Wednesday night jazz has been received,” he said.

This coming Wednesday the “Showcase” will feature the nine-piece band Pendulum. On Feb. 19, singer Gail King & Indigo will perform. Feb. 26 will be jam session night, with area jazz musicians welcome to sit in with the house band - Chameleon consists of pianist Glenn Fisher, bassist Tyrone Wheeler and drummer Darryel Cotton.

Soundchaser will play March 5th and on the 12th there will be a reunion of entertainers and musicians who used to perform in the back room of the Captain’s Quarters restaurant before it was purchased two years ago by John Y. Brown Jr.

“We’ll have all the old band members that performed there, like clarinetist Scotty Mac Laury, pianist Danny Miles, and guitarist Jack Brengle, plus a lot of other people who used to come out and sit in with the group. All their old fans are welcomed to come join us that night,” Hoffman said.

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times - SCENE magazine
February 8, 1986

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz”

Monday, January 17, 2011


Steve Ferguson plays at Stevie Ray's Benefit Sept, 2010
photo by Danny O'Bryan

Ferguson adds a new chapter to his varied musical history.

Guitarist Steve Ferguson show up for the interview wearing an old-fashioned top hat with a sequined band - and a black eye patch.

He said the eye patch was a metaphysical symbol that represented his new-found spiritual beliefs: “I can now see past the duality of good and evil. For years I condemned myself for being a rock n’roll guitar player, but today I can see that we’re all one with the universe.

“Sun Ra was right: “Space is the place!”
It took Ferguson, who was an original member of the rock band NRBQ, 36 years and a lot of hard knocks to develop this philosophy.

He was born in the Clarksdale housing project and lived in several areas of the city before moving to Louisville’s West End in the early 1960s. It was there that Ferguson began to develop his eclectic musical tastes.

“At the time, I was drawn instinctively toward early Lonnie Mack records and good rhythm and blues singers like Wilson Pickett. I could really identify with that.

“But at the same time, there were these black guys in my neighborhood who kept trying to turn me on to the music of jazz musicians like Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and James Moody.

“At first it was too sophisticated for me. I could tell when a jazz player was real smooth and had a lot of chops. But the subtle things like timing - and when a good jazz drummer like Jimmy Cobb would do pops and break in and out of time - that went right over my head,” he said.

Then Ferguson, who began playing guitar when he was 13, joined a local band called the Squires. “We started out working for the manager of the old Westend Theater at 34th and Broadway, playing for horror shows. We’d travel to different small theaters in towns like Bardstown and Eminence and play Saturday matinees.

“They’d show a werewolf movie and then we’d come out and get down playing rock n’roll for about 30 minutes. Once we played a drive-in theater in Radcliff. It rained, so the whole band had to get inside the concession stand and play in front of the window so the audience could see us.”
A couple of years later, the Squires evolved into the rock n’roll band the Mersey Beats. And that’s when Ferguson met Terry Adams, now point man for NRBQ.

“Up until I met Terry, I never knew anyone who was determined to play music at any cost. It didn’t take long until I felt just like he did. I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else but playing music, and I was only 16 years old.”

Ferguson said the Adams was later fired from the Mersey Beats because he refused to cut his hair. Ferguson also quit the band and then something unusual happened.

“One day Terry and his brother Don made a tape in their basement fooling around with jazz drummer Charlie Craig. They were playing 12-bar blues and things. And they decided to call themselves the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, after the Modern Jazz Quartet. I don’t think they took it seriously at the time, but after I left the Mersey Beats, we decided to form the band and play just the kind of music we wanted to play.”

That music was rhythm-and-blues made popular by artists like O.V. Wright and Tommy Tucker. Although Adams was very familiar with other kinds of music, like the jazz of Thelonious Monk and the space music of Sun Ra, NRBQ hadn’t yet started to play those songs on jobs,” Ferguson said.

