Tag Archives: Hal Smith

LIFE IMPROVES AT FORTY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST and SWING EXTRAVAGANZA (Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 2019)

The 1932 best-seller (with a Will Rogers movie a few years later):

Even before I was 40, I was slightly suspicious of the idea, even though it came from better health and thus longer life expectancy.  Was it an insult to the years that came before?  And now that I’m past forty . . . .

But the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza is celebrating its fortieth this year and is in full flower.  So no Google Images of birthday cakes for us — rather, music of the highest order.

The bands and soloists who will be featured include John Royen, Katie Cavera, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Grand Dominion, John Gill, On the Levee Jazz Band, the Mad Hat Hucksters, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Chicago Cellar Boys, Titanic Jazz Band, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, and more than twenty others, with youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and the Saturday-night dance extravaganza featuring On The Levee and the Mad Hat Hucksters.

The Festival is also greatly comfortable, because it is one of those divine ventures where the music is a two-to-five minute walk from the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center.

http://www.sdjazzfest.org/data/uploads/pdf/schedule.pdf

is the “almost final” band schedule for Wednesday night through Sunday.  I will wait until the “final” schedule comes out before I start circling sets in pen and highlighting them — but already I feel woozy with an abundance of anticipated and sometimes conflicting pleasures.

For most of the audience, one of the pleasures of the festival circuit is returning to the familiar.  Is your trad heartthrob the duo Itch and Scratch, or the Seven Stolen Sugar Packets?  At a festival, you can greet old friends both on the bandstand and in the halls.  But there’s also the pleasure of new groups, and the special pleasure of getting to meet and hear someone like John Royen, whom I’ve admired on records for years but have never gotten a chance to meet.

Here’s John, playing Jelly:

And here are a few previously unseen videos from my visits to the Jazz Fest.  First, one of my favorite bands ever, the band that Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones co-led, here with Doug Finke, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, and Marty Eggers — in a 2014 performance of a Fats classic:

and the Chicago Cellar Boys — who will be at this year’s fest — in 2018.  The CCB is or are Andy Schumm, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Johnny Donatowicz, and Dave Bock:

and for those deep in nostalgia for traditional jazz on a cosmic scale, how about High Sierra plus guests Justin Au and Doug Finke in 2014:

Pick the bands you like, explore those new to you, but I hope you can make it to this jolly explosion of music and friendship: it is worth the trip (and I’m flying from New York).  You’ll have an unabridged experience and lose your anxieties!

May your happiness increase!

SALUTARY VIBRATIONS FROM THE DOYLE GALAXY: JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (5.11.19)

I’ve been praising Jonathan Doyle in print and in person for the past five years, give or take an enthusiastic outburst.  Not only is he a superb reed player (clarinet, tenor and bass saxophones), but he’s a wonderful composer and arranger — not only on the paper but on the spot.  And the music he and his friends make is a proven mood-enhancer.

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I’ve been doling out the music from this May 11, 2019 set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival because it is so delicious that I didn’t want — myself or anyone else — to make it into smartphone background music while the listener was doing something crucial like Instagram or microwave popcorn.

Here are the final three beauties from that set — two originals by Jon, one by Buck Clayton.  And in an era where some bands take a long time to get in the groove, please note that the first two performances would fit on a 10″ 78; the last one on a 12″ — maybe a Keynote or a V-Disc . . . although there’s nothing museum-dusty about this music.  Ask the dancers.

And the band!  The band!  From the back, that’s Hal Smith, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone.  What fun!  And, for a change, let me cyber-embrace the team that makes the Redwood Coast Music Festival so memorable, here, rather than at the end of a posting: Mark and Valerie Jansen.

TELL ME IN CHICAGO:

HIGH FIVE, MR. ZEPHYR:

and SIX CATS AND A PRINCE:

I feel better now, and that’s no stage joke.

Next year’s Redwood Coast Music Festival will take place May 7-10, 2020.  Miss it and you’ve missed the Acme fast freight, as Mildred Bailey sang.

And the whole set is now available on the blog: just type in “Swingtet” and you will find joys.

May your happiness increase!

EXPERIMENTS IN MUSIC THERAPY, THANKS TO DOCTORS HILL AND WALLER, AND OTHER PRACTITIONERS OF THE HEALING ARTS

Here’s the recipe, or perhaps the prescription:

And the first musical exhortation, this by Mamie Smith (Note: I’ve consciously not written out the known personnel on each of these musical therapies, thinking it a distraction.  If you need to know who’s in the section, write in and I will look it up in Tom Lord’s discography.):

Step two:

and another contemporaneous version, by Lou Gold and his Orchestra:

and the next step:

and the Fletcher Henderson version, arranged by Benny Carter:

Another step:

and the Ellington version that thrills me — vocal by Chick Bullock (whom I like):

Another step:

and the Red Nichols version, where Jack Teagarden delivers the sermon:

and the frankly amazing recording of Bill Robinson.  Follow along!

