“Two for Tea” (JCHF-01), by the John Clark / Henry thins Francis Duo,
is available for $15.00 plus $2.00 shipping ($5.00 overseas) from
Mephistopheles Records, 16 Sunnyside Lane, Lincoln, MA 01773.
Several different payment options are available.
To sample some of the music, you can listen to audio clips.
I enjoy the thoughtfully energetic stride playing of Henry Francis. He has an alchemical touch — the ability to transform the most tired material (“The Entertainer”) into a dancing flight of fancy, nearly Mozartean. He doesn’t pound out Waller clichés; rather, he weaves his ideas into delicate traceries, leading and following John Clark with great ease. For his part, Clark is a fluid player who doesn’t waste notes; he has an attractive tone on all his reed instruments. I am especially fond of the two medleys: Clark shows off his lustrous alto on “You Go To My Head,” and the duo moves gracefully through “Louisiana Fairy Tale” into a romping “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, making me regret that Fats Waller never recorded it (Francis’s vocal, sly and witty, is a delight). The Rodgers medley begins with a melting “Where or When,” with Clark’s alto caressing the melody, and continues gloriously. He is especially impressive on a reed-and-key-changing “Ja Da” and, on feathery baritone, “Sophisticated Lady.” The duo works together splendidly, but I kept marveling at Francis — I hope he embarks on many more duet CDs with other gifted players.
— Michael Steinman, Cadence Magazine, April-May-June 2009
With unique arrangements and a varied play list, this CD swings with good taste and strong likeable personality. As a duo, it’s easier to focus on each player individually to hear how mutually supportive their playing is. There is a fullness of sound in intelligent arrangements skillfully played that is remarkable for a duo! This CD includes traditional jazz classics, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller tunes, and a few from Broadway, performed with originality and flair. One of the nicest CD surprises I’ve heard in quite a while!
— Harvey Barkan, L.A. Jazz Scene, September 2008
“Two for Tea” is a wonderfully appealing album by the pianist Henry Francis and reed player John Clark. They continue through a program of songs from the 1920s and 1930s in a style that is of that period, but they never sound dated. When you are having fun, as you will listening to “Two for Tea”, time goes by more quickly than it seems.
— Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz, September 2008
John Clark and Henry Francis have created an enjoyable recording. Francis’ style is gentler than most other stride ticklers, giving the listener opportunities to appreciate the nuances and complexities that often become just a blur during a four-alarm setting. However, even when Clark’s clarinet and saxophones are forefront (which is often), the piano is doing a whole lot more than boom-chicking in the background. Harmonic interplay is frequent, but there is plenty of free improvisation that’s always paying its respects to the melody. “Tea for Two” is a tour-de-force, and “Panama” is a jazz classic featuring Latin hints and great harmonic interplay. The oddest inclusion is Scott Joplin’s classic rag, “The Entertainer”. It’s given a medum bounce with good harmonic interplay. I never thought I would vote for a jazzy interpretation, but this one got under my skin (the melody is never very far away). The sound is very good, and the liner notes make for a quintessential example. This album is worthy of investigation.
— Jack Rummel, Ragtime Music Reviews, October 2008
Maybe I should not compare this disc to the ones that Dick Wellstood and Kenny Davern have made, but it is at least close and just as interesting. John Clark is a fine musician. He plays many of the instruments in the reed family, to give this compact disc some contrast. Henry Francis is a really good stride pianist and uses this form during most of the CD — The Elllington items are an exception. The two have worked together for over a decade now, and the rapport due to this long association is quite evident. The tune selection is very interesting. The program does not drag anywhere. Because of the use of different reed instruments and the variety of tempos, your interest does not lag during the 67 minutes of music. Recording quality is five. This is a well-recommended CD.
— Herb Young, IAJRC Journal, Fall 2008 (International Association of Jazz Record Collectors)
This CD presents the jazz duo consisting of clarinetist/saxophonist John Clark and pianist Henry “thins” Francis. Over the years of performing together (since 1996), a bag of unique arrangements has evolved, and these have finally been captured for posterity. The musical genre is best described as classic hot jazz, a distinct type of American music which developed during the first half of the 20th century, covering the beginnings of jazz through the swing era. John and Henry concentrate on the rich source known as The Great American Songbook, which encompasses music (mostly songs) written by Broadway composers, pop songwriters, and jazz musicians. Their extensive knowledge of jazz and American popular song has yielded a large eclectic repertoire of interesting material, which they play with exuberance, swing, and taste.
On this CD, John Clark plays clarinet plus four different saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone). John is influenced stylistically by many different New Orleans, Swing and Mainstream jazz musicians. He plays professionally with his own Wolverine Jazz Band, which is dedicated to performing, preserving, and expanding traditional jazz. They enjoy great success and have recorded 7 CDs. He has also played with numerous other traditional jazz bands and several big swing bands. He performs regularly with Henry’s band, The Swing Legacy, and is on their latest CD.
