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!