That’s a hard act to follow, but here are three “modern” versions that have delicious energy of their own.  First, Jeff Barnhart:

and one version by Marty Grosz (there’s another, easily found, on YouTube) where he borrows liberally from Fats’ DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU for the opening:

and this Teddy Wilson-styled small-group masterpiece by Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers:

May your happiness increase!

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part Two): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

In he name of joy, I present the second half of Dave Stuckey and Hal Smith’s Western Swing party at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

But for the people who didn’t get yesterday’s plateful, here it is.  (Not just music, but two lovely essays on Western Swing, one each by Hal and Dave.)

The wondrous music-makers are Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.  And this glorious outpouring took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 10, 2019.  (I will point out that next year’s RCMF is May 7-10, 2020, and we are going to be there.)

Here’s the swinging REMINGTON RIDE:

Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — a song I could hear Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys doing (with a cameo appearance by the Roving Photographer):

Cindy Walker’s I HEAR YOU TALKIN’ with echoes of Fifty-Second Street:

The pretty MAIDEN’S PRAYER:

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING, as we know:

Dan Walton’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, from the Moon Mullican book:

TEN YEARS:

Cindy Walker’s DUSTY SKIES:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the “Western Swing national anthem”:

How can you hear more of this . . . . ?  Come to the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2o2o.

May your happiness increase!

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part One): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

It’s taken me many years to truly appreciate the breadth and soulfulness of Western Swing but I get it now, so I was thrilled to attend (and record) this leisurely long presentation by a genuinely all-star group, co-led by Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; and Hal Smith, drums, at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

Here’s the personnel — the hot / sweet rascals all in a row: Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.

Because I don’t think of myself as an authority on this music, I asked Dave and Hal for their comments, which are as different as they are.  Dave, first:

While most people think of Western Swing as a melting pot…and I wouldn’t disagree necessarily (music did come across the border…Wills had Spanish Fandango, the Tune Wranglers had el Rancho Grande, etc), I think that was a just a subset of what they played. The base line was jazz, though. When you look at WS’s (as it was called by 1947 — previously it was regarded as Hot String Band) repertoire, it’s all jazz. Very few originals.

I always think of it as a bunch of cats in Texas who were wild about jazz and wanted to play it – so they did with the instruments they had (steel guitar, fiddles). Judging from what I’ve heard from the limited amount of old-timers I’ve been lucky enough to meet is that jazz was just about ALL they listened to.

I met Benny Garcia, the excellent guitarist for Wills, Tex Williams, Hank Penny and at one point, Goodman (!). He grew up in Oklahoma City and when we chatted, all he wanted to talk about was Charlie Christian, his biggest influence.

I don’t know how often the jazz guys even knew of Western Swing but I do know the story of Jimmie Bryant, the singular country jazz guitarist who, it was said, would often leave his weekly gig at Hometown Jamboree in El Monte (south of L.A.) and shoot up to Hollywood and sit in with Stuff Smith at Billy Berg’s on Vine Street.

Jimmie Rodgers is a wellspring, just like Pops. I regard those two as the only occupants on Music Mount Olympus. I also think to call Jimmie The Father of Country Music is to way undersell him. He was all of it – jazz, country, blues, Hawaiian. I don’t know if you’ve read Finding Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor, but I think you’d really enjoy it. It ties a lot of it together with fact and supposition.

Milton Brown? Well, it’s hard to imagine what the whole timeline would be like had he not died so young. He was right there…once he and Bob broke up after that first, seminal record, they both went in fairly disparate, but equally great directions.

and Hal:

I was aware of Western Swing music in the ’60s, after finding out that hot jazz cornetists Benny Strickler and Danny Alguire had worked with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. But it was difficult to find comprehensive reissues of Wills’ music until the ’70s. Once I heard those recordings, with more great hornmen like Tubby Lewis, reedmen Wayne Johnson and Woody Wood, the Jess Stacy-like piano of Al Stricklin, the hot jazz of fiddlers Jesse Ashlock and Joe Holly and steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe, the swinging drums of Smokey Dacus, Bob Fitzgerald and Monte Mountjoy and the friendly vocal styles of Tommy Duncan and Wills himself…I was hooked!

