Tag Archives: Alex Belhaj

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

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!

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part Two): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

The evidence is seriously against the nostalgic proposition that jazz was ever “America’s popular music” — even at the height of what we like to call the Swing Era.  But up until some time, and you can determine when that was, jazz was wonderful and respected dance music.  We know that hot bands — among them Henderson, Oliver, Goldkette — played tangos and waltzes as part of an evening’s entertainment.  But we also know that, in this century, it is possible to play lively hot music that gets dancers on the floor and keeps them there.

I don’t think many jazz fans associate Kid Ory with dance music, but their error and their loss — for he was much more versatile than his Twenties recordings (which are marvels) suggest.  When he returned to playing in the mid-Forties, up until the end of his life, he created bands with musicians who hadn’t taken up permanent residence in 1928, and the Kid wanted to see people dance to his bands.  Hal Smith has taken up the challenge of creating hot danceable jazz with his On the Levee Jazz Band — a beautiful ensemble featuring Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Clint Baker (in this case), trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet.  I caught them in a wonderful dance set at the Evergreen Jazz Festival last July, and the first part is here — swinging renditions of LADY BE  GOOD, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, I GOT RHYTHM, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . songs you would think had all the life drained out of them through decades of performance, but feel new again.

Here’s the remainder of that set, featuring songs we associate with the Swing Era.  Ory fanciers will recognize many of them as coming from the two recordings Henry “Red” Allen made with the Kid, in addition to a European tour.  Inspiring stuff for sure.

Yes, that’s the Erskine Hawkins hit TUXEDO JUNCTION:

Ory’s own SAVOY BLUES, briskly:

Chu Berry’s CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Yes, the Glenn Miller (or Wingy Manone) IN THE MOOD to close:

This lovely rocking band has a CD, and will be appearing at the San Diego Jazz Fest coming this Thanksgiving — also as one of two bands appearing at the Saturday-night dance.  I predict exuberant swaying to the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part One): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

Find your Capezios, please.  JAZZ LIVES will wait.

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band” is delightfully subversive in its own way.

Its members are formally dressed in the way that jazz musicians used to be (Coleman Hawkins would never have gone to a gig or a recording session in a tight blue polo shirt with a band name on the left pectoral).  They are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory (which, to some, might paint them as an old-fashioned New Orleans jazz repertory ensemble).  Thus, they can seem scholarly rather than rambunctious (Hal, aside from being one of the half-dozen best jazz drummers, is a scholar of the music who can tell you what the band name means, to take just one example).

BUT.  Let us not be fooled by surfaces.

OTL, as I occasionally call them, is one of the best small swing units now playing.  They don’t copy old records; their music is uplifting dance music, and swing dancers have a wonderful time with it.  The band rocks; they are informal but expert; their solos soar and their ensembles groove.

Their secret, which no one whispers aloud, is that they are closer to a Buck Clayton Jam Session than to a Bill Russell American Music shellac disc.  And in this they are true to the source: Ory kept up with the times; he loved to swing, and he loved to create music for dancing.  But you need not take my word for it.

I captured three of the band’s sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and this one is particularly dear to my heart because it is music for swing dancers.  In 1959, more or less, the Kid and trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, old pals from New Orleans, made recordings and gave European concerts which drew on a swing repertoire somewhat looser than the stereotype.  Not “Dixieland” or “trad” in their essence, these records captured a particular musical ambiance where disparate personalities were free to roam.  The Verve records were particular pleasures of my adolescence, so to hear Hal and the OTL play those swinging songs was a joy, not only for me, but for the dancers.

I should point out here that the band at Evergeen was made up of Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; guest star Clint Baker, trombone, vocal; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader.  American Popular Songbook, too — two Gershwins, two Wallers!  (But — just between us — these are very familiar tunes which have been overdone in less subtle hands.  Hear how the OTL makes them soar, with what easy lilting motion.)

And here’s a nod to Bill Basie and the golden days, LADY BE GOOD:

The Fats classic, done at a nice tempo, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Yes, I GOT RHYTHM, played au naturel, at a sweet Thirties bounce:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, again, made new by a splendid tempo:

This music transcends categories.  And as such, it is transcendent.

May your happiness increase!

JUST ADD RUM, ICE, AND SUNGLASSES: “CHARLIE AND THE TROPICALES” (Part Two): CHARLIE HALLORAN, BEN POLCER, JONATHAN DOYLE, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, JOSH COLLAZO (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

Back by popular demand (and not just mine)!

Here’s the second half of Charlie Halloran’s glorious set of hot and sweet island dance music, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival last May 11.  Charlie is on trombone (and I believe research and arrangements as well); Ben Polcer, trumpet; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.  And here is the first  half of their musical cocktail.

Lord Melody’s THE RIVER:

JULIANNE:

The title of Charlie’s most recent CD, CE BIGUINE:

THE RHYTHM WE WANT, which would be a good CD title:

MIRANDA:

The Mighty Sparrow’s JEAN AND DINAH:

I have it on good authority that there will definitely be another set like this at next May’s Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . I’ll be in front, grooving!

May your happiness increase!

SO FLAVORFUL: “CHARLIE and the TROPICALES” at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Part One): CHARLIE HALLORAN, BEN POLCER, JONATHAN DOYLE, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, JOSH COLLAZO (May 11, 2019)

Charlie Halloran’s wonderful CD of rocking island music.