Later, Ferguson said, he and Adams moved to Florida and after a couple of false starts met up with bassist Joey Spampinato, singer Frankie Gadler and drummer Tom Staley. In 1968 the band moved to New York City and landed a job at Steve Paul’s Scene, an underground nightclub.

“We were so strange the crowd went crazy. We were playing old-time rock n’roll and they loved that, but we’d turn right around and play a Thelonious Monk tune or something by Sun Ra like “Rocket No. 9.”

During that club date, Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records heard the band and later signed them to a recording contract. “I was one of the first guys Davis approached that night. He said he really liked us and thought we had great potential,” Ferguson said.

Then in 1971, after NRBQ’s second album ( a record that paired them with singer Carl Perkins) had been released, Ferguson left the and.

“Back then, no matter how smashed on alcohol or out of control I got, I knew I just had to know myself for myself. I felt intimidated and suppressed, so I came back to Louisville.”

Back in Louisville, Ferguson formed a new band called Hoopie Ferguson and the Wild Dogs. “We recorded a single in Nashville with a song I wrote called “When You Snooze You Lose” on one side and “I Need Good Lovin’ “ on the other. It has become a collector’s item in New England.”

After a short while, Ferguson rejoined NRBQ but left again for good in 1974. From 1976 until a 1984 interview with former SCENE Music Editor Laurice Niemtus, Ferguson said, he didn’t take his playing seriously.

“I was on different religious excursions, exploring and investigating everything, I was still playing, but I wasn’t being productive or creative. But after Laurice did her article on me, which said among other things that I had an imposter out on the West Coast using my name, it kind of fired me up. It made me think, “Well, maybe I can succeed and have records out again someday.”

So Steve is back in the studio.
He has formed a publishing company with Mike Franklin and Bob Hunter, owners of Artists Recording Service, Inc, 908 Barrett Ave. He is recording an album with them, featuring his own compositions, that will be called “Fun for Fools.”

The last song on the first side of the album will be “Sweet Laurice,” a song Ferguson wrote in memory of Niemtus, who was killed in a boating accident in the Bahamas last November.

In the meantime, Ferguson is sitting in at Tewligan’s Tavern, playing an instrument he invented 16 years ago but just recently named. “It’s a muted slide guitar, played with mallets. I call it the Electro Magnetic Cyclophone,” Ferguson said.

What’s his biggest wish for the future? “I’d like to play a concert,” he said, “with Prof. Irwin Corey as my lead singer.”

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times “SCENE magazine - October 12, 1985

To be included in the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011


photo by Danny O'Bryan

Chain Saw Massacre

He's back, my neighbor
with the chain saw
attacking the trees.
He's climbed up into
the top of an elegant
maple, dressed in
camo, a safety line
attached to his waist.
He's on a mission of
destruction, slicing the
limbs off and
tossing their remains
down to the ground.
Why is he doing this?
The trees have done nothing
but provide shade and beauty
through many seasons.
I've noticed he lives alone,
has few friends and walks
with a cocky air.
Soon, the lot around his
house will be stripped
nude of foliage, barren
like my neighbor's

Danny O'Bryan

Saturday, January 15, 2011


For Phil Bailey jazz music is a hobby, a job, a lifelong love

On weekday afternoons in Louisville when the radio airwaves are filled with the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, WFPL disc jockey Phil Bailey is busy playing records by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Bailey is the host of the station’s “Jazz Today” program and also musical director of WFPK, WFPL’s sister station. The work is perfect for the Maine native, who has loved music - and jazz in particular - since the early 1950s.

“When I was growing up, I was a baseball fan; and I used to listen to the Red Sox play on WHDH in Boston. Then I got into the habit of listening to the music they played on the station after the game was over,” Bailey said.

Bailey explained that during the early ‘50s, commercial radio stations were still playing a lot of big band music by band leaders such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

“I loved to listen to this music, but I didn’t realize that even back then it was already 10 or 15 years old,” he said.

