Tag Archives: Alex Belhaj

“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!

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DANCING IN SOUND: KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (Bombay Club, Sept. 22, 2016)

Hal Smith, James Evans, Kris Tokarski, at the Bombay Club, New Orleans.

Here are three more beautiful interludes from slightly more than a year ago, in “that quaint old Southern city,” actually at the Bombay Club on Conti Street in New Orleans — an evening with Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, clarinet, vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

Earl Hines’ MONDAY DATE (which I am presenting in its streamlined title, having given up on the question of whether it is A, OUR, or MY):

Another visit to 1928 Chicago (just savor Hal’s beautiful rocking drumming!) with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE at a leisurely grooving tempo:

I almost never make requests, but I did ask James if he would play LOUISE — because I love the song (I think of Bing and Lester and Pee Wee) and I know it is the first name of the beautiful Missus Evans:

Even if you read this post on Saturday evening, November 11, and you are in New Orleans, you are not too late to hear some good sounds from Hal and Kris.  The facts: Hal will be leading his Kid Ory tribute band — the On The Levee Band — at the very same Bombay Club (830 Conti Street) from 8:30-11:30.  The band has Hal, drums / leader; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar.  If you can, you should.

May your happiness increase!  

GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION (September 2016)

judges-gavel

I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging.  Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.

Permit me to explain.  From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Consider these — randomly chosen — delights.  Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions.  Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business.  Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE).  Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice.  Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL.  A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING.  A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply.  Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too.  Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans.  Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.

I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.

Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp.  Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.

So there you have it.  I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.

My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:

May your happiness increase!

IT’S TIME TO STOMP (Steamboat Stomp, September 23-25, 2016)

Today is the first day of class, so I handed out papers for my students to read and a questionnaire to fill out.  But turnabout is fair play: my friend, Professor Hal Smith, sent me some pages worthy of deep study: the schedule for the 2016 Steamboat Stomp.

steamboatnatchez-paddle

I’ve written with great admiration of my experiences at the 2013 and 2015 Stomps here and here and here (and more, for the curious) — but I want to share with you the Coming Attractions that are less than a month away.  For full details, of course, you should visit here.  And, without being too pushy, may I suggest that space on the Steamboat Natchez is not infinite, and that lodgings in New Orleans are equally finite, that time is of the essence.

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There are four sessions: Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon, each of them introduced by a steam calliope recital by the dextrous Debbie Fagnano.  I should also mention that the Natchez has three areas for music: the main cabin, the top deck, and the Captain’s Salon.  So there are always simultaneous sessions going on.

On Friday night, there will be two delights: on the boat itself, sessions by Tuba Skinny and the Yerba Buena Stompers; at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, the Steamboat Stomp All-Stars (David Boeddinghaus, James Evans, Andy Schumm, Tom Saunders, Hal Smith) will hold forth.

On Saturday morning and afternoon, sessions by the Steve Pistorius Quartet (Steve, James Evans, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders), the YBS, and Tim Laughlin (with Neil Unterseher, Alex Belhaj, and Ed Wise); later, at dockside, the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band (Ray Heitger, Tom Saunders, Alex Belhaj, Jamie Wight), Tim Laughlin, Andy Schumm, Neil Unterseher, Ed Wise, and a jam session with the YBS.

Saturday night, Banu Gibson (with David Boeddinghaus, Tom Saunders, Andy Schumm, James Evans, Kevin Dorn, Charlie Halloran), the Dukes of Dixieland, Tuba Skinny, the YBS, the Kris Tokarski Trio with Andy Schumm and  Hal Smith, the Steamboat Stompers (Duke Heitger, Tom Saunders, Steve Pistorius). Banu Gibson (with David Boeddinghaus, Andy Schumm, Hal Smith), and another Kris Tokarski Trio with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin.

On Sunday morning, Solid Harmony (Topsy Chapman and her two songful daughters) will be backed for one set by the Kris Tokarski Trio (Clint Baker and Hal Smith), and then by the YBS.

The Stomp will conclude with a VIP / Patron Party at the Bourbon New Orleans Hotel, and I have heard that Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, and Hal Smith will be playing a gig at Snug Harbor that night.  No doubt.

That’s a whole lot of Stomp.  Hope to see you there!

May your happiness increase!

PLENTY RHYTHM! ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, ALEX BELHAJ, ROD McDONALD, BONNIE SMITH, CHRIS TABACZYNSKI, LAURA WYMAN: YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN (June 2016)

No, I didn’t hear any shouts in the night, “The British are coming!” (Or, for that matter, “The British are going!”)

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But if Paul Revere had been well and truly hip, he might have shouted, “Hot jazz in Ypsilanti!  Thursday nights!  Cultivate!” and that would have gotten me out of bed for sure.

Here are three truly entrancing performances recorded on June 16 and 23, 2016, by Laura Wyman of Wyman Video — yes, she deserves her own place in the personnel roster).  The leader of this morphing band of creators is Erin Morris, tuba.  Yes, I know you know Erin as a unique dancer and choreographer, but she is also a wonderful low-brass player, able to entrance us when she’s just sitting still.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING with Erin; James Dapogny, keyboard (“He makes that new piano sound exactly like old,” to paraphrase Johnny Mercer); Rod McDonald, guitar; Chris Tabaczynski, C-melody saxophone. Where?  Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, Ypsilanti, Michigan:

That’s the very definition of Mellow to me, what I think of as the music the great artists make for themselves when the lights aren’t shining in their faces.  Not morose nor a let’s-show-the-people-this-is-jazz romp, but pretty and moving.  And Erin plays the tuba with gentleness; at times in the ensemble it sounds like a sweet bass saxophone heard from far away.  And Chris Tabaczynski is my new Youngblood Hero.  Dapogny and McDonald have been Heroes of mine for years.

Now, let’s add a little Americana to the mix, as Bonnie Smith sings CARELESS LOVE in an unaffected, heartfelt way, with her father, Christopher, on trombone; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Erin and Jim:

Finally, what my dear friend Mike Burgevin used to call a “Bingie” — one of those songs that we hear through a sacred veil of Crosby — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Christopher, Alex, Jim, and Erin:

All I can say about this scene is that it does my heart good to know that a small group of secular saints is bringing lyricism into the world.  Cultivate Joy.  And for my part, I’ve got my plane ticket to Ann Arbor.

May your happiness increase!