Daily Archives: January 8, 2014

FEELIN’ THE SPIRIT: MEMORIES OF THE WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2012

I’ve had a great deal of hot jazz pleasure and enlightenment in my annual trips to Whitley Bay for the late Mike Durham’s International Jazz Festival and Classic Jazz Parties.  And another one is on the way for November 7-9, 2014, thanks to Patti Durham and diligent friends.

I don’t mean to rush away the time until then, but I offer five more previously unseen delights from the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (recorded October 27-28) — honoring King Oliver, Benny Carter, Louis and Bechet, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Graeme Bell, and the magnificent contemporary / traditional jazz musicians at work here.

WA WA WA, a tribute to the Oliver Dixie Syncopators of the second half of the Twenties, led by Keith Nichols (piano), with Duke Heitger (trumpet), Andy Schumm (cornet); Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Gavin Lee, Matthias Seuffert, Rene Hagmann, (reeds); Martin Wheatley (banjo); Phil Rutherford (brass bass), Josh Duffee (drums):

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SWING, Matthias Seuffert’s buoyant embodiment of the spirit and music of Benny Carter, with Matthias (alto); Rene Hagmann (cornet); Alistair Allan (trombone); Martin Litton (piano); Spats Langham (guitar); Henru Lemaire (string bass); Richard Pite (drums):

DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN, for Louis and Sidney, in whichever incarnation you prefer (1924-5 or 1940), with Bent Persson (cornet); Thomas Winteler (soprano saxophone); Stephane Gillot (baritone saxophone); Jens Lindgren (trombone); Martin Seck (piano); Henri Lemaire (banjo / string bass):

ZONKY, from drummer Josh Duffee’s ambitious evocation of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, with Rico Tomasso, Rene Hagmann, Andy Schumm (trumpet / cornet); Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Matthias Seuffert, Gavin Lee, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Michael McQuaid (reeds); Keith Nichols (piano / vocal); Martin Wheatley (banjo / guitar); Richard Pite (string bass); Josh (drums / leader):

UGLY DUCKLING, a hidden treasure from the Graeme Bell repertoire, here served up beautifully by multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid, and Duke Heitger, Bent Persson (trumpets); Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Michael, Stephane Gillot, Thomas Winteler (reeds); Martin Seck (piano); Henri Lemaire (banjo / guitar); Malcolm Sked (brass bass / string bass [off-camera but indispensable]); Nick Ward (drums):

The Classic Jazz Party site hasn’t offered a full roster for the November 7-9 party, which will be held, once again, at the Village Hotel Newcastle, but here is the contact information, and I will post details as they emerge.

As Josh Duffee says, “It’s like Christmas to us.” I don’t believe in Santa Claus, but I do believe in the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.

May your happiness increase!

DICKENSON, BALLIETT, AND COOL

An excerpt from Whitney Balliett’s memorial for Vic Dickenson:

Dickenson . . . seemed almost ageless.  As the years went by, he never looked any older, and his playing never diminished. Keeping his cool was essential to him–it was a matter of pride–and perhaps that insulated him. The only thing that visibly gave out was his feet, and their failure left him in his last decade with a slow, leaning-over gait. He had a tall, narrow frame and a tall, narrow head. His arms and hand and legs were long and thin. The expression in his eyes flickered between humor and hurt, and his smile went to one side. He was a laconic man who said he had become a musician because “I know I wouldn’t have been a good doctor, and I wouldn’t have been a good cook. I know I wouldn’t have been a good janitor, and I don’t have the patience to be a good teacher. I’d slap them on the finger all the time, and the last thing I ever want to do is mess up my cool.”  (“Vic,” 657-8; Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz).

I read that piece when it first appeared in The New Yorker, and it has stayed with me for almost thirty years.  Both Vic and Whitney remain heroes — their work always sounds new but has the comfort of an unexpected hug from an old friend, met by surprise.  Balliett’s quiet observant power is still my model.

But I am still amazed that Vic could tell an admiring listener that he became what he was because he was so unqualified to do other things. Whether it was a true self-awareness of limitations or an excessive modesty, I don’t know.  But he created singular art for five decades without ever shouting his name in our ears.

I also think Vic’s final lines stay with me because anyone’s cool — that delicate serene balance we strive for — is so fragile, so easily damaged.  Small slights, casual acts, emotions coming upon us unaware inevitably “mess up our cool.”

Vic didn’t like to speak at length.  He didn’t philosophize, but he left us thousands of heartfelt texts to consider.  I refer to Pema Chodron at intervals; I might just as well start the day with a Dickenson solo to learn something about how to proceed through life.

Here he is, playing MANHATTAN — with Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman — on Eddie’s Condon’s tour of Japan in 1964 (other heroes on this voyage were Buck Clayton, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and Jimmy Rushing):

Vic’s version of serenity and balance seems warm and welcoming, as if he is saying, “Isn’t this melody beautiful?  I want to shine my sound through the notes so that you will never forget them.”

I hope that no one messes up your cool — or, if it happens, you can think of Vic and set things right.

May your happiness increase!