Then in 1960, when Bailey enlisted in the Navy, a fellow seaman turned him on to modern jazz. “This guy was a bebop fanatic; and when I asked him what kind of records to buy, he’d always recommend albums by jazz artists,” Bailey said.

When Bailey came to Louisville in 1965 he was a jazz addict. “I was looking for a job in radio then. I finally found a disc jockey position, but it was for a station in Madison, Ind,” he said.

Working and living in Madison didn’t stop Bailey from getting involved in the jazz scene in Louisville. He hosted one of the city’s early jazz programs on WHAS radio in the mid 1960s and was a charter member of the original Louisville Jazz Council, founded in 1966. That same year, Bailey, who is also a pianist, trumpeter and bassist, joined the local musician’s union.
In Spite of his busy schedule, Bailey found time for another on of his interests, tape recording.

“I got to record many great jazz musicians in Louisville during the late 1960s when they appeared here in concert. People like trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry. And saxophonist Phil Woods,” he said.

During the 1970s Bailey spent most of his time outside of Louisville, as a pop-music disc jockey for radio stations in Lexington and Bowling Green, Ky.

“Between the time my jazz show died on WHAS in 1967 and (the time) I started working for a public radio station in Bowling Green in 1980, I got to play very little jazz on the radio,” he said.

In Bowling Green, Bailey got a chance to study classical music. “I was working as a disc jockey at night, and I wanted to find something to do during the day, so I started taking music courses at Western Kentucky University ,” he said.

Bailey’s daytime music courses led to a master’s degree in music from Western. And when he came back to Louisville in the fall of 1982, he was hired as music director for the Louisville Free Public Library’s FM classical music station WFPK.

“At that time I was also hired as music director for WFPK’s sister station WFPL-FM; but Gerry Weston, who was then hosting the “Jazz Tonight” show was doing such a good job (that) I let him handle most of the music.” (Weston was recently promoted to station manager of WFPL.)

Bailey said there is no conflict of interest in his promotion of both classical music and jazz.

“I look at it this way. Classical music is a foreign language I’ve learned to speak well, but jazz is my native tongue. When I first got interested in jazz, people were more narrow minded. If you were a classical music fan, you had to be against jazz, and vice versa.

“But classical musicians have always been jazz fans, and jazz musicians have always appreciated classical music. That attitude is finally being accepted by the public. Today on WFPK-FM we air some shows that feature work by the Kronos Quartet. That’s a classical string quartet that plays all kinds of 20th century music, from Jimi Hendrix and Thelonious Monk to Shostakovich,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bailey’s “Jazz Today” show, which airs Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., continues to spread the word of jazz throughout the city. The show regularly features interviews with local and national jazz musicians; and Bailey spends a lot of time informing his listeners about the music he plays.

“I think of a radio show as a kind of symphony, with the records being movements of a symphony, and my patter and commercials as transitions between those movements.”

By Danny O’Bryan
“Around Downtown., The Courier Journal, 1/6/86

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Danny O'Bryan interviews Louisville artist Stephen Irwin - July 28, 2002

D. O. Where did you grow up?

S. I. I’m from Vine Grove, Kentucky. I loved growing up in a small town but like they say, there is "one" in every town. I was probably the most obvious because of my refusal to conform. That’s in Hardin County about an hour from here. About 2,000 people.

D. O. When did you discover your difference?

S. I. Real young, by the time I was 12 years old. But I never had any problem with feeling outside of things. I was never really made to feel that way.

S. I. So you vented your difference through art?

D. O. I think that’s the choice most creative people have to make to conform or go on and do what is their natural inclination. I never had any doubt that I wanted to do creative work, I always wanted to be an artist.

D. O. How old are you?

S. I. I'm 43 years old.

D. O. You don't look 43.

S. I. I wish I could blame it on clean living. I think most artists have a child like way about them a Peter Pan syndrome. Whether it shows physically are not, but you can see it in the eyes the windows of the soul.