I confess that if you tapped me on my shoulder at a jazz festival and said, “Do you want to hear a band playing calypsos, music from the islands?” even though I live on one, I might be skeptical.  But if you said, “Charlie Halloran is leading a group on this stage,” I would trip over myself in my eagerness to be there.  (And those of you who want only ROYAL GARDEN BLUES . . . I encourage you to be brave and approach the new songs without fear.)

(I first fell in love with the music Charlie and friends create because of his Quality Six, and then his CD devoted to rocking Caribbean music, CE BIGUINE, which I’ve written about here and here.)

I didn’t have to go through this imagined playlet at the musical Garden of Delights that is the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I was ready in my seat for this set, which Charlie now calls “Charlie and the Tropicales.”  Perhaps you need to know who else was there besides Charlie on trombone: Ben Polcer, trumpet; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

Much has been said about the multi-cultural influences on what we loosely call the music of New Orleans: I’ll leave such ruminations to the cultural anthropologists — I prefer music to theorizing.  And what music did Charlie and the Tropicales make!  If you can listen to it without smiling and swaying, that (as they say) is your problem.  And if you’ve turned away because it isn’t a jazz classic played by your favorite band, to quote Louis, “too bad for you.”  Here’s music that rocks!

ROAD MARCH:

DOUDOU PAS PLEURE:

VICKY:

VOLTIGE ANTILLAIS:

TABU:

If you sat still in your seat through that music, let me talk to your neurologist, please.  There’s a second part of this set to come . . . quickly, if you ask nicely.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE RAINBOWS OF SOUND: COME TO THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL! (July 26-28, 2019)

At the end of July, I will make my fourth visit to the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a weekend of music I look forward to avidly.  The rainbow photograph comes from my first visit; unfortunately, I couldn’t find the photographs I took of elk in the parking lot, but everybody comes out for fine jazz.

A small cautionary note: I waited until almost too late to find lodging — if you plan to go to Evergreen, make arrangements now: there’s a list of places to stay on their site, noted above . . . then there’s air travel and car rental.  But it’s all worth the time and money, I assure you.  Last night, I landed happily in Bears Inn Bed and Breakfast, among my friends, and I feel so fortunate: thank you, Wendy!

For me, previous highlights of Evergreen have been the music of Tim Laughlin, Andy Schumm, Kris Tokarski, James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, Hal Smith, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, the Riverboat Roustabouts, and I am leaving out many pleasures.

Here’s the band schedule for this year:

You see that great music will flourish.

I confess that my heart belongs to the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet (this weekend with John Otto in the reed chair), Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band (playing songs associated with Kid Ory in truly swinging style, with Clint Baker playing the role of the Kid) and the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, but I hope to see the Wolverine Jazz Band also . . . there are a host of local favorites as well, including Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles, Wende Hairston and the Queen City Jazz Band, After Midnight, and more.

Time for some music!

Here’s a romping tribute to Fats Waller by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, whose debut CD “This Is So Nice It Must Be Illegal”) is a Waller tribute: that’s Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass, seen here at the Monterey, California Jazz Bash by the Bay on  March 2, 2019.  At Evergreen, the reed chair will be filled by John Otto from Chicago (you know him from the Fat Babies and Chicago Cellar Boys):

and COME BACK, SWEET PAPA by the On the Levee crew:

This band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass: PAPA was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

And finally, a real delight — Dorothy Bradford Vernon’s Thursday-night barn dance in Longmont, Colorado, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocals; Marty Eggers, string bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Information here — wonderful music, irreplaceable atmosphere, reasonable ticket price.  That’s July 25, 7:30-10:00 PM.

I will miss it this year (travel conflicts) but here’s how YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME rocked the barn last year:

I hope to see many of JAZZ LIVES’ readers and friends in Evergreen.

May your happiness increase!

SEVEN MEN AND THE KID: THE “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: HAL SMITH, JOSH GOUZY, ALEX BELHAJ, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOE GOLDBERG, BEN POLCER, CHARLIE HALLORAN (November 25, 2018)

Some children get upset if the green beans and mashed potato on their plate are touching.  Some listeners separate “their” music into schools and styles, existing in the same space but kept at a safe distance.  I just read a review of a festival where the writer delineated “trad” and “not trad at all,” which to me is a shame.  Musicians know that they can play any repertoire in inventive ways, move in and out of rigidly defined “traditions” and create lasting satisfying art.

Here’s a shining example, the ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND (that’s the cover of their debut CD above).  I’ve posted music from another performance here.  To me, their joyous essence is a mixing of “genres”: soloists who know Blakeney, Darnell Howard, Don Ewell, but who are also aware of Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  The secret is a flowing 4/4 — music for dancing as well as listening.

This most excellent small band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet / vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. The set presented here was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

. . . .and study war no more:

A problem with transporting a precious substance:

Hey, Dad — you coming back?

Some early Ellington with a debt to Joe Oliver:

“Honey, are you free on Monday?”:

Gus Mueller, if I recall, said decades after the fact that the title had no hidden meaning — they just liked the sound:

This one always comes in handy:

A song for parents of newborns or anyone embracing transformations:

For further announcements and more good news, visit here.  I’m pleased to say I will see them three times in 2019: the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the San Diego Jazz Fest.  You come, too.

May your happiness increase!