The Very Thought of You

so the other night at the first-ever Jazz Casual, we were joined by Pete Gaudioso, a great Philly drummer who has also become a mesmerizing singer. He did a version of Ray Noble’s 1936 standard “The Very Thought of You,” one of those great songbook tunes that hasn’t been over-exposed. (Though, sadly, Rod Stewart did take a chainsaw to it for one of those depressing latter-day records of his.)

I’ve had the song in my head ever since Tuesday night, and just did the obligatory YouTube search for some nice versions. There are hundreds, but these two just completely tore me up — the Nat King Cole for his easygoing, confessional phrasing, the Shirley Horn for the incredibly demanding glacially slow tempo.

Nat King Cole:

Shirley Horn:


Does a nightclub event need a mission statement?

No, really.

It’s not a joke question. In recent years I’ve become a convert to the notion of the “mission statement,” that succinct attempt to capture often elusive, abstract goals in words. Before starting on just about any kind of project, I usually make lists of objectives and all that, trying to stay away from the squishier ideas that might come under the heading “Hopes and Dreams” in favor of more concrete measurable goals. So now, as we’re gearing up for the start of Jazz Casual, I find myself wondering if there’s benefit to generating a mission statement for it.

I can hear the derisive laughter from the oldtimers at the bar already: “You overthink everything! Just play music! Make people happy! Go exploring with some friends and see what happens!”

I hear that too. So….mission statement? And if so, what might it be?

BTW, Jazz Casual with TM and Friends begins Tuesday 9/27 at 8 pm at Milkboy Philly, 1100 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. 215.925.MILK. Come hear Mike Frank (keys), Ryan McNeely (guitar), Mark Pryzbylowski (bass), Eli Sklarsky (drums) and guest luminaries from Philly music!

Thoughts on the end of R.E.M.

As news of the R.E.M. breakup traveled around the web yesterday, one recurring comment I read on Facebook and Twitter went something like this: “About time! Should have happened twenty years ago!”

I’m no big admirer of the later studio recordings of the band from Athens – I’ve argued that the “rock” leaning efforts since Monster (1994) are plagued by an abundance of calculation and, at times, a troubling absence of the loose renegade spirit that drove the early works.

But as one who covered just about every album and tour (starting sometime in 1984), I object to those posts and the glib dismissal of a long career. First because fans and critics don’t – and shouldn’t – get a say in the “calling it quits” decision. Had R.E.M. actually hung up the spikes twenty years ago, the band would not have issued Out of Time or Automatic For the People – two of its most cohesive full-album listening experiences.

There’s also this: Given the particular complementary talents of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills, and the catalog they’ve created together, it’s completely unfair to judge them as “finished” – no matter how uninspired the last effort might have been. Most music critics, even ones known for their quick-trigger appraisals, try to approach every release with an open mind; the majority of them would invest time in listening to a new R.E.M. project. Not because the band was a commercial powerhouse and remains a viable “name act,” but because over and over again, for a really long time, R.E.M. offered up provocative, ear-stretching and often deeply moving music. Do that once and you’re an act to watch. Do that over and over, and you’ve got some mojo working. Mojo that commands at least an hour’s worth of respect.

Still, people slept on R.E.M. Some in the band’s fervent following bailed out when “Losing My Religion” became a huge hit. Some jumped even before that.  It’s safe to say that even some of the diehards missed what I consider the last great R.E.M. effort – Up! from 1998.

The first record without original drummer Bill Berry, Up! is R.E.M. at its most lush and orchestral, with hints of Pet Sounds in the gilded vocal harmonies and a touch of Lou Reed (a recurring influence on Stipe) in the wonderfully maladjusted lyrics about loners, apologists and sad professors. Mid-tempo and often downcast, it’s a leap into an unknown sound-world – a place where half-crazed characters reveal themselves not in overt declarations, but in contrast to the mysterious, flat-out breathtaking accompaniment rising up around them. It’s also a clear evolutionary step from what the band had done before. It’s the great lost R.E.M. record; many listeners, critics and fans alike, had harsh words for it because it wasn’t in the style of Automatic For the People. Which is a shame. Nowadays, that intolerance is much more prevalent: Anyone with a twitter feed can pop off about any band. To those folks, I say this: Check out “Suspicion” or “You’re in the Air” and then explain to me why anyone other than the individuals who created this music should say when it’s time to stop.

