Daily Archives: October 19, 2011

“SUNDAY, BY THE POOL, IN LOS ANGELES”: DAN LEVINSON, MOLLY RYAN, MARK SHANE, KATIE CAVERA, RALF REYNOLDS, REBECCA ZOE LEIGH (Sept. 5, 2011)

Certain phrases evoke an instantaneous positive reaction: “on the beach in Maui,” “No school today,” “Friday after work,” “hand in hand in the park.”  You can certainly invent those that make for happy vibrations.

A new one to add to my personal lexicon is “Sunday, by the pool, in Los Angeles.”  It needs some clarification: I don’t swim well and Los Angeles is not the California city closest to my heart . . . but when these words connect with the Sweet and Hot Music Festival (as they did in September 2011), what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as far as I am concerned.  And the measure of this swing session is that even with the bright light, the early hour, and the wind gusts, the music was sweetly triumphant.  The participants were Dan Levinson, his phrasing so easy and comfortable on clarinet and tenor sax; Mark Shane, a pianist who has a real problem in that he finds it impossible not to swing; the tenderly compelling singer (and solid rhythm guitarist) Molly Ryan; the invaluable Katie Cavera on guitar.  (Scientific studies, for what it’s worth, say that “multi-tasking” is a sham, that we can’t do more than one thing at once well: I would like to say, “Science, meet Katie Cavera.”)  And then some guests — one an Eminence, one a Newcomer, showed up and made us even happier.

Myabe because the sun was out, they began with SHINE:

Poolside, unfortunately, is not the best place for a singer with a microphone — the Weather Channel could explain the prevalence of gusty winds.  But Molly Ryan, who is a resilient performer used to transcending larger obstacles than this, absolutely triumphed with a heartbreaking rendition of the Ink Spots’ hit, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  Molly cares!  And her swinging empathy comes through in every note — a performance that was one of the highlights of Sweet and Hot 2011 for me.  No, it’s not a 1938 Vocalion or Victor — it’s happening now:

And here comes the Eminence — not His Holiness, but the Prince of the Washboard, the Sultan of Hot, Mister Ralf Reynolds, to join in the fun.  I don’t know if Ralf is essentially an optimist, but he spreads joy copiously — so he suggested WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (rather than GLOOMY SUNDAY):

Then Dan invited a young woman up from the crowd and asked her to sing something.  She really can and does — I introduce you to Miss Rebecca Zoe Leigh, having a good time with BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?  (She knows the verse: extra credit on the final):

The sky is dark and stormy: I wish we were back at poolside right now.  And if that’s not possible, I’ll immerse myself in these delightful performances.

OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (Sept. 5, 2011)

When someone tried to get Thelonious Monk up early for the GREAT DAY IN HARLEM photo shoot in 1958, Monk is supposed to have replied — and I don’t think he was joking — that he didn’t know there were two ten o’clocks in the day.  Perhaps an extreme statement, but many jazz musicians — by habit, temperament, and experience — are nocturnal creatures.  They aren’t terrified of daylight, just unaccustomed to it.

Thus the session that follows is special for reasons above and beyond the fine music that these players produced.  It took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival — and it began at 9:45 AM.  But no one complained, because they were taking such delight in each other’s company.

And, even better (perhaps a nod to the irritable shade of the late Kenny Davern) it was a totally acoustic session.  No microphones in sight!  That’s the way it’s supposed to be but so rarely is — electrified instruments or a forest of microphones.  Some sound men and women are expert, sensitive listeners, but it’s such a treat to hear acoustic music in a quiet room — it happens infrequently.

All of this wouldn’t matter if the musicians were ordinary . . . but this band is made up of great players, individualists willing to create something synergistic, a musical entity larger than themselves.  Tim Laughlin is a model clarinetist — his sweet, full tone is a pleasure to hear whatever he plays; his swinging playing never lets us down.  Connie Jones is a quiet master, offering one subtle, peaceably emotive solo after another.  He never reaches for a cliche of the idiom or of his instrument, and his knowledge of harmony is so deep that he never plays an expected or an overemphatic phrase.  I think of Bobby Hackett and Doc Cheatham, but also the translucent quality of early Lester Young.  Chris Dawson makes his hard work look easy, spinning airy phrases out as he goes — glistening arpeggios bolster and urge on the soloist, the band — without playing one superfluous note.

Next to these three polished stylists, we have the untrammeled man of jazz, the master of grease and fuzz, Clint Baker, reminding us that if it ain’t gutbucket, it ain’t worth playing.  Clint dosen’t demand the spotlight and is soft-spoken, but is a serious purveyor of darker impulses on his horn.

That rhythm section?  Sweetly propulsive!  Katie Cavera knows her harmony and pushes everyone forward in the most affecting way — a Freddie Green with a West Coast bite (as if Mr. Green had eaten many more ripe avocados in his day).  Marty Eggers plays his bass the old-fashioned way, the Wellman Braud way, without being overpowering or raucous.  And Hal Smith just shines back there at his drum kit: offering the exactly right sound, push, or rhythmic seasoning for this or any other band.

As an extra bonus: no terribly hackneyed “Dixieland” tunes — no muskrats rambling . . . just melodic favorites, some less-played, most at nice rocking tempos.

They started with a song whose title well represents this band’s feeling — a Twenties pop song not often recorded by jazz players, although Louis and the All-Stars did it more than once in 1948 — TOGETHER (an apt description of this band’s overall conception):

SPAIN (by Isham Jones) was ornamented with the Irving Fazola introduction — a lovely touch — and was taken at a sweet tempo (rather than a near-run):

WANG WANG BLUES might have called forth memories of the earliest Paul Whiteman Orchestra . . . . but the easy tempo here evoked the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1945 where the front line was BG and the much-missed Atlanta stalwart, trombonist Lou McGarity (ain’t nobody played like him yet!):

(WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR?) AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY is not only a song with two identities; it also lends itself to varied approaches and tempi.  Here Tim counts it off as if we really should know the emotional intent — a deep apology — and the band catches the sweet rueful mood immediately — after Chris, a soulful fellow, points the way:

Chris Dawson deserves more attention — he is such a fine (although understated) player that I think many people haven’t given his quiet swinging playing the applause it deserves.  Listen to what he and the rhythm section do to and for Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ:

They called her frivolous Sal.  Enough said — but MY GAL SAL commemorates this lively young woman:

There are two songs called ONCE IN A WHILE associated with Louis Armstrong.  One, a Hot Five display piece; the other, a lovely pop ballad that Louis played and sang with a small group for Decca in 1938 — that’s the one Tim and friends chose here:

Finally, the Louis-Hoagy Carmichael connection (such a fertile partnership over the years) gets its moment with JUBILEE:

Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out — even before 10 AM!  And lyricism at this level makes Mister Gloom pack up and go somewhere else forever.