KEVIN DORN AND FRIENDS (Dec. 18, 2009)

I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club.  Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.  

The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands.  Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings.  What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity.  I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.   

Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying.  For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other.  So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly.  This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case.  And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below. 

For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis.  Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday.  Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner.  His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches.  He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this.  And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky.  The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm.  Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support.  Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.  Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases.  George Duvivier would approve.  I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative.  Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past. 

This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military.  I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor.  Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare.  Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless.  Welcome back, Pete! 

And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have.  And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.

Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage.  Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis.  I hope so.

Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:

The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:

In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:

I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:

I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind.  It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments.  Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over.  That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited.  All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:

In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:

And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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10 responses to “KEVIN DORN AND FRIENDS (Dec. 18, 2009)

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  3. This band sounds great, but why do they look like they are not having any fun playing, except for the trombonist and the bassist. Kevin Dorn, as good as he is, looks like he would rather be somewhere else. I performed for years with Buzzy Drootin, and I’ll tell ya like it is, as far as personality and crowd pleasing and originality in his solos, Buzzy was and still is, far superior to his contempories and heir apparents. As are a lot of current New England jazz musicians compared to their NY comrades. Maybe it’s a RED SOX vs. Yankees thing. Respectfully, Lee

  4. Dear Lee,

    Kevin and friends look serious because they’re concentrating on making beautiful music, Lee: some musicians who grin a great deal aren’t saying very much. Please don’t mistake the absence of crowd-pleasing antics for inferior music! If you prefer the New England variety, that’s splendid, but I don’t think you should create false rivalries where none need to be: save that for baseball. And I saw Buzzy Drootin play, myself, too. Michael

  5. Excellent!
    But would anyone expect less than that from Kevin and his great band?

  6. Hi Michael, I think you took me too seriously in my last post. I wasn’t trying create false musical rivalries, and I did say this band sounds great. Which it does. Swings like crazy. But some of the guys look kind of glum while they are playing their hearts out. Except the bassist and trombonist. The audience picks up on that. I know from playing with my own Bourbon Steet Paraders Jazz Band for the last 35 years, which was a very well rehearsed and choreographed show band. The fact that the musicians were exhibiting their enthusiasm for the music was not lost on our audience and resulted in a ton of gigs over and beyond our steady nightclub engagements. I am not saying that musicians have to resort to “antics” to sell their art, just look like they are interested and enjoying expressing their joy of communicating with their listeners. Just like the bassist and trombonist in your videos. Their body language conveys an extra measure of excitement to their solos and musical statements. The other guys, although performing at the highest level, look rather disinterested in what they are doing. Believe me, audiences notice that, and that is what is ruining a lot of jazz gigs for professional jazz musicians. And not to be critical, but I saw a lot of Buzzy Drootin before I worked with him, and I knew right away that he was a real showman as well as an original jazz artist, and that trait was one of the main factors that led me to hire him to perform with our band, and I have to admit, he was the most popular member of our band, and he worked with my trio for several years also, and he certainly was more popular than even me. So I guess my ultimate theme or message here to fellow jazz musicians is that it certainly does not hurt to allow your emotions to show on stage even if you are really, really concentrating on your improvisation. Your audience will love you for it. And, naturally, that will lead to more and more gigs, both in the public and private sector. Good luck to all and Happy Holidays to all. Regards, Lee Childs

  7. Dear Lee,

    I appreciate the clarification, I do. But here’s where we diverge. I can’t speak for the musicians I admire and whose work I post on the blog, so what follows might be an assumption of mine. But I think that if I asked them to “rehearse” and “choreograph” their music to appeal more to the public and thus get more gigs and fill the tip jar to a higher level . . . I think that some of them would tell me to go away, that what they wanted to do was to play — and that playing jazz creatively was sufficiently demanding that thinking about the front line waving their horns in unison would be a distraction. I’m not being snobbish about “showmanship”: a fellow named Louis thought that pleasing the people was inseparable from making music. But many musicians don’t choose the route you suggest. And, sadly, I don’t see that audiences NOW are more receptive to “show” bands over the more serious, even “glum” kind. But I’ll watch more closely in 2010. Cheers, Michael

  8. Hi Michael, I am working more than I want to, six nights a week even in the winter, and I no longer have the “show bands” but the guys I work with are extremely good musicians and extremely extroverted personality wise on and off the bandstand, which has nothing to do with the music, but sells like hotcakes to our general followers and generic public listeners, which keeps us employed more than most jazz musicians. I’m just trying to make a statement to fellow musicians — loosen up and look like you’re having a ball playing instead of looking at your watch to see when the gig is going to end. And play for your audience and not for yourself. And look like you’re into you’re work. Which is not really work,right? Regards, Lee

  9. Dear Lee,

    I can’t argue with your facts — working six nights a week, the musicians happy, pleasing the public. None of this would evoke disapproval! But please indulge me and let me have the last word on the subject. Imagine two bands. One grins and emotes; the other is made up of silent, nearly glum individuals who have to be coaxed to speak, let alone grin. The Happy Extroverts — Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Illinois Jacquet, Fats Waller, Milt Hinton, Gene Krupa. The Serious Introverts: Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Teddy Wilson, George Duvivier, Dave Tough. Now close your eyes and imagine the sound of each band. Not, mind you, how they’d interact with their audience or how happy they’d look. The sound. Their jazz. Wouldn’t each band be spectacular, although different? There’s room for everyone on the bandstand. Cheers and happy 2010, Michael

  10. Hi Michael, OK, we’ll put this thread to bed, as it were. But I have to tell you a funny story about Bobby and Teddy. In 1975, I was performing with a band at the Tavern on the Green at the old Dunfey’s Hotel in Hyannis. One week we had both Bobby and Teddy on the bill with us. On the opening night there was a sign in the lobby advertising the guest artists. Part of it read “featuring Buddy Hackett and Tubby Wilson.” Bobby actually thought it was pretty funny but Teddy — well, you can guess what he thought and said about it. Ouch! Needless to say, the sign was corrected the next day. Vic, Billy Butterfield, Flip Phillips, and Urbie Green also performed with us that summer. Ah, great memories. Happy New Year! Lee

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