Although I had heard them on record for some years, I first encountered reedman Dan Levinson and pianist Mark Shane in 2004 at the tenorist / jazz maven Ray Cerino’s birthday party. Not surprisingly, they were even better in person than on records. Levinson could and can execute anything he thought of (and that was plenty) with a true swing phrasing and melodic shapeliness. Shane was and is a subtle master of swing piano — not a thumping Strider but someone who’s made the influences of everyone from Teddy Wilson to Mel Powell and Tommy Flanagan into his own quietly intense style.
I had to wait a few years more before having the pleasure of hearing Molly Ryan sing — her voice so earnest yet so supple, her delivery unaffected and warm. She’a a straightforward, easy rhythm guitarist as well. Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how I revere the guitarist / singer / whistler John Reynolds, and Banu Gibson can’t say “Good morning!” without turning it into a lilting expression.
Dan, Molly, and Mark played a set at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival on September 3, 2011, which I present here in all its sweet and hot glories. And later on, John and Banu dropped by — not for tea, but for swing. See and hear for yourself.
They began with that simple declaration of intent, I WANT TO BE HAPPY — the overall effect combining Noone and Goodman in the best modern way:
After years of being played and sung by everyone, I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE has often seemed blunted — but Molly brings it into sharp relief, with light-hearted playing from Mark and Dan:
Dan is on a Jimmie Noone kick — immersing himself into the repertoire and approach of the great Chicago clarinetist, which produced this lilting performance of the rarely-played CHICAGO RHYTHM (with an especially true-to-life second chorus):
Here Molly tenderly swirls through an Artie Shaw song — (WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THE) LOVE OF MY LIFE — how believably romantic she is!
With all its noble Billie Holiday – Teddy Wilson – Roy Eldridge antecedents, WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO is troublesome for singers (how to handle the “Oo, oo, oo,” without sounding ridiculous?) and for musicians, because the original recording is so strongly imprinted on everyone — but this trio makes their own version seem newly-minted:
Molly passed her guitar to John Reynolds: he and Dan played a pretty tune that Dan’s father (in the audience, celebrating his birthday) wanted to hear — as we all did — THESE FOOLISH THINGS. A very sweet Lestorian tribute:
I was very happy to have John Reynolds call PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY — one of my favorite songs in any version. (Don’t I look familiar to you?) If Bing had done this whimsical sweet song, it would have sounded much like this:
One of the nicest things about the Sweet and Hot Music Festival is that players drop in on each other’s gigs — as did John — and here came the sweetly witty Banu Gibson to offer Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING (with the verse). Banu had fun and the feeling was mutual. I love John’s whistled half-chorus — he’s got such courage:
Molly came back for the closing song, that rocking sermon on candor in romance, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:
Who needs more people on the stand when you’ve got such empathic players and singers?