One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band. Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers. The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.
A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it. But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there. Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm. Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics. So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.
DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:
SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:
Feeling low? Feeling sore? Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:
ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:
A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:
A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:
More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:
The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing. You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here. “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.
May your happiness increase!