I went to school at Murray for fine arts my parents died when I was in my teens. I wasn’t a very good student but Murray had a great atmosphere it was a great fine arts school and really opened my eyes to a lot of things.

I moved to Louisville because it was a big city I’ve never been intimidated by Louisville.
I still feel like its just a big small town. I moved here in 1984 and went into retail and I worked for Ben Synder’s department store I ran their visual merchandising department. I ran like 13 stores but I refused to buckle under to the corporate structure after they were bought out by Hess.

But it was a good outlet, it taught me a lot about people and selling and changing things rapidly upon demand, which i think is one of my strengths

D. O. Are you an Underground artist?

S. I. Under ground above ground all around ground! I’ve always been able to move through several different worlds at the same time, it’s one of my strengths. I can go from working for large corporations to working for somebody like Bim Dietrich at the Red Lounge. I work for the Kentucky Arts and Craft Foundation and film maker Archie Borders. The range of people I work with is pretty broad.

D. O. Where did you get your unique style? The first time I went in the Red Lounge I told Michael, the bartender, "I've been here before. This looks like Sparks nightclub!"

S. I. I’m fairly well educated visually and I’ve lived in urban areas like the Market St. area for most of the time I’ve been in Louisville. I’m sure that makes a huge impression on my aesthetics.

D. O. What kind of theme do you work with when designing a place like Sparks or the Red Lounge?

S. I. The only constant at Sparks was change It was about responding to the zeitgeist. It was constantly changing and developing.

D. O. I especially remember the swinging metal door that led to the uni-sex rest room.

S. I. Everything about Sparks was omni-sexual. Straight people called it a gay bar and gay people called it a straight bar. Actually it was a beautiful mix. I created it, worked and ran it for almost ten years I did it successfully for only five years before I got tired of that life style.

As I neared my 40s, drugs and alcohol and the idea of standing at the end of the bar doing Ecstasy and wearing baby gap was less appealing. We used to do foam parties, that was ten years ago. We would fill the place up with sprinklers and get two or three feet of water in there and go crazy. People would show up in their swim suits.

What about your work with Archie Border's new film "Paper Cut?"

S. I. Working on "Paper Cut" has been about looking back to 1992 which is when I was really excited about Sparks. So, I’ve revisited a lot of those memories and for the first time I’ve felt a little nostalgic about that time. All of a sudden I realized it was the most decadent place this town has ever seen. It was like Berlin in the 1920s I think we needed places like that in the early 90s. It was a time of great energy and expression. There was a sort of fearlessness going on.

D. O. This is starting to sound like the sixties,

S. I. We were in the last decade of the century. I got the name "Sparks" from the old Traffic song.

D. O. Did you have anything particular that you wanted to do there?

S. I. I always felt that growing up, being in my early 20s and coming to Louisville I only had a few places I could hang out in. There was City Lights and the old Downtowner or the Discovery drag bar. Gay people didn't mix at all in a drag bar.

One of the things that was very important to me was answering the question, "Where do all the freaks go!" A place where sexuality doesn't matter but it's all about the people who go there, like an island of misfit toys! I felt like it was very important to this town to have a place where all these different kinds of people could sort of collide.

I think when you look at my work its about how different materials and different surfaces and ideas collide. Startling juxtapositions. In my personal art work it is somewhat the same, I draw very delicately and precisely on plastic, which is a very unforgiving surface and then I heat it, so there is really no control of it. A 3-D effect, graphite on plastic. I’m currently in a show at the Speed museum called "Other Bodies" and I’m Exposition Coordinator at Zephyr Gallery.

There is a hard and soft thing about me that can be seen in everything I've ever done
masculine meets feminine and hard meets soft.

In the Red lounge you have a concrete floor and button tufted booths, a steel wains coat balanced with padded walls and very evocative nostalgic light boxes with photo prints in them.

