Tag Archives: Ben Polcer

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!

The ON THE LEVEE BAND at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Part One: Nov. 24, 2018)

Official Jazz history, which tends to compress and simplify, has often portrayed Edward “Kid” Ory as both a limited trombonist and a man lodged in the earliest decades of the music.  Both of these suppositions are wrong; as far as the first, ask any trombonist how easy it is to play what Ory played, and for the second, Ory’s later groups played for dancers in the Forties and Fifties and thus he was very much aware of the subtleties of the Swing Era-and-beyond four-four rhythmic pulse, as his later recordings show.  Drummer / scholar Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND takes its name from a club Ory ran in California, and its musical inspiration from those later performances.

Unlike some quite respected traditional jazz bands, the OTL floats rather than pounds, and its horn soloists clearly enjoy the freedom of playing with and among such gliding pulsations.  It’s their secret, one that perceptive listeners enjoy, even if they are not aware of the swinging feel of the group.  At times, they remind me happily of the ad hoc groups of Swing Era veterans recruited to perform “Dixieland” tunes c. 1959-60: think of Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Buster Bailey over a grooving rhythm section — playing the opening ensembles correctly and respectfully but going for themselves in solos.

In addition to Hal, the band as it performed at the 39th San Diego jazz Fest featured Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. These selections come from a set the band did on November 24, 2018.

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING:

TISHOMINGO BLUES, with a vocal by Ben:

Joe Oliver’s SNAG IT:

SAN, named for a King:

DUSTY RAG, a feature for Kris, Josh, and Hal — reimagining classic ragtime in New Orleans — that means Morton — style:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

HIGH SOCIETY / WITHOUT YOU FOR AN INSPIRATION:

What a pleasure this band is.  And here is their website, as well as news of their debut CD here . And here is my review.  I approve!  And the band also has the Gretchen Haugen Seal of Approval, which is not an accolade easily won.

Catch them at a gig; buy the CD.  Have a good time.

May your happiness increase!

WE SAVOR THE RITUALS (WITH A SMALL UPDATE): THANKSGIVING at THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 21-25, 2018)

Even in the midst of darkness there are always reasons to be thankful.  Here is a detail from the classic Norman Rockwell portrait of a late-November American celebration, make of it and its assumptions (culinary, sociological, political) what you will.

But this post is about another ritual of communal gratitude, another place to give thanks: the thirty-ninth San Diego Jazz Fest, held this year from November 21 through the 25th. My update (as of late November 11) is to offer the flyer below, and to point out something I didn’t know when I’d written this blogpost — that the Saturday night Swing Extravaganza will also feature the wonderful band Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders with the wonderful singer Laura Windley. Add that piece of news into your computations.

I’m sitting here with the band schedule in front of me, and can narrate my own pleasure-map of delights for the weekend.  How about dance lessons, opportunities for “jammers” to play with others of their ilk, a Saturday night swing extravaganza?  Ongoing solo piano recitals featuring Kris Tokarski, Vinnie Armstrong, Stephanie Trick, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Paolo Alderighi, Paul Asaro, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor?  Then sets by the Dawn Lambeth Trio featuring Marc Caparone, High Sierra, Grand Dominion, the Chicago Cellar Boys, the On the Levee Jazz Band, the Original Cornell Syncopators, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Yerba Buena Stompers, Titanic, Colin Hancock, Charlie Halloran, Ben Polcer, Joe Goldberg, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, and more.

And more.  At any given moment at the fest, let us say on a Saturday, the music goes from breakfast to wooziness — 9 AM to near midnight — in six separate locations.  Using my right index finger (the highly-skilled instrument for such computations) I counted sixty-six sets of music on Saturday, sets either 45 minutes or an hour.

At other festivals, that would make for transportation difficulties (a euphemism for “How am I going to get to that other building before the band starts?) but since all the action is contained in one building, even people with limited mobility make it in before the music starts.

Did I mention that everyone I’ve ever dealt with at San Diego has been terribly nice, including such luminaries of cheer and comfort as Paul Daspit and Gretchen Haugen?  This is no small thing.

And for those of you who think you will be deprived of Thanksgiving edibles (which means “too much food”) as depicted by Mr. Rockwell above, take heart. There is a splendiferous buffet served on Thursday from 2 to 6 — you can reserve a place there, with a discount for those who do so before November 15: details here.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll still totter out of there, quite stuffed.

I am a late adopter who hasn’t made all 38 festivals (to explain why would tax all your five wits) but when I did make my way to the Fest, of course it was video camera at the ready.  And here are three sets that pleased me greatly.  I have shot several hundred videos, and that’s no stage joke, but I don’t feel right about using videos of X if X isn’t at this year’s festival.  But the three sets below feature people who are alive and well for this year.  First, here are the Cornell Syncopators featuring Katie Cavera in 2017.  Then, here are the Yerba Buena Stompers in 2016, and here are Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes paying tribute to Louism also in 2017.

Going back to 2009, I remember when I first started this blog, I used Rae Ann Berry’s videos as glimpses of the Promised Land.  Here, for example, is John Gill paying tribute, beautifully, to Mister Crosby, in 2009:

Why am I concluding this post with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and John’s beautiful rendition?  It seems an obvious message as far as the San Diego Jazz Fest is concerned, this year or in years to come. Good things are coming, the lyrics say, but you can’t hide under a treeIf you bestir yourself on Monday, November 26, you’ll have to wait a whole year for this opportunity to be grateful amidst friends and lovely heated music.  Take a look here and you will be glad you did.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGING NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: FOR DANCING — OR JUST LISTENING!”: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Kid Ory hasn’t really opened his California jazz club, nor has he come back in the flesh.  But his music has, joyously and intelligently.

This cheerful development in the twenty-first century is the handiwork of drummer, scholar, and bandleader Hal Smith, who’s been playing gigs with his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND, which focuses on lively renditions of the music Ory played in the middle and later stages of his career.

And they’ve just released their debut CD.

I wrote happily about this band  (with performance videos) in December 2017, and you can see and hear more here.

Although Ory was born in the nineteenth century, he did not cling to a historical vision of the music.  His later recordings swung, and showed he and his musicians embraced performance styles more modern than 1926.  The ON THE LEVEE band is well aware of that gentle but persistent 4 / 4 rocking motion of jazz in the Thirties . . . and even beyond.

The virtues of the band require a brief digression.  I was once at a festival, sitting close enough to eavesdrop as the leader of a small ad hoc group called for a spectacular closing number.  It would be long, loud, with extended high-volume solos, and would conclude with a long drum and long horn solos.  The one horn player looked pained, and said to the leader, “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” to which the leader replied, “Do you want them standing and cheering at the end of the set?  Follow me!”  The horn player grudgingly complied; the chandeliers swung; the audience shrieked.  I thought I’d contracted tinnitus, but it went away. So, in this century, bands have often tried to grab an audience’s attention by manufactured excitement.  Songs are played faster and louder and with less subtlety, because the audience associates excitement with Hot.

Ory and his colleagues, including Joe Oliver, understood that jazz was essentially a dance music, to keep audiences in motion — or at least not blow them out of their seats.  Hal Smith and this new band understand that principle, so although the music is never Easy Listening (“The 101 Strings Play the Cassino Simpson Songbook”) it is easy on the ears and it promotes healing constant motion of the nicest kind.

The CD features Hal, drums and leader; Clint Baker, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass, performing ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / WANG WANG BLUES / BEALE STREET BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / MAPLE LEAF RAG / MILENBERG JOYS / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / SAVOY BLUES / WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / DOWN HOME RAG / YELLOW DOG BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / PANAMA.

I know that song list looks resolutely “traditional,” and listeners might expect a repertory concert rather than swinging dance music.  But here’s evidence of just how light-on-its-feet this band is.

ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP:

MAPLE LEAF RAG (what a nice tempo!):

DOWN HOME RAG:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING:

In addition to the lyrical soloing by Polcer and Goldberg, there’s also the supple but rough-edged (I think of corduroy) sound and attack of Clint Baker, who evokes Ory at every turn.  And for me what makes this band glide rather than lumber is the deliciously mobile rhythm section — no banjo, no tuba, no two-beat — of Hal, striding Kris Tokarski, powerful yet floating Belhaj and Gouzy.  I don’t want to upset those who live for “authenticity,” but everyone in this band has heard 1938 Count Basie as well as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra.  And the result would have made the Kid smile.

You can, as they say, “follow them on Facebook” here — and visit the band’s very entertaining website here.  The CD is available from Hal, at gigs, at the Louisiana Music Factory, and I think soon it will be on sale in other forms and from other places.

May your happiness increase!

“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!

SPICY DELICIOUS MUSIC: THE DORO WAT JAZZ BAND

Doro Wat is the national Ethiopian dish, a spicy chicken stew.  I recall eating it in Oakland, California.  Exhibit A:

but there’s also Exhibit B, 49 minutes and 52 seconds of spicy music:

and the back cover:

You need read no more.  Listen!

The band is slightly more than a year old, and it’s a wonder: T Werk Thomson, string bass; John Rodli, guitar; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal.  The beautiful recording was done by John Dixon at the Spotted Cat; the singular typography is by SEEK1 and TOPMOB!.

And the repertoire — which tells an educated listener how wise and deep this hot band is: JUBILESTA / OH, PETER / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / JAMAICA SHOUT / POTATO HEAD BLUES / TIGHT LIKE THIS /  BUGLE CALL RAG / RUMBA NEGRO (Latin) / RUMBA NEGRO (Swing) / IF I WERE YOU / SAN / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  Just to point out the forbears, how about Ellington, Red Allen, the Rhythmakers, Bennie Moten, Teddy Wilson, James P., Mister Jelly Lord, Louis.  And there’s a delightful freedom in their homages: this music comes from the heart, not from someone’s imposed notion of what “trad” or “New Orleans jazz” is.  It’s free-flowing and glorious.

Here’s T Werk’s own narrative about the birth of a band, verbatim from Facebook:

February 23 at 10:51am ·
About one year ago I got a call from John Rodli asking me if I wanted to play a gig with him at Three Muses on Friday night. I said something along the lines of “Duh, Idiot. Totally down.” Being Rodli, he didn’t book anybody for the gig and asked me to just throw something together last minute. That first gig had Ben Polcer, James Evans, Rodli, and myself on it. After that gig we immediately realized that we had something totally killer going on here. Once we locked down a weekly gig at Three Muses is when this band really took shape. We were able to add two of the most bad ass musicians I know to fill out the band’s lineup. Charlie Halloran and David Boeddinghaus (🛥🏠). With that killer lineup already rolling we had to add Tom Fischer on reeds as well because we’re all totally insane. After playing for a few months we realized that it was time to make a CD. In November we booked off two days to make a record not realizing that we would only need the first 3 hours and 8 minutes of the first day to record the whole thing. As a musician, going into a studio and coming out three hours later with a killer product is one of the best feelings you can have. That being said, we now have our first record available for purchase! A huge shout out goes to John A Dixon for absolutely CRUSHING the art work. Seek 1 & Top MOB for slaying the lettering and Sophie Lee Lowry and the staff at Three Muses for letting us have Three Muses as our homebase week after week. Keep an eye out for a CD release party coming up really soon. Until then you can purchase digital downloads of the album from band camp or through the Louisiana Music Factory later on today. Of course we will also have this CD for sale tonight at Three Muses from 9-12.
I’ve never been so proud to have my name on a record as I am with this one. Polcer, James, Charlie, 🛥🏠, Fischer and Rodli are the best musicians to work with and we get to do it every week. LET’S DO SHOTS!!

I’d say it a little differently: this recording makes me bounce with happiness.  The rhythm section is a thing of joy, and the soloists know how to speak in their own voices and to join as a choir — the goal of having a deeply melodic satisfying good time.  I keep getting stuck on the first track, that growly piece of Thirties Ellingtonia, JUBILESTA.  But I keep on playing this disc.  And you’ll notice I’m not explicating the music: if I had to do that, I’d despair of my audience.  You’ll hear just how fine DORO WAT is very quickly.  It’s restorative music that I’d like everyone to hear.

And from another angle: I was on a wobbly barstool at The Ear Inn last week, talking with my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, and I said, “You know, THIS is a Golden Age right now.”  DORO WAT is very convincing proof.  Thank you, kind wild creators.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING FOR THE KID: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure.  His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.

But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so.  In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs.  Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4,  and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging.  At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.

Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties  has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms.  That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.

I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.

Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).

The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November.  I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.

For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos.  Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.

WEARY BLUES:

DOWN HOME RAG:

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way.  And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.

May your happiness increase!

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!  

BEAUTIFUL RIGHTEOUS ENERGIES: THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND, “STEPPIN ON THE GAS”

I’m late to the party but happy to have been invited.  Even without the proper apostrophe, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, the new CD by the Shotgun Jazz Band, is a total delight, a disc I play all the way through and want to rehear immediately.

The Shotgun Jazz Band has been recording for six years now, and their new disc offers the pleasure of richly-textured, solidly-grounded New Orleans jazz.  Here they are at The Spotted Cat in April 2016, with Marla Dixon, trumpet; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Tyler “Twerk” Thomson, string bass / vocal; Craig Flory, alto saxophone; Ben Polcer, piano:

This is a 2015 performance that shows their virtues: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147186666“>

 with Marla, John, Charlie, Twerk, and reedman James Evans.

This is a very revealing profile of the band from the “Enjoying Traditional Jazz” blog, written by “a very old guy [from Nottingham, England] who got into traditional jazz late in life, with much to discover, learn and pass on.”  The author calls himself “Pops Coffee” and his blog can be found here.

Back to the reason for this post, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, a consistently lively homage to the great songs — fully vitalized in this century — by Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, “trampagne”; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Twerk Thomson, string bass / vocal; and guests Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone / clarinet.  The Shotgun ensemble is its own pleasure (beautifully recorded at Luthjen’s Dance Hall, utilizing the acoustics of that space, without an audience, so that we hear subtle shadings and bold statements).  Special plaudits go to Earl Scioneaux III for engineering and mixing and to Bruce Barielle for mastering the disc.

The songs are GULF COAST BLUES*; WHITE GHOST SHIVERS; HOW AM I TO KNOW? (James, vocal); SHE’S CRYING FOR ME; MOONLIGHT BAY*; SMILES; I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU*; DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE* and band vocal; WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME*; ROSE OF BOMBAY; BREEZE*; CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART*; OLE MISS RAG; PRETEND*; MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME (Twerk / band vocal); GUILTY* (not the Al Bowlly ballad); STEPPIN ON THE GAS; DEEP RIVER.  The asterisks are for the tracks Marla sings on, and she is such a varied singer — tender or raucous — that I never got weary of her voice.

The pleasures start immediately with GULF COAST BLUES –David Boeddinghaus, sounding like a modern James P. Johnson alongside Marla Dixon’s powerful but understated blues singing; then James Evans adds his emotive, conversational alto saxophone and Twerk his beautifully centered string bass (a gutty yet swinging accompaniment that — heretically perhaps — is the ideal world that Bessie Smith rarely got to experience on records) . . . to James’ exquisite vocal on HOW AM I TO KNOW (which Louis performed on his first European tour!); a performance of ON MOONLIGHT BAY (one of those songs that hits me in some deep nostalgic part of my being, as does SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON) that lingers over the verse and then turns the second chorus into a shouting near-blues; a very fast, rollicking SMILES (with a stomping Boeddinghaus solo). . . I could go on, but I will leave the rest of the delights for the listeners.

The disc shows off beautiful vocalized instrumental solos, neither timid nor rough, shifting ensembles (this is neither a “recorded jam session” nor a banquet of recreations, but a comfortable middle ground) — where the lead moves around within the band, and instruments pair off in ways we might not expect: subtle harmonic depths, and an unfailing swing. Nothing more to ask for!

The six selections with an expanded front line: WHITE GHOST SHIVERS, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME,  DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, OLE MISS RAG, GUILTY, STEPPIN ON THE GAS — adding Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and alto saxophone — are extraordinary examples of ensemble playing that borders on the ecstatic while being expertly under control — a paradox when seen on the page, but completely understandable when heard.

If someone asks you what hot jazz sounds like in this century, or tells you that New Orleans jazz no longer exists, or that swing is a dying phenomenon — play that misguided soul STEPPIN ON THE GAS.  I would.

Here is the band’s website, with sound samples, and their Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

THE OPPOSITE OF DESTRUCTIVENESS IS KINDNESS, OR, TAKE A LOOK AT T WERK’S WORKS

I’m reposting this February 2017 post for a reason.  I’ve never met the string bassist and energetic recordist T Werk Thomson in person, but I’ve admired his work (or werk) from when I first heard it.  Simply, about a year ago, he created in his New Orleans home a recording studio.  Not with ProTools and his MacBook, but with a Presto disc cutter, a supply of “new” 78 recording blanks, and he set out to capture good music in the best old-time ways.  And that music — detailed below — was just splendid.  As well, I applauded the splendid eccentricity of his capturing it as hot jazz, cage-free, organic, and locally sourced.  (Another product of T Werk’s studio is Charlie Halloran’s superb CE BIGUINE.)

At the end of 2017, I and others learned that someone had maliciously vandalized T Werk’s studio and destroyed his disc cutter and all that it needed to make more records.  I won’t go into the dark details — this is a jazz blog, not an episode of a television cop show — but that act seemed spectacularly mean-spirited.  Jo Anna Mae Amlin set up a GoFundMe page here and some people have been contributing.  I encourage you to do so.  As Louis sings in SHOE SHINE BOY, “every nickel helps a lot,” and one can match altruism with desire. If T Werk gets his studio running again, there will be more records for us to enjoy. So even if kindness in the abstract seems more than you can do, kindness with a reward is worth the effort.  If everyone who’s heard T Werk swing out paid in the price of a large Starbucks drink, or a beer, or (for the antiquarians among us) a CD, he would be able to reconstruct his studio quickly.  (And I should point out that Presto disc cutters and acetate blanks are not items one can pick up at the corner store.)

So: help out someone who’s already done a great deal for the music and for us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled effusions.

The CD below is delightfully weird but the results are entirely gratifying. Perhaps that sentence should properly read “and the results”: you decide.

Exhibit A.  The process:

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Exhibit A.1.a: A Presto disc cutter from eBay:

presto-cutter

Exhibit A.1.b: Blank discs, also from eBay:

presto-discs

Exhibit B. The result:

twerk-cd-cover

Exhibit B.1.a.:

bunk-popular

Exhibit C. The results, continued here.

Exhibiit D.  The explanation.  The story has different parts, which combine. Twerk Thomson is a young yet respected New Orleans string bassist, with a real understanding of the art form, often heard with the Shotgun Jazz Band.  And he, like other musicians and scholars, is fascinated by the intersection of “archaic” sound and the technology of its time. It’s one thing to get musicians into a modern studio — which, at its most “modern,” is a very restrictive environment, where musicians can barely see each other and hear each other through headphones . . . and then try to improvise music that will seem natural to the disc’s purchaser.  But what happens when you record twenty-first century improvisers with the technology of the previous century, the century that gave birth to the innovators they (and we) so admire?  The music I am celebrating in this post, created last year, is a tribute to Bill Russell’s American Music creations. And the new CD sounds wonderful.

But something needs to be said about the Presto home record cutter and discs. Before the computer and the iPhone . . . music used to be packaged tangibly on a variety of discs, and enterprising people could record their own music at home — whether it was Aunt Ella singing and playing hymns or the Paso Robles Wanderers working out the trio of MABEL’S DREAM.  I have found these discs at yard sales, and they’ve never offered something life-changing, such as a broadcast from the Reno Club, but they are tantalizing.  The whole idea is roughly parallel to another piece of archaic technology, the Polaroid camera, but I assure you the discs hold up better.

Twerk told me, “I got my first cutter about a year and a half ago, which ended up being completely useless.  So I ended up buying two more.  They come up on eBay every so often. Finding ones that were affordable was the big challenge.
Blanks come up on eBay as well but they are very hit and miss when It comes to quality. I actually ended up finding a bunch of original presto blanks on there once that were actually still usable. They came in the original packaging which was really cool.  But for higher quality blanks we use a company called Apollo, from California.”

The official version is “The performances herein were recorded live with one microphone into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm, and edited only for volume. All Sessions Produced by Twerk Thomson and Recorded by John Dixon, Live at Twerk-O-Phonic Studios, New Orleans, LA.”

The songs: OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / MY GAL SAL / PRETTY BABY / SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART / SWEET BYE AND BYE (Twerk Thomson, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Kris Tokarski, piano) / JADA / SHINE  / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / NOON BLUES / MARIE / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / MELANCHOLY BLUES  (Twerk, John Rodli, guitar, vocal on JADA; Kris; Ben; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone) / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / POOR BUTTERFLY (Twerk, Russell Welch, guitar; Alex Owen, trumpet; Bruce Brackmon, clarinet; Marty Peters, tenor saxophone) / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / HOME (Twerk, tenor guitar; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal).

Exhibit E: Twerk Thomson on Facebook.

If you’re familiar with any of the heroes recorded on this disc (and you can hear / download / purchase the music on the Soundcloud link above) you will know what to expect: music that is both romping and elegantly controlled, harking back to the Bunk Johnson – Don Ewell – Alphonso Steele trios and slightly larger ensembles.  The “vintage sound” — powerfully focused if somewhat narrower (at first) than we are used to — is so atmospheric.  The discs have occasional surface noise, whooshes and clicks, but the noise is part of the overall effect rather than something added on synthetically.  Everyone plays beautifully and with heart, so the result is not merely the documentation of a gimmick, but a melding of technology and reverent impulse.

I first heard a few of the individual sessions on Twerk’s Facebook page, and thought, “Wow, I hope he puts these into a form that people who want to get away from their computers can purchase and have.”  And he did.  So I can now time-travel to some indeterminate place whenever I want, even while driving to work.  And Twerk has also established Twerk-O-Phonic Studios as a place (a sanctuary for music!) where you can visit and record your own music onto an actual disc — a single artifact, not a mass-produced product — to have, to hear, to admire.  I don’t want this to become such a phenomenon that he no longer has time to play the propulsive string bass he does so well, but a little prosperity would be nice.

I commend this disc to you.  The music on it both embraces and transcends the technology.  And, to me, the complete idea — the musicians, the home environment, the discs — is heartwarming.

May your happiness increase!

PRESENTING DENNIS LICHTMAN AND HIS ALL-LICHTMAN ORCHESTRA!

When I first met Dennis in 2009 at the now-quiet Banjo Jim’s in New York City, we were both younger, and he was restricting himself to clarinet, mandolin, and fiddle, as an integral member of the Cangelosi Cards.

dennis-lichtman

Now see what he’s done!  This video seriously goes where no musician has gone before, and it outdoes Sidney Bechet’s One-Man Band in several ways.  In it, Dennis composes a paean to his musical development, sings, cavorts, and plays violin, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo (and he avoids the difficult non-rhyme), C-melody saxophone, and a few surprises:

Credit where credit is due:

Dancers:  Amy Johnson and Laura Manning.  Band:  Jason Jurzak, Russell Welch, Ben Polcer.  KILLER KOWALSKI PRODUCTIONS.  Director of Photography & Editor: Michelle Nicolette Kowalski.  Production:
Danielle Elizabeth / Tamara Grayson / Russell Welch / Jason Jurzak / Simon Lever / Kerry Genese / Bobby Bonsey / Camila Santos.  Special thanks to Welbourne Farm and Inn and Welbourne Jazz Camp.  http://www.welbourneinn.com / http://welbournejazzcamp.com  © 2016 Triple Treble Music, all rights reserved

It is terribly unsubtle of me to write this, but the festival promoter or club booker or what have you who can see this video and not think, “I ought to hire this fellow.  Think of all the talent I can snag for one salary!” is someone I can’t imagine.  Find Dennis here or here to make those connections.

Keep on keepin’ on, Dennis.  You’re no fool.  Thank you for the joy and the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

CARE TO STOMP? (September 23-25, 2016)

It’s never too early to think about a Stomp.  And not just any Stomp — but the fourth annual Steamboat Stomp, held in New Orleans . . . for the most part, on the river, while the Steamboat Natchez lazily goes up and down the Mississippi, the bands are playing, or the steam calliope is wailing, the food and drink are being offered.

STEAMBOAT STOMP 2016 poster

If my words aren’t sufficiently evocative, let this image sink in:

Steamboat Natchez. Photograph by John Snell.

Steamboat Natchez. Photograph by John Snell.

Here’s the Stomp’s Facebook page where you can learn more, buy tickets, make hotel reservations, and get yourself in the mood for Stomping.  (For those of you who resist the charms of Facebook, please note that the poster has the Stomp’s web address, also information about the chosen hotel.)

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the 2013 and 2015 Stomps — and I brought my self and my camera, so I offer evidence of the delights that took place — and will continue this coming September.

Here are Tim Laughlin, Ray Heitger, Steve Pistorius, and Jeff Hamilton from 2013.

and a delicious performance by Banu Gibson from 2013.

Steve Pistorius, Tom Fischer, and Ben Polcer swinging out in 2015,

the Yerba Buena Stompers that same year,

and Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers from 2013.

Enough to convince you?  If not, please look again at those names on the flyer, and know that the flyer can’t list all the luminaries (Hal Smith is going to be there, for one — as part of Kris Tokarski’s HOT CLASSICISM, a trio including Andy Schumm) — so hot music will surely be happening.  The way the Natchez is set up allows for simultaneous sets: sometimes three at once, so the only problem I foresee is deciding WHICH?  We should all have such dilemmas.

But enough of that.  See you on the boat, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

COOTS IN CHARGE: ALLAN VACHÉ, TOM FISCHER, DUKE HEITGER, BEN POLCER, BRIA SKONBERG, RUSS PHILLIPS, DAN BARRETT, DALTON RIDENHOUR, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS (ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, APRIL 18, 2015)

Danny Coots, who lives the words on the sign above his head.

Danny Coots, who lives the words on the sign above his head.

Four delights and four comic interludes from the very lovable and talented Danny Coots, with Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vaché, Tom Fischer, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Paul Keller, string bass: recorded at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party —

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

MOTEN SWING:

PANAMA:

The 27th Atlanta Jazz Party will take place in you-know-what-city from April 22 to 24, 2016.  Details to come here.

May your happiness increase!

HE BROUGHT HIS FRIENDS: STEVE PISTORIUS, TOM FISCHER, BEN POLCER at the STEAMBOAT STOMP (September 19, 2015)

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Less is indeed more sometimes at jazz parties as well as other places.  Here’s proof of a most delicious sort, down below the main deck of the Steamboat Natchez during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp — a cozy little chamber jazz session scored for three Maestri, Steve Pistorius on piano and moral leadership; Tom Fischer on clarinet; Ben Polcer on trumpet and vocal on BABY BROWN.

And there are certain delights you might not notice on first viewing.  In the audience were Banu Gibson and David Boeddinghaus among other luminaries. Although my videos don’t always have compelling visual effects (I prefer to aim my camera at the band and leave it there) please note the floating scenery viewed out the window behind Tom, and how the light changes as the time passes.  Most beautiful.

And then there’s the music, with nods to Handy, Waller, Morton, Twenties pop songs — a session with timeless joy and wit.

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

BABY BROWN:

TIGER RAG:

COQUETTE:

WEARY BLUES:

To quote Johnny Mathis sixty years ago, “Wonderful, wonderful.”  Thank you, O Three Wise Men.

May your happiness increase!

CONFESS YOUR FEARS AND THEY MAY BE TRANSFORMED: DUKE HEITGER, BEN POLCER, RUSS PHILLIPS, TOM FISCHER, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 17, 2015)

I’M CONFESSIN’ (a song with an unusual history — written in 1929 and published with another title and lyrics, then recreated a year later with the same melody, new lyrics, and an entirely different set of composers credited) is a lovely durable melody . . . of course, first made immortal by Louis Armstrong, who sang and played it for the next forty years.  I couldn’t find a copy of the first sheet music, but here is a later version:

I'M CONFESSIN'Many bands pick this as a reliable rhythm ballad — and some race through it as if on jazz cruise control, taking it as an interlude between one punishingly fast / loud number and the next.

Happily, this was not the case with Duke Heitger, Ben Polcer, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Tom Fischer, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Paul Keller, strig bass; Danny Coots, drums, at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party (this performance was only the second song of the three-day marathon).  These master musicians created something frankly alchemical, transforming sadness into joy:

Everything about this performance entrances me: the sweet steady tread of the rhythm section (a wonderful team saying with every beat to the horn players, “Create whatever is in your heart and we will be there to support you, to make you feel safe”) to the compact singing utterances of the horns — how to make those instruments speak in such heartfelt ways in sixteen bars!  (Sixteen bars go by so quickly.)  The variety of sounds!

And just as a self-referential digression: inspired by the song, I stopped writing and went twenty feet to the other end of this long room, where a cherished cornet rests on blue velour in its ancient case.  I picked it up and “played” the first sixteen bars of I’M CONFESSIN’ and reminded myself only how incredibly difficult making an instrument sing is.  Mine sang, but I won’t describe how or what it was singing.

From the title alone, one would think that I’M CONFESSIN’ would be an exultant outpouring of love, with the Lover offering feelings openly.  And that is indeed the case.  But the Lover here is both frightened and self-aware, wondering if those feelings will be reciprocated or discarded.  And the Love Object — the source of power in this interlude — is both inscrutable and ambiguous: the eyes embody one “strange” message; the lips offer another.

I think that JAZZ LIVES readers might need to hear the lyrics as well as the melody. And thanks to my dear friend Austin Casey, here is THE version of the century: Louis on the Frank Sinatra Show.

Gorgeous, light-hearted, and heartfelt.  I offer this as evidence to those who think Louis didn’t care about the lyrics: here he offers each word as if it had been written by Keats.  Tonation and phrasing for the ages.  I also offer this performance not as a diminution of the one created on April 17, 2015, but to show that the two stand side-by-side, our heroes in this century so completely lit from within by Louis’ blessed spirit.

A last word about the alchemy of music, of candor.  The musicians in Atlanta did the impossible by transforming unease and anxiety into something beautiful, in the spirit of Louis.  This transformation is not always possible in what passes for real life, but it is worth attempting.  Keeping one’s terrors to oneself is what we have been trained to do.  Adults don’t talk about what scares them: they might terrify the children.  But I wonder if we said out loud to ourselves, “I am deeply afraid that ___________ might happen,” that the fear, put into syllables we can hear ourselves saying, might be more manageable.  Saying to the Love Object, “I’m afraid some day you’ll leave me / Saying ‘Can’t we still be friends?'” is a true act of courage, because the Love Object can always say back, “Indeed, that was just what I was thinking this very moment,” but [hence the MAY in my title] it could provoke reassurance.

JAZZ LIVES offers no advice in relationships, and hence is held harmless from any liability.  But speaking what you feel, embodying what you feel is always courageous, no matter what the result.

Keep CONFESSIN’, I say.

May your happiness increase! 

THE VIEW FROM TABLE 3 WAS GRAND; THE MUSIC, GRANDER: BEN POLCER, DAN BARRETT, ALLAN VACHÉ, JOHN COCUZZI, NICKI PARROTT, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

I’m still grinning when I think of all the good music created last weekend (April 17-19) at the 26th Atlanta Jazz Party.

Here’s another leisurely sample, performed by Ben Polcer, trumpet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone; John Cocuzzi, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.

It’s the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.  Now, if I could see you, I would catch some of my readers in mid-wince.  “God, not that song again!  That’s what’s wrong with ‘traditional jazz’!”  Even I have been known to think and say, “I wish I could have a moratorium on ROYAL GARDEN,” but this performance reminds me again how little the repertoire has to do with the beauty created:

Although they play the song with the correct conventions, the appropriate gestures, there’s nothing locked-in here.  Once those gavottes are accomplished, you can feel the musicians relaxing into a medium-fast twelve bar blues . . . and each one has a beautiful story to tell.  Pay particular attention to that rhythm section!  And you all know and admire Messrs. Vaché and Barrett, but one of the great lyrical surprises of the AJP was Ben Polcer — who is so much more than just “Ed Polcer’s kid” — an easy, hot player with a fine range who knows the twists and turns but also has a swing feel . . . now and again reminding me of Buck Clayton, and that is high praise.

This performance was only one of more than a hundred at the AJP — and it is by no means the only standout.  Next year, the Party will be on April 15, 16, and 17. I hope to be there, and at Table Three.  My jazz home away from home for three days.

May your happiness increase!