Album reviews by Eric Sandberg — The Red Beans & Rice Combo - Let the Joy Begin — Tom McDermott - Podge Hodge — Charlie Dennard - Deep Blue
I grew up in Pittsburgh in the seventies as an anxiety-ridden white male. My father is a jazz and classical music loving PhD and my mother, a talented artist. I formed a love of music at an early age mostly under the tutelage of 13Q AM and their cool illustrated music charts distributed weekly at the National Record Mart (Boy I wish I still had those).
I eventually graduated to WDVE FM and all the Pink Floyd, Yes, Led Zeppelin, etc. that came with it. I explored more 'off the beaten path' music from friends. I still remember standing on Stew O'Nan's porch, ringing the doorbell as a swirling dirge of Klaus Schulze flowed out of his bedroom window. Mark Gaudio told me about a song by Chris Spedding called "Get Outta My Pagoda." I had to hear that.
I discovered Gary Numan when a DJ played "Are Friends Electric" at 2:00 AM while I was cleaning the kitchen counters at Beth Shalom Synagogue. That led me to Ultravox, Japan and David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto and many others.
My father was bemused by my musical tastes. He once reluctantly admitted that The Wall was "musical" but he clearly saw Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Steve Howe for the frauds they were when they attempted to play jazz. Try as he might, my dad was never able to get me to see the light when it came to jazz or classical music. I was so ignorant that, several years ago, I sent him a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue for his birthday. His response was confusion. "I despise modern jazz" he told me. Until that moment, I didn't understand the difference between traditional and modern jazz.
A few years ago Facebook afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with a wonderful guy who sat behind me with a trumpet in Band and Orchestra at Taylor Allderdice high school for four years. As we got reacquainted, Tom Roberts learned that I had done absolutely nothing with my life while he was developing an impressive musical career, playing in a jazz duo with his wife, suffering on the road as part of Leon Redbone's band and developing his prodigious piano chops as he helps to keep the art of "stride" piano alive.
Aside from our mutual school friends, you could imagine that Tom has a lot of interesting friends on his Facebook feed. Names like Wayno and Tom McDermott and Scott Black. Now Tom McDermott and Scott Black are people my dad is always talking about. My dad and my saintly stepmother Sue spent a lot of their retirement hanging out in 'Nawlins', befriending musicians like Tom, Scott, Evan Christopher, Tom McLaughlin, Jack Maheu and others. He had even heard of my friend Tom Roberts.
Perhaps my only real talent in life is posting pithy comments in other people's social media threads. I've parlayed this talent into cyber friendships with many of these people, including a gent named Charlie Dennard, who is as nice and humble as he is an incredibly talented pianist, organist, composer, arranger and band leader.
Tom Roberts, recently settled back in Pittsburgh and has formed a jazz trio fronted by the aforementioned Wayno (who is also a brilliant cartoonist who more than likely appears in your dying local newspaper every Monday through Saturday). The Red Beans & Rice Combo, Charlie Dennard and Tom McDermott have all released new albums in the past year and, whether it is an altruistic desire to support virtual friends or a sense of guilt instilled in me from growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, I purchased my first ever jazz albums for myself.
First was The Red Beans & Rice Combo's Let The Joy Begin. Because Wayno is more of a talented crooner with a twinkle in his eye than a vocalist on the order of Sarah Vaughn, this band mines a rich vein of whimsical jazz/pop. "Calling All Cars" by Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Liggen's "I Ain't Drunk," "One Meatball," "Save The Bones," "Who Drank My Beer?" You get the idea. The album lives up to its title - it is pure joy from start to finish, anchored by drummer Dave Klug, filled-in by Robert's world-class piano (and whistling) and brought to life by Wayno's charming ukulele skills and vocal delivery. Let The Joy Begin is now my go-to album when I need a lift, replacing Black Sabbath's Sabotage.
L-R: Dave Klug, Wayno, Tom Roberts
Tom McDermott has released many albums in his career as a New Orleans club fixture and is perhaps the most famous of my new virtual friends. I have one of his my father gave me called Louisianthology which, to my best guess, was conceived to introduce New Orleans jazz and its influences to children and employs a liberal use of electronic instruments to hold their attention.
Podge Hodge is McDermott's 17th CD release and also lives up to its name. It is a 24-track hodgepodge of tunes curated from earlier, out of print, albums along with a generous helping of refashioned numbers, many of which are previously unreleased. It sports a wide assortment of Jazz styles, full band numbers (clarinetist Evan Christopher is featured) and solo piano. As such, Podge Hodge serves as a perfect companion anthology to Louisianthology for adult ears.
Tom McDermott and friend - photo by John McCusker/The Advocate
I honestly had no clue who Charlie Dennard was when he sent me (!) a friend request on Facebook (I must have typed something pretty funny in one of Tom McDermott's threads). I had to look him up. You should too. His list of accomplishments and collaborations is too long to cite here, but it is impressive. He has a new album out of all original material titled Deep Blue. I am not even going to try to review this album because I'm not remotely qualified.
I've read several reviews of Deep Blue on jazz websites and, like just about everything my uncle Bernard Holland wrote about music in the New York Times, I didn't understand a word. One thing I can say is that I like it very much. It's beautiful. The arrangements are crisp, the engineering and mixing make you feel like you're in the room, and the musicians utilized to expand on Dennard's piano themes are clearly among the best in town.
The opening track "St Charles Strut" announces itself with a captivating drum solo and the motif teases you with the melody from "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" but stops short by repeating the penultimate (my father's favorite word) note rather than complete the familiar line. I honestly am not sure whether Dennard is doing this on purpose or he is just too high brow a musician to be aware of it.
These three wonderful releases, along with a box full of CDs my dad sent me - teeming with George Lewis, The Dukes of Dixieland, Errol Garner and countless others - are finally getting through to me and for this, I am grateful.
https://www.facebook.com/RedBeansCombo/ https://www.tomrobertspiano.com/red-beans-rice-combo http://mcdermottmusic.com/
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.