The photos are from my friend John Larr who I worked with for years He is a very well known commercial photographer. Those are photos that he took in Europe They seem to describe another time and place without being specific. They really could be almost anywhere at first glance but all of a sudden you wonder, where are they exactly? There is a strange dis-association about them.

Our culture is really big on black and white and it’s not that way. There are so many shades of gray. I always felt that the best thing I could do for the community is to encourage young people to be here and stay here and contribute to the artistic climate of this town.

People aren't leaving Louisville like they used too. They have discovered this is a pretty good place to be. The cultural climate has improved for artists and designers and as a consequence this town is a much more exciting place to live in.

There has been more artistic activity and growth here in the last five years than there has been in the last 20. It’s a real exciting time and for somebody in my age group. In some ways I feel like I've been able to contribute to that.

D. O. What is the strangest thing that ever happened in Sparks?

S. I. Funny you asked that, just the other day Mistress Atiegar asked me, "Do you remember the time we turned Brandy into a human chandelier, hung her from a beam and plugged all her orfices with candles and lit them?"

I told her, "Well I was trying to block that from my memory but now that you mention it, it all comes rushing back!" That's when I decided I couldn't use any of my personal experiences in Archie's movie "Paper Cut" because nobody would ever believe it. The things we did and got away with.

S & M was part of the zeitgeist of the early 90s. Of course our entire culture was built on the principal of dominance and submission.

We always had "Mother" working the door, this enormous drag queen who everybody loved. Nobody had ever seen a drag queen working the front door of a bar. Drag was booming then. Drag had never been out in front of people the way it was in the early 90s.

To me Sparks was a place where people could come and express themselves.

One of my friends once said “Stephen you can take credit for ruining an entire generation of young louisvillians. But I don’t think I ever made a dime and I’m sure I gave away more liquor than I ever sold.

But it was a damn good ride, it was like an E ticket ride at Kings island.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Singer Barbara Sodd and the Swing Street Band
photo by Danny O'Bryan


I am wearing
A suit of
People can see
It on me
And remark on
Its fabric
Cut and style
The way it broadens
My shoulders
Narrows my waist
The cuffs barely
Touching my
Golden shoes

Danny O'Bryan

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Another Night at the Movies

Bardstown Road Cinema 8 - Louisville, Ky - 2011
photo by Danny O'Bryan


Memories have
Vanished like used
Bags of pop corn
Sitting in a dumpster
Waiting to be discarded
Or the years
Mom Pop and Sis
Howled at Dick Van Dyke
And Johnny felt Suzie's
Flimsy bra strap through
Her sheer scented blouse
As he watched
Goldie Hawn's perfectly
Round ass ascend a ladder
Into celluloid

Danny O'Bryan


Rufus T. Firefly humps a Sunbeam.
photo by Danny O'Bryan

"Let us have a world of men and women with dynamos between their legs, a world of natural fury, of passion, action, drama, dreams, madness, a world that produces ecstasy, and not dry farts.

Henry Miller "Tropic of Cancer"
yardhog's journals 9/5/97

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Serenity Street Shrine on east Market Street, Louisville, Ky
photos by Danny O'Bryan

"Tom had been completely swept away, borne off with the music-jazz, the pure sound of it. He crouched with eyes and face raised to the sight of it...noding his head yes yes- a shoulder hunched urging on of the bassman to new highs with "Give it! Give it!...Here! Here!...Now take it!" - pumping notes one to one, artist to artist -- the sweet sweat eye-bond holding the both on that wave riding out and over...gone with it...

And coming back to the table, eyes wide serious, Tom said, "Now that's praying...
That's some kind of prayer...the new liturgy-Really, I'm not kiding. Closer than most of us'll ever get to it."

Thomas Merton at 118 Washington Street, jazz nightclub, Louisville, Ky in the sixties
excerpt from "Song for Nobody" by Ron Seitz

Friday, January 7, 2011


Hotel 21 C Pajama Party - 2009
photo by Danny O'Bryan

"We are actualizing the universe. Since we are part of the universe, that makes the universe (and us) self-actualizing."