Henry Francis is what is known as a “stride” pianist (watch and listen to his left hand!), an almost extinct species characterized by its athletic left hand. He is principally influenced by Fats Waller (hence the name “thins”), Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. As a soloist, he has played at many jazz clubs and festivals, and a solo piano CD has been well-received. Henry also leads and writes the arrangements for The Swing Legacy, a septet which presents the repertoire, polish, and energy of classic big-band swing music, and they have recorded 2 CDs.
This CD includes a variety of the most interesting and exciting items from John & Henry’s repertoire:
a rag (The Entertainer)
a blues (Beale Street Blues)
a few traditional jazz classics (Panama, Riverboat Shuffle, Ja-Da)
two Duke Ellington compositions (The Mooche, Sophisticated Lady)
two Fats Waller songs (Willow Tree, Blues Is Bad)
some superior pop songs & show tunes (Tea for Two, You Go to My Head, Where or When)
a few unclasssifiable musical gems (Nuages, I’m Coming Virginia)
and more ...
John & Henry demonstrate that musical creativity and artistic viability can be achieved today in a noncontemporary jazz idiom. Analogously, musicians continue to perform Beethoven, and the public pays to hear them do so.
Here are links to downloadable audio samples from the CD, each about 60 seconds long. These are MP3 files averaging about 1MB. Just click on the song title to download the audio clip.
1. RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE. Originally titled “Free Wheeling”, this tune was written by an Indiana University law student named Hoagy Carmichael. He gave it to the Wolverines, a band featuring Bix Beiderbecke, who recorded it in 1924 after deciding to apply a more marketable title.
2. WILLOW TREE was written by Fats Waller for the 1928 Broadway show “Keep Shuffling”. It is a study in “bluesiness”, although structurally it is not a 12-measure blues.
3. TEA FOR TWO. To demonstrate the versatility of Vincent Youmans’ iconic 1924 song, we play it in 3 different tempos, squeezing out every possible bit of musical nourishment. Henry begins with the seldom-heard verse, a miniature musical gem in its own right. This song became a playground for jazz pianists, in which they competed to see who could produce the most complex variations of the original song; Henry joins the fracas in his second solo chorus, tipping his hat to Art Tatum.
4. BLUES IS BAD. Written by Fats Waller (we assume), but never recorded commercially. We learned it from a rare 1937 recording Fats made for himself at home. This is a poignant, introspective piece, along the lines of his “Black and Blue”.
5. THE ENTERTAINER. This popular Scott Joplin rag, published in 1902 as a piano piece, is characterized by its call-and-response structure, which we emphasize in our version.
6. J. FRED COOTS MEDLEY: YOU GO TO MY HEAD (1938), LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (1935), SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (1934). Here we pay tribute to J. Fred Coots, a very fine and greatly underrated songwriter. Coots was a close friend of Fats Waller, and Fats recorded many of his songs, which have much the same musical temperament as Waller’s own songs.
7. BEALE STREET BLUES. Among the first blues ever published, this 1916 tune by “The Father of the Blues” W. C. Handy was named for the notorious street in Memphis that nurtured music and sinful revelry in equal parts.
8. SOPHISTICATED LADY. This typically lush Duke Ellington ballad was composed in 1933, and it has fueled jazz musicians ever since. Duke, as always, was ahead of everyone. John pays tribute to Duke’s long-time baritone saxophonist Harry Carney. Apropos of the introduction, John neglected to remind Henry that he is not in fact Alexander Scriabin.
9. PANAMA. Published in 1911 as a habanera, it soon became a popular staple of New Orleans parade bands, as a 2/4 march.
10. THE MOOCHE (1928). During his four year tenure (1927-31) at Harlem’s Cotton Club, Duke Ellington developed his so-called “jungle sound”, designed originally to make his band appear as exotic, primitive, and African as possible to the affluent whites who ventured uptown in droves for cultural titillation. However, in retrospect he had created a sophisticated, vital, expressive orchestral medium. “The Mooche” is, with its strong slow 4/4 beat and its very imaginative harmony, an archetypal Ellington jungle piece. The Mooche was the name of a slow dance.
11. JA-DA. Not being content to play this simple little ditty as normal people would, we present it in 8 different keys (avoiding, however, the 4 really hard ones).
12. NUAGES. The great French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt composed this tune (also known by its English title “Clouds”) in 1940, while avoiding the Gestapo in Paris. The floating harmonic quality of the piece brings to mind the French impressionist composers Debussy et al.
13. RICHARD RODGERS MEDLEY: WHERE OR WHEN (1937), YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL (1932), BLUE ROOM (1926). Among the greatest of American Broadway-show composers, Richard Rodgers survived various trends and evolved through many stylistic phases. His compositions from the period on which we concentrate are faultless examples of art uniting with craft.
14. I’M COMING VIRGINIA. Donald Heywood’s great song from 1927 is primarily known as one of the first jazz ballads, immortalized by a Bix Beiderbecke/Frankie Trumbauer recording. John’s use of the soprano sax is inspired by Sidney Bechet’s classic 1941 recording.
15. I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU. Originally a very popular waltz from 1929 (demonstrated by Henry’s introductory chorus), this attractive song was eventually converted to 4/4 time by a few enlightened jazz bandleaders, such as Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Goodman.