Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them. I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.
Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz. And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that. Evidence below.
Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play. I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so. I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity. As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.
I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too. Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before. They do wonderful vocal harmonies. They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight! This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up. Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks. I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”
So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera. I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting. I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana. In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.
And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone. (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)
The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet. The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.
A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon. Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.
I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):
THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):
MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):
ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):
TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):
There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come. Not blasphemous, just paradisical.
May your happiness increase!