More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!
On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper. They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet). More than enough for anyone!
But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”). Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:
I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL. Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.
The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance. And look at the faces of the musicians! Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan! Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face! It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:
I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages. The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin. This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams. And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:
Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please. Please tape the rest of this? I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.” And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over. So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.
And they are generous!
Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? Oh, we do, Katie. Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs. And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home. I dare you! And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand). Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:
Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature! It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis. (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!) Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:
Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all! John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:
I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:
And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:
This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting. I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names. When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.
Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!