Lamenting the Facebook “Invite” System

OK, so as is evident by these posts, we’re in the midst of spreading the word about an event.

It’s natural to think that since Facebook traffics in “friends,” we should use their system to invite folks.

First problem: After being very careful about filling out the form, I discover that some of the key information — like who’s in the band and what time the event runs — didn’t make it.

That info, in bold for emphasis:

Tom Moon & Friends

Ryan McNeely (guitar); Mark Przybylowski (bass); Eli Sklarsky (drums).

With special guests: keyboardist extraordinaire Mike Frank (Fractals) and vocalist/drummer Pete Gaudioso.

Next problem: It’s impossible to simply invite one’s entire friend list. you have to go through and select/deselect each.

More absurd problem: For some reason, Facebook doesn’t let you do a recurring invite. Which means that my once-patient friends will now suffer through a series of potentially irritating updates regularly. It’s true that our info will change with different guests and themes and stuff, but still. There ought to be a system for weekly events like Jazz Casual. Or maybe there is and I don’t know it…..


at last, a calendar listing!

Mark your calendars!

Jazz Casual with Tom Moon and Friends

(a weekly happening devoted to the pursuit of creative music!)

First show is next Tuesday, September 27, with special guest: Mike Frank (The Fractals, Electric Farm).

8 p.m. – ???

Tuesday, September 27 and then every Tuesday!

$5 cover.

at Milkboy Philly

1100 Chestnut St.

Philadelphia, PA 19151


We’ll have a different guest every week, along with drink specials, themed evenings, surprises, etc.!

Please join us as we chase away those Tuesday blues!

what’s in a name? please help name this night!

Before twitter, before the status update, even before the annoying all-points email blast, there was the calendar listing — that short phrase describing a show or event, designed to be published in newspapers and other media. It still matters, incredibly. There are some who think the listings are the only reason print survives at all.

Why am I wasting precious Saturday time thinking about calendar listings?

(Hint: It’s not because I’m pining for the old days at the Miami Herald, where one of my jobs was to input the Movie Time Clock by hand, one theater and one film and one showtime at a time, my work supervised by a woman named Kathy Tune. Those were the thrills!)

No, it’s because on Monday I need to deliver a calendar listing about the Tuesday night jazz experiment at Milkboy downtown, which begins on September 27.

Oops I said “jazz.” Did I mean it? There are a bunch of highly skilled jazz musicians who would probably not include me in their ranks; sometimes invoking “jazz” invites a bit of scorn from the Jazz Police.

And at the same time, there are a bunch of people I’d like to share music with who don’t happen to know or care who played guitar on the sizzling Groove Holmes On Basie’s Bandstand record (answer: Gene Edwards!). It’s not fun performing just for obsessives, and in a way, the minute you use the word “Jazz” in a calendar listing, you’re telling all the possibly-interested nonjazzheads out there to be a little bit wary — could be beret-wearing chin-stroking super-serious jazz listeners attending. There’s an argument to be made that categories describing music are meaningless, and that argument gains traction where jazz is concerned. Few terms of art lug around so much baggage.

So what to do?

My friend Aaron suggested we call it “The Tuesday Happening” and identify the artist as “Tom Moon and the Jazz Casualties.” After the great Ralph Gleason TV series Jazz Casual.

That’s our frontrunner in the “Name This Evening” competition.

We need a description that conveys, in just a few words, what listeners might expect. Please help, won’t you?

What do we call this weekly evening anchored by my quintet and featuring special guests from all corners of Philly music? There will be lots of improvising going on, but not always over jazz tunes — we’ve been playing a bunch of samba and some originals that don’t meet the Wynton Marsalis Industry Standard for jazz content.

Deadline is Monday. Thanks in advance.

Cover Charge or Tip Jar???

What’s better? A $5 cover when you walk in, or a jar with a “suggested donation” sign?

Before you answer (and please, do answer!), think about this: Anymore, it’s crazy challenging to cobble together a decent living playing music. Which means it’s almost impossible to keep a band (playing any type of original music) together. Which means it’s difficult to develop a cohesive sound, let alone new ideas or new music. And on and on, into a vicious spiral that ends in some karaoke bar where crimes against music happen nightly, at no additional charge. We’ll always have “I Will Survive.”

