One of the more reassuring aspects of the New York jazz scene is that a few steady gigs remain — the Sunday and Monday night hoedowns at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street; the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on Sundays; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (now on Monday and Tuesday) downstairs in the Hotel Edison. And this year David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or Gully Low Jazz Band) began its second decade of early-evening sessions at Birdland — Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:15.
Last Wednesday the Beloved and I took our accustomed table and I prepared to record the festivities. And festive they were for sure, with David on tuba and patter; Marion Felder on drums; Ehud Asherie on piano; Harvey Tibbs on trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, and special guest Bob Wilber on two sopranos, straight and curved, and clarinet (in sequence, not at once). And David even arranged for the two singers in the audience — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) to come up and do a Louis-themed duet.
In his own way, Wilber is the last of a great breed — whether you think of him as Bechet’s curly-haired boyish protege, half of Soprano Summit / Summit Reunion, or in his many other roles — someone who’s been playing his heart out for over six decades. And the LACB was delighted to have him on the stand and inspired by his presence: Jon-Erik and Harvey played majestically and with slippery grace; Ehud was as nimble as ever; David provided his own special propulsion, and Marion once again taught us all how to swing on the often-ignored snare drum (no monotonous ride cymbal for Maestro Felder). Here’s what the festivities sounded like:
The opening, seguing from WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH into INDIANA, was the start of Louis’s concert appearances with the All-Stars for a long time:
Then, a moody classic Louis recorded in 1931 (playing the Reverend in front of his Chicago band full of New Orleans homeboys), THE LONESOME ROAD:
And an experiment — a Hot Five song that the LACB hadn’t tried before, one of the lesser-known recordings, WHO’S IT (or I’ve also seen it typed as WHO’SIT) which the band not only handled beautifully but made swing out in a long, leisurely rock:
A lovely feature for Wilber, Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which summons up not only Louis but also Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, and Mildred Bailey):
I don’t think I’M A DING DONG DADDY (by Phil Baxter) would have had its fame — spreading to the Benny Goodman small groups by way of Lionel Hampton, who appeared on Louis’s original recording — had it not been for Louis, even with the wonderful tongue-twisting lyrics:
And another romper — CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN (all hail Lips Page, too!):
Because the Birdland audience held not one but two singers — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) — David decided to call them both up (a first!) and they essayed a loose, friendly version of JEEPERS CREEPERS, which (as you know) Louis originally sang to a horse of the same name in the film GOIN’ PLACES:
And the session closed, as it always does, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:
Thanks to all the musicians (and singers) in the house for the good sounds!