"Without perception, the universe continues to generate an endless profusion of possibilites. The effect of perception, however, is immediate and dramatic. All of the wave function representing the observed system collapses, except one part, which actualizes into reality. No one knows what causes a particular possibility to actualize and the rest to vanish. The only law governing this phenomenon is statistical. In other words it is up to chance...."

The Dancing Wu Li Masters
Gary Zukav

"Sarina the fair-haired
Bedawnzing girl!

in the coitus position and starts throwing a fit at heaven with her loines.
She twists in pain, her face is distorted, teeth, hair falls, shoulders squirm and snake-She stays on the floor on her two hands supporting and knocking her works right at the audience of dark men, some of them college boys- Whistles! The organ music is lowdown get-down-there-what you doing down there blues..."

I look up, there are the stars, just the same desolation, and the angels
below who don't know they are angels-

Amd Sarina will die-
And I will die-and you will die, and we all will die, and even the stars will fade out one after another in time.

Jack Kerouac
Desolation Angels

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Danny O'Day at "Burlesque Mania" cd party.

Being a Stripper

1. Toiletries and Panties

My pubic hair's razored
to an imperfect geometry.
I took a milk bath.
Washed my hair with Paul Mitchell.
Everything should be shaved,
I'm ready to swim naked through men.
My cuticles are bleeding,
the left little toe is blistered
from walking in Santorini, Greece,
but honey
you know they won't be looking
for hands and feet.
Take the Secret antiperspirant, the Colgate red gel,
I'm out of lotion, white linen cologne, and make up bag.
Tonight Power
it's the new blue and green plaid bra and pantie;
(yuck what a word)
(Pantie: a woman or child's undergarment covering
the lower trunk and made with closed
crotch) Lovely.
so, plaid from Victoria's.
Yes, business men LOVED PLAID.
Young republicans love plaid,
The nineteen year olds that can't get laid
Won't care.

II. I am beautiful

I look great tonight.
The color from the Cyclades islands suits me.
I've lost weight. No zits.
I'm not going to wear much make-up.
Everybody can kiss my ass.
Oh shit, my ass.
Slowly, slowly turn around and let's see.
Fuck it. I curve.
If I put my arms straight out
behind me
I am the number 5.

Look at my body.
The bottoms to this outfit
lazy V along my bikini line.
Just flat coffee with cream colored waist
and a C at the small of my back.

I feel good like gloss
vitamin E gel and spaghetti straps
a shadow from my breasts
to my crotch
dividing my left from right.
I'm going to make bank.

III. You love me I'm moving

I am power. I am power.
I am power. I am power.
If I am an arched back
knees grinding stage (tomorrow's bruises)
palms down
toes curled
thighs slightly treed apart
my neck and hair stretched
you should be thinking of
pierced nipple
pierced navel
P. beautiful consonant
You love mine.
Pussy power.
You're watching my ass
looking for tan lines
that don't exist
except for where the bottom of my cheeks
meet the back of my thigh.
Pink cantaloupe slices.

IV. Sisters Daughters Mothers Wives

I'm feeling it
or feeling it skillfully.
Plaid becomes pink.
I look in your eyes
before you can look between my legs;
I love my body,
I embrace my sexuality,
I am comfortable with my nudity.
If anyone's eyes roll down
it will be yours.
Where's your daughter?
Your wife?
That's right.
I'm not one bit shy, ashamed or embarrassed.
I am power. I am power. I am power.
I feel more comfortable being here than you do.
taking weak money from obvious hypocrites who
couldn't see their sisters in my shoes.
You say your wife would never wear leather
or dance for you?
When was the last time you bought vinyl briefs
and a riding crop?
Now that I've gotten that out of the way,
pay me for being who I am.

I smile and there is nothing

between me and the cigarette air.

