Tag Archives: Frank DiVito

“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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FLOATING LYRICISM: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 5, 2011)

The renowned jazz reedman Joel Press made a point last night at Smalls, in between-set conversation, of praising the clarinetist Tim Laughlin — someone whom I hadn’t heard in person before the Sweet and Hot Music Festival this last September.  And I agreed, enthusiastically.

“Tonation and phrasing” is how Louis described the ideal: that the sound coming out of someone’s horn, the audible beauty of someone’s vocal sound, is as important as the notes played.  Music, said Eddie Condon, should come in the ear like honey.  Tim understands that so well and puts it into practice: the simplest melody statement gleams.  And as for “phrasing,” he’s a master at taking his time, making space so that those notes resonate in our ears and hearts.  Not surprisingly, his partners in the band are great lyrical players.  I’ve praised them before and this time will let the music speak for itself — and will only, as Yeats wrote, murmur name upon name: Connie Jones, cornet and sky-architecture; Clint Baker, trombone and funk; Chris Dawson, piano and elegance; Katie Cavera, guitar and automatic transmission; Marty Eggers, string bass and solid rock; Hal Smith, drums and sound-sculptures.  And late in this set they were visited by the slippery and thoughtful trombonist Russ Phillips. 

Oh, play those things!

They began the set with a nice easy version of SHINE — a song looked on with some disapproval for its lyrics, but once you move the difficult words aside, the melody rings beautifully.  It’s one of those classic-but-neglected songs I could hear much more often:

Then a real surprise — Tim loves pretty melodies, which is appropriate, so he called for IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, which rises to sweet splendor early on:

If you think only of the lyrics, I CRIED FOR YOU strikes a more unhappy note, but jazz players and singers have been ignoring its potantial vindictiveness since the middle Thirties — as the band does here:

Then came one of the high points of the festival — Connie Jones’ absolutely heartfelt performance of a song Louis Jordan recorded, NEW ORLEANS AND A RUSTY OLD HORN, which sums up a good deal of Connie’s love for that city, the music, and how they intertwine.  It’s also a song Connie recorded with Tim on their latest CD (visit http://www.timlaughlin.com. for the details):

Russ Phillips came onstage (always something to celebrate) and the band swung out into the old Berlin favorite, ALL BY MYSELF:

And they ended the set with a good old good one, evoking what Louis would have called a street parade in his home town, HIGH SOCIETY:

Here’s a bit of what they call laginappe — something extra and extra-special — as they call it in New Orleans: a Connie Jones / Tim Laughlin / Corey Gemme / John Sheridan / Richard Simon / Frank DiVito gift from the last set of Sweet and Hot: MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE (listen closely to Connie’s generous, pensive obbligatos to Corey’s lead):

I’m very sorry that these are the last videos of the Laughlin – Jones band I have from Sweet and Hot 2011, but thrilled to be able to share them with you.  This band — almost identical except that Bob Havens will be playing trombone — will be featured at the San Diego Dixieland Festival this coming November.  Maybe Clint (who will be playing with two other bands at that festival — trumpet with Grand Dominion and tuba with the Yerba Buena Stompers — will come and make himself to home with Tim and Connie, too.  I’ll be there.

REBECCA AMIDST THE REEDS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I’ve seen the peerless singer Rebecca Kilgore perform live for the past seven years, and have always marveled how easily she made herself — and everyone else — comfortable in ad hoc situations.  And her easy confidence radiates to the other musicians; we in the audience feel it, too.  No one sits tensely on the edge of a seat when Becky takes the mike to sing: we know that something good, something surprising and persuasive, is coming.

It certainly happened at her closing set of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, which took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011.  Someone had the interesting idea of splitting the RK4 (that’s the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, the group formerly known as BED) into two.  In one room, Dan Barrett and Joel Forbes improvised alongside pianist Chris Dawson, reedman Jim Galloway, and drummer Frank DiVito.  I’m sure that was a delight.  Down the hall, Becky found herself surrounded by clarinets — Bob Draga and Chloe Feoranzo, with comrade Eddie Erickson on the stand and the irreplaceable pianist / singer Mark Shane.

What resulted was superb, and you can see for yourself.

Becky began with a song — of no great lyrical depth but immensely memorable — that I’d never heard her sing before, THE FLAT FOOT FLOOGIE (which segued into a later bit of pop drollery, SHOO FLY PIE AND APPLE PAN DOWDY, known only to scholars of dance-band arcana).  But she and the band floated on air, with our without a floy floy:

Another new-old song, YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS, was more lyrically dense but equally rewarding:

Becky then became a fine rhythm guitarist, while the clarinetists, Mark, and Eddie capered around in BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN at a nice tempo:

Becky teased us and the audience about Eddie Erickson’s feature, WHAT’LL I DO? as a genuine weeper, but at heart she’s right — what a lovely performance of that beautiful song, with Eddie’s voice full of shadings that change from word to word:

Usually pianists as splendidly gifted as Mark Shane choose to wow the crowd with a stride firecracker for a feature — but our Mr. Shane is a wily programmer, and he called the 2:19 BLUES (or MAMIE’S BLUES) for his star turn, which led to a deep-blue seven minute performance of which Mr. Morton would (“no doubt”) have approved:

In response to an audience member’s request, Becky tenderly sang that Swing Era carpe diem,  A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY, in duet with Mark — the result touching without being sentimental:

And the whole group re-assembled so that Becky could lead them out with a hymn to self-love in the form of snail-mail: I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER:

What grace!  Thanks to Becky and the ensemble, and special thanks to the Canadian Board of Film for its gracious assistance.  This posting was made possible by a grant from the Frida Foundation.

P.S.  While I was writing this post, I took a phone call from my friend Destiny Sneath and explained what I was doing.  “You won’t believe it,” I said.  And — she knows the right thing to say — Destiny replied, “I can’t wait!”  This one’s for you, Destiny — and for all of us who admire our Miss Kilgore.