My readers will catch the reference in the title to one of the great recordings of the early LP era (some might say one of the great recordings of all time) RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S, a collection of live performances by Eddie Condon’s 1951-52 band at the club named for him.  The music is precise but utterly spirited, a collection of great idiosyncratic soloists forming a cohesive ensemble unit.

Drummer Kevin Dorn doesn’t have his own club, and he probably wouldn’t want one — but the music he and his band, THE BIG 72, played last night at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, New York City) evoked the Condon band of the Fifties in the best way.  Not as a repertory exercise (although listeners with long memories might hear a respectful nod to a famous recording here or there during the set) but as a Condon-inspired exercise: hire the best players, let them have space to blow on good, sometimes less-heard songs, and enjoy the jazz.

The crowd did.  (As an aside, I have to say that The Garage has the most mobile — or perhaps fidgety? — audience I’ve ever seen in a club: an apparently steady stream of people who had come in for a drink, a chat, or one song, entering and leaving.  Come and meet / those tramping feet — about two miles south of Forty-Second Street).  Hear a woman in the audience, who had been dancing wildly to the music, shout out “We love you!” before the band sails into HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And that band.  Kevin, summoning up the driving energy of Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, George Wettling — while listening to and supporting the band, varying his sound as the music demands.  Bassist Kelly Friesen, a rhythmic rock, whether walking the chords, slapping, or even bowing the bass — he cut through the chatter and lifted everyone up.  Jesse Gelber at the piano, talking to it as a man inspired, grinning enthusiastically at the keyboard.  Trumpeter and sometime vocalist Simon Wettenhall, fervent and animated but subtle, turning curves like a race-car driver.  Michael Hashim, mixing a gentle Hodges-approach with a violent rhythm-and-blues side, always enjoying himself.  And my hero of the night, clarinetist Pete Martinez, who was in full flower with his patented version of Ed Hall’s inspired rasp in his tone.  And, in the fashion of the great informal aggregations of jazz, each of them is a particularly stubborn (although mild-mannered in person) individualist who keeps his identity safe while playing for the glory of the ensemble.  What a band they are!

People in the know are accustomed to seeing and hearing this aggregation under the heading of the TRADITIONAL JAZZ COLLECTIVE.  Kevin and colleagues have taken on a new name, somewhat mysterious — THE BIG 72.  To find out what it means, you’ll have to ask Kevin at a gig. 

Here they are on Friday, February 5. 2010:

Paying homage to Bix Beiderbecke (and to Condon’s BIXIELAND sessions) they began with a quick I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE, capped by Simon’s derby-muted improvisation on Bix’s recorded solo:

Then, perhaps in tribute to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wherever, who formed the mass of the audience, they launched into a rocking FIDGETY FEET:

The aforementioned question (sometimes unanswerable) that reminded me of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

Another Bix-inspired homage, although he never knew the song, composed later by Hoagy Carmichael: SKYLARK, with a rough-toned but convincing vocal by Simon:

And finally, in honor of Mr. Hall and perhaps Oran “Hot Lips” Page, here’s THE SHEIK OF ARABY, complete with verse:

I had a wonderful time listening to this band.  And — don’t keep it a secret — they have a steady gig at the Garage, late night sessions two Fridays every month.  You should see what they’re like live: I plan to!

4 responses to “RINGSIDE AT KEVIN’S: Feb. 5, 2010

  1. The Condon “style” is so difficult to pin down: fall on one side of the tightrope and you’re into revivalism, and on the other and it’s mainstream. Maybe because it wasn’t really a “style” at all, but a fortuitous meeting of individuals under the direction of a guy who had good taste and strong opinions about how jazz should be played.

    Anyway, Kevin’s outfit summons up the Condon “style” superbly. The last band I heard do it successfully was Warren Vache, Kenny Davern, Dan Barrett, John Bunch , Frank Tate and Jake Hanna about three years ago in Blackpool, UK: I thought, “If Eddie was alive, this would be his band.”

    So congratulations to Kevin and friends: it sounds great! And it doesn’t matter in the least that Eddie never used an alto (except in the twenties when Tesch doubled on it, and then one recording session in the fifties with Boyce Brown aka “Brother Matthew”): the band swings and evokes the great jazz of the Condon epoch without directly copying.

    I hope to be in NY someday soon: I’ll make a point of visiting The Garage.

  2. You’re right, Jim — but the beauty of the Condon aura (I won’t call it a style) is that it could accomodate Bill Harris, Jonah Jones, Ed Hall, Buck Clayton, Jack Teagarden, Miff Mole, Lou McGarity, PeeWee Russell, Bud Freeman, Hot Lips Page, Art Hodes, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Walter Page, Ralph Sutton, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, and three dozen more — revivalists or mainstreamers, call them what you will. It’s just superb music!

  3. While you are correct that “Ringside At Condon’s” did contain live performances from the club, the source was Dr. Jazz radio broadcasts. There is a whole series of them on Storyville.

  4. Great music! Kevin can do no wrong in my book!!!

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