Tag Archives: Dick Shanahan

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.

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JOHN SHERIDAN KICKS IT (Sept. 5, 2011)

Underestimate pianist / composer / arranger John Sheridan at your peril.  Neatly dressed, apparently serious-minded, he is really a volcanic eruption of swing just waiting for the proper moment.  Yes, he can play the most delicate traceries behind a soloist or our Becky Kilgore, and when he sits down at a new piano he is more likely to venture into IN A MIST than HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES (although his version of the latter song is peerless).  But he’s a Force of Nature when seated at the piano.  No cascades of notes; no violent runs up and down the keyboard; no “displays of technique”: John simply starts plainly and builds and builds — at these times, the pianist he summons up most is the much-missed Dave McKenna, without consciously aping the Woonsocket, R.I. master’s locomotive patterns.

Sheridan remains Sheridan, and that’s a good thing.

Here he is (with Richard Simon, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums) in the final set of the final afternoon of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  All the musicians and the varied audiences were in a state of Jazz Satiety: whatever could have been played or heard was in the preceding four days.

So wily Mr. Sheridan eschewed his stride extravaganzas and tender ballads: instead, he suggested something both elementary and profound, Sonny Rollins’ calypso ST. THOMAS.  And from those simple chords and potentially repetitive rhythmic patterns he built a powerful edifice — a masterpiece of variations on themes, of creative improvisation.  And it rocked the house there — as I think it will do for yours now:

Another winning play from John Sheridan, man of many surprises!

TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, RICHARD SIMON, DICK SHANAHAN at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I was eager to hear this band at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles.  I always admire the playing of  Clint Baker (here on trombone), and pianist Chris Dawson is one of my heroes. 

The leader, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, I knew as an articulate student of Pete Fountain, and Connie Jones had impressed me for his partnership with the late Richard Sudhalter (they made a superb Stomp Off recording that eventually appeared on CD as CONNIE JONES AND DICK SUDHALTER: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, CHR 70054).  In addition, Connie was chosen by Jack Teagarden, which says a great deal about his talent.  The Sweet and Hot ensemble was filled out with a variety of bassists and drummers; in this case Richard Simon (b) and Dick Shanahan (d).

But I wasn’t prepared for what I heard.  Laughlin reminded me of the much-missed Irving Fazola — that’s a great compliment — with his deep singing tone, his ability to turn corners without strain, his lovely phrasing (never a note too many), and his fine cheerful leadership, which translates to pretty, not-often-played songs at just-right tempos.

Connie was simply amazing: constructing Bobby Hackett-cloud castles with harmonies that were deep (beyond the formulaic) without calling attention to themselves, his tone glowing but with the occasional rough edge when appropriate; his approach to the instrument a seamless blending of singer, brass tubing, and song. 

Like Bob Barnard, Connie plays in a manner both casual and architectural: his solos combine solidity and airiness.  Although his tone has a sweetly human fragility, Connie always seems to know where he’s going, but nothing is ever mannered or predictable; his twists and turns surprise the musicians who stand alongside him.  I thought I heard echoes of Doc Cheatham’s lighter-than-air flights, but Connie obviously has all of this on his own — with a solid foundation of Louis.

Chris Dawson can make you think of Hines, of Wilson, of Waller or James P., but he never sounds derivative; his playing is so organic, his approach so easy, that he makes a four-bar introduction seem like a complete work of art.  What Chris does is hard work, but a Dawson solo is a piece of sleight-of-hand: it sounds easy, nonchalant.  And he makes subtle magic carpets out of his accompaniments without ever stealing the limelight from the soloist.  Like Jess Stacy in the Goodman band, you can’t help but listen to what he’s creating.

These three players constructed shimmering solos and neat ensemble parts — but a true New Orleans band needs some spice, some grit and funk — provided admirably by Clint on trombone, his tone huge, his phrases and exuberant attack suggesting a meeting at the bar of Higginbotham, Sandy Williams, and Dicky Wells.

Of Simon and Shanahan, I will reach back to the Sage, Albert Edwin Condon, and say that they did no one any harm.

Here are some shining moments from the first set I captured — on September 2, 2011.

I MAY BE WRONG is a 1934 classic (no one believed me when — at some point during the festival — I explained that the “speaker” in the song is blind . . . as I recall, which makes the lyrics understandable.  Research?) that usually leads to an easy glide, as it did here:

I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY (who says that men don’t apologize?) was a favorite of Jack Teagarden and remains one of Jon-Erik Kellso’s:

IT’S WONDERFUL, by Stuff Smith and Mitchell Parish, was first recorded by Louis and by Maxine Sullivan — but the version that most listeners know by heart comes from the Teagarden-Hackett COAST CONCERT (or COAST TO COAST) on Capitol, a treasure:

After such beauty, how about a little street music: if BEALE STREET could talk, it would sound like this:

Tim chose that old barbershop quartet favorite DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM as his feature, and played it beautifully:

Clint looked surprised when the magic pointer came to him, and (after apologizing, needlessly) swashbuckled his way — playing and singing — through the eternal quesion, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? — his version owing more to Bubber Miley than to the Ritz-Carlton:

Another “wonderful tune,” the Gershwins’ S’WONDERFUL:

And the band reassembled for an unusual choice to close the set (rather than a stomp or a drum feature), WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

This band is happily distant from formulaic “Dixieland,” “New Orleans,” or “trad.”  They create beautiful melodies, they swing, and they listen to one another; the result is moving music.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

P.S.  Last year, Tim’s band, with Connie and pianist John Sheridan, made a rewarding CD, just out.  Visit http://www.timlaughlin.com/music.htm for information (there’s also a documentary DVD about the making of the music): I recommend both!