This situation is doubly challenging in jazz or instrumental music. Some of Philadelphia’s best jam sessions are free; some of the least interesting musically require listeners and players to pay. What’s the best way to make sure that the members of a house band, people who play for four hours with just a few breaks, leave a club with at least gas money? Musician pay has been depressed for so long, many clubgoers probably don’t realize that the music accompanying their $15 appletinis is being made by people who are not getting paid.

As I’ve talked with the Milkboy Philly crew about the session that’ll start on September 27 in the tremendous new Milkboy second-floor space at the corner of 11th and Chestnut Streets, these questions keep recurring. There may be no easy resolution. Our goal is to develop a following for an evening of music that’s a bit different from what’s going on right now. That will take time. And it costs money. How to make it work?


Small World Story

So last night we had another gathering of the “Music Salon” crew out in Malvern. It’s hard to describe the proceedings; basically it’s a group of music lovers sitting around listening to records — and last night we were lucky to be hearing music on a system built by Geoff Daniels, the evening’s host. He’s built his own turntable and these speakers that might be the most accurate I’ve ever heard. Their sound is rich, complex, pure thrills with nothing in the way. Everyone involved brought great music to share, and even things we’ve heard a lot — Springsteen’s “Jungleland” — really resonated in that atmosphere.

I never bring vinyl, mostly because I don’t have much left. But in a long-overdue attic cleanup my wife found a copy of Fireballet’s Night On Bald Mountain, a 1975 record by a short-lived American prog-rock band in which they do a spot-on synthesizer-heavy rock version of the Mussorgsky symphonic classic. I’ve had it since my prog phase from high school, and hadn’t seen it in easily 20 years, so it was interesting to share both the surprisingly faithful rendition of Night On Bald Mountain and also a lovely original, “Atmospheres.” As the cover was passed around, one of our founding members, Arthur Mann, shook his head because for many years he worked with Jim Como, the lead singer and drummer of Fireballet, at Ryko. They’re still in touch.

What are the chances, really? A record I lost track of after high school from a band that was known marginally (though remains much beloved within a small circle of American  progressive obsessives) turning up at a gathering in 2011, where a personal connection to one of the musicians is discovered?

If you’re curious, there are several Fireballet offerings on YouTube. Here’s a link to one:

What Makes a Night?

The question was tossed out in a tone of total skepticism: Is it possible to do a different kind of night devoted to creative music in Philadelphia? The conversation was about jam sessions, because there’s always a jam session somewhere in Philly, and my friend who’s been in the live music business here forever began ticking off a laundry list of aesthetic challenges associated with the time-honored ritual of the jam session: Songs that go on forever; a line of eager horn players waiting to play; no sense of a band sound – just one standard after another, with bebop classics thrown in for good measure.  At some jams, it’s not even about the whole band, it’s just about the “look at me, look how fast I can play!” experience.

Then came the challenge: Does it have to be this way? Can it be done differently? Is it possible to “build” an evening of jazz that has a different feel to it? Might we create an open, inviting atmosphere, a listening vibe? What would go into such an evening?

We’re about to find out. Starting on September 27, the new Milkboy downtown will feature a weekly jazz-related happening hosted by yours truly. It’ll be anchored by the quintet I’ve been playing with and it will showcase many of the city’s engaging singers and fast-rising instrumentalists.

This blog begins as the shaping of this evening begins.  Over the next few weeks, in this space, I hope to engage in some open brainstorming on the theme of “What Makes a Night?” When you think about it, the subject is surprisingly squishy: We all know what a cool vibe in a club feels like, but it’s not always obvious what goes into said vibe, all the little things like what happens between sets. Are we building an open cattle-call jam or something more curated, with a few carefully selected invited guests? Please jump into this conversation with ideas of all kinds, from abstract notions on the theme of “what makes a night?” to specific thoughts about what might help accelerate the growth and development of creative music in Philadelphia to catchy names that instantly let people know what to expect.


PS: check out the coolness! Milkboy in Philadelphia:


first (test) post

well now. it has been years of watching blogland. silently. something about it didn’t click with me before (a treatise on this will follow later), could be simply that for a long time I was paid to write. giving away insights and ideas, however half-baked they might be, has seemed somehow less than fulfilling, if not an exercise in futility.

the hope is that this little corner will be different. if not useful exactly, at least quirky. interesting. mildly eyebrow-raising.