Carrie Michaelle Wright
Published in Heaven Chapbook Series #17
White Fields Press for the literary renaissance
Louisville, Kentucky, 1993

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Me and My Shadow

photo by Danny O'Bryan


Every day
He awakens
And finds a new toy
To play with
Today it's
New Year's light
Reflection his
Against a corner
More than enough
To banish dog

Danny O'Bryan

"Derby City Jazz" - One More One

The Hog having some quality time with the Punch Baby.

For jazz fans of the '40s, '50s and early '60s, jazz is much more than music.
It's a grand story about the people who made the music and how that music
changed over the years in reaction to its own artistic struggles and from
external pressures as the world around the musicians changed. Best of all,
the jazz story never ends. New details about the lives of jazz musicians
constantly emerge, and out-of-print recordings are constantly surfacing. It's
all so exciting.

Marc Myers

Jazz organist Hank Marr plays some fine mainstream music

Jazz is an extremely diverse music. Last month, the Louisville Jazz Society introduced local jazz fans to the scintillating hard bop of drummer Art Blakey. Last night during a concert by jazz organist Hank Marr’s Trio at Downstairs at Actors, the Society presented yet another kind of jazz.
This time the music wasn’t as serious or intense. It was just plain enjoyable laid back mainstream jazz performed by a master of the Hammond B3 organ.
Marr, 57, is a native of Columbus, Ohio, he started out playing music there with school mates, one of whom was the late multi-instrumentalist Rashaan Roland Kirk. Marr even backed up singer Nancy Wilson when she was still in high school and, as he put it during an interview at last night’s concert, “when she was just a singer in the band who sometimes got to sing and sometimes didn’t.”
But in 1955, Marr heard organist Jimmy Smith, and like a lot of other jazz piano players of his generation, fell in love with Smith’s huge soulful sound.
During last night’s concert, Marr displayed a lot of Smith’s influences, the lightning fast arpeggios and driving base lines. But his style also owes a debt to organist Wild Bill Davis, the man who penned the famous Count Basie arrangement of “April in Paris.” Like Davis he can make the organ sound like a whole orchestra.
Marr was accompanied last night by vocalist-trumpeter Bobby Alston and drummer Joe Ong. Their first tune, a blues line “Freddie the Freeloader” was a definite bow to Jimmy Smith.
Trumpeter Alston, looking like the archetypical jazz musician – dark suit, dark glasses, bearded, his head shaved – took the first couple of choruses. He displayed a fine technique and a warm, full tone. His solo was followed by Marr coming up from behind spurred on by the driving drums of Ong.
For their next tune, the trio chose the jazz classic “Blue Bossa.” As the name implies, it’s a bossa nova with a blues feeling and Marr and his men played it for all it was worth, including a passage or two in double time.
Before playing the next number Marr, seated behind the organ’s massive wood cabinetry and looking like a youthful Count Basie, informed the audience, “Anybody who doesn’t know the name of this next tune will have to leave the club and forfeit their money.”
There were no takers as Marr began the introduction to Duke Ellington’s famous “Satin Doll.” Alston shone on this tune, contributing a muted trumpet solo that was both laconic and tasteful.
The good-sized audience cheered Alston’s efforts and then was treated to some more liquid fire organ runs by Marr. Next, Alston dropped his role as trumpeter to become the trio’s singer.
He swung into a rocking rendition of “More” from the 60s movie “Mondo Cane.” Marr then charged in with an energetic solo quoting at time from the old song “Blue Skies.”
Drummer Ong was later featured in a special arrangement of Miles Davis’s “Milestones.” He showed fine technique as Alston and Marr fanned him with sheets of music to cool him off.
Marr is a fine musician and he plays an entertaining kind of jazz. During last night’s interview, he said he had played in Louisville several times before, particularly at the old Top Hat nightclub on Walnut Street. But that was over 30 years ago.
It’s real nice to see Hank Marr and his organ back again in Louisville.

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz”