I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.
At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.
Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.
Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.
The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.
RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //
This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.
Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.
May your happiness increase!
Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”
I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.
I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .