I first heard Kevin Dorn play drums at Ray Cerino’s birthday party in October 2004, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mark Shane, and Vince Giordano – the best in their line. And I was astonished. Who was this young man who had so thoroughly learned the lessons of George Wettling, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Dave Tough, and Sidney Catlett? He knew everything about swinging, steady, unobtrusive time, about varying his timbres behind each soloist, about kicking a band into a hollering outchorus. He wasn’t imitating anyone – he was himself, in the moment, which made his playing creative, energetic, and fun. And we had a cheerful conversation between sets about the spiritual rebirth possible through close listening to Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans (Columbia, 1940).
Good fortune followed, as I got to hear Kevin lead his own band – the Traditional Jazz Collective – many evenings at the now-vanished Cajun. It was “traditional” in repertoire but hardly in approach and instrumentation. Some nights there was a trumpet player (Kellso, Charlie Caranicas, Dan Tobias) and often the wonderful singer – trombonist J. Walter Hawkes, but often it was a reed-based band featuring Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxes and Pete Martinez on clarinet, with a rhythm section of Jesse Gelber on piano and Doug Largent on bass. Hashim and Martinez sounded like a wild enthusiastic stretching of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, led by Edmond Hall with a rhythm and blues Doc Poston, the rhythm section attuned to every idiosyncratic risk-taking. It was an egalitarian band, with tempos, solo orders, and repertoire determined by amiable consensus: one of the few working jazz ensembles where no one was annoyed by anyone else, week after week.
The TJC made two fine CDs on the Little Simmy label (check out the soundbites on Kevin’s website, www.kevindorn.com.). But they haven’t had a home base for a while, which is a pity. And Pete Martinez temporarily put his clarinet down, choosing the luxury of a steady paycheck. But he’s back! And the originals – Kevin, Pete, Michael, Jesse, and Doug — will be reassembling this Friday night at The Garage, from 10:30 PM to 2 AM for a splendid downtown bash. The Garage Restaurant (www.garagerest.com.) is at 99 Seventh Avenue South (212-645-0600). I’ll be there to savor the TJC’s unbuttoned approach to “Chinatown” and the blues, to ballads and stomps. The photo below shows Hawkes, Largent, Hashim, Dorn, Gelber, and Martinez — a happy gathering of jazz transcendentalists shaped by Eddie Condon, Thoreau, archaic video games, a dog named Truffles, James Whale, Vitaphone shorts, Tiajuana Bibles, and other arcana.