It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.
They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.
Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.
I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.
A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.
I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”
Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!
The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.
“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”
Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.
And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.
May your happiness increase!