Fast-forward to the early 2000s in Southern California, when I made the acquaintance of Dave “Pappy” Stuckey. We quickly found out that we shared a lot of musical interests, from the Firehouse Five Plus Two to Eddie Condon to…Western Swing! With the help of some talented Southern California musicians, we organized the “Hi-Lo Playboys” to perform at a variety of events. However, conflicting schedules, disagreements regarding the band’s approach and a general lack of work doomed this group within a short time.

Fast-forward again to the 2017 Redwood Coast Music Festival…As Dave and I rode together in a van to the Eureka airport, the subject of Western Swing came up. We agreed that a hot Western group would be a great addition to the musical presentations at Redwood Coast. When we contacted Festival Director Mark Jansen, he immediately agreed. After receiving the green light for a special set at the 2018 festival, “Pappy” Stuckey and “Junior” Smith began to contact musicians who would be able to play the music the right way and simultaneously put together set lists to reflect the best music from the Texas Playboys repertoire. “Pappy and Junior’s Barn Burner” was a smash hit at the 2018 Redwood Coast Music Festival. Happily, Mark Jansen agreed to a reprise in 2019 and friend Michael videotaped the band for posterity.

And now . . . the first half of this glorious effervescent evening of music.

TAKE ME BACK TO TULSA:

A HOME IN SAN ANTONE:

WHOA BABE! — which some of us will also know from a Lionel Hampton Victor:

BEAUMONT RAG:

I’M FEELING BAD:

SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE:

BLUE TEARS:

DRIVIN’ NAILS IN MY COFFIN:

I will close by saying that my ears were opened wider by this erudite hilarious feeling presentation, that a second half is waiting in the wings, that all of this wouldn’t happen were it not for the generosities of Mark and Valerie Jansen, AND that the next Redwood Coast Music Festival is May 7-10, 2020, and you will see us there.

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!

THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN JAZZ CAME UP THE RIVER TO TIFFIN, OHIO: BANU GIBSON AND THE NEW ORLEANS HOT JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CHARLIE FARDELLA, TOM FISCHER, DAVID SAGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JAMES SINGLETON, HAL SMITH (July 1989)

Now you know the truth — none of this New Orleans mythology.  Jazz came here to Tiffin (south of Toledo) as the performance below shows.

The exultant event you will see and hear took place thirty years ago, in July 1989, and was recorded by Bob and Ruth Byler — before digital video, but the music roars through, sweet, hot, and expert.  (Bob left us in April 2018 at 87; Ruth had died earlier.)  While I was still hiding a cassette recorder in an airline bag, hoping to go undetected at concerts, Bob was capturing hours and hours of live music on video.  Here is the 2016 post I wrote about Bob’s archive.

Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra (properly titled) offer what I can only describe as a hustling lyricism — free-wheeling improvisations within carefully-worked-out routines, with a glorious sense of Show, even comedy (“Show ’em how it comes apart!”), as well as a marvelous intuitive synergy between the horns and the rhythm section.  And Banu is so full of lovely energy that she never seems to stand still: her voice a caress a la Connee Boswell or a roof-raising shout, as the song dictates — full of power but also exquisitely controlled.  Singers could learn so much from watching her perform, and the same is true for players.

This concert is a complete lesson in “how to put on a show,” and how to pace a program.  Although the repertoire was far from new in 1989, not a note seems tired or formulaic (and the arrangements are both lovely and exceptionally well-played, often suggesting a 1936 swing band).

In case the players are not familiar to you (and how could this be?): Banu sings, plays guitar or banjo on the instrumentals; Charlie Fardella, cornet; David Sager, trombone, vocal on SOME OF THESE DAYS and MAKIN’ FRIENDS; Tom Fischer, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal on I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU; David Boeddinghaus, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  They are perfectly splendid.

The songs are DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / THE WANG WANG BLUES / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (instrumental) / TIN ROOF BLUES / HELLO, LOLA (instrumental) / I’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES / MUDDY WATER / SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal Sager) / I’M GOING TO CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / intermission / TRUCKIN’ / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR  YOU (vocal Fischer) / MAKIN’ FRIENDS (vocal Sager) / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? / I GOT RHYTHM //

I haven’t explicated all the delightful surprises — you can find them for yourselves, such as Banu’s duets with Fardella, and the exuberant solo work — but so much of the energy of this performance comes from Ms. Gibson herself, with the vocal power of a young Merman and the joyous energies of, let us say, Gwen Verdon.  She captivated the audience then and does so now.

The video isn’t a sophisticated multi-camera shoot; the audio is occasionally slightly hard to hear; the video has the slight murkiness of digitally-recovered VHS tape — but this is precious.  And since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in person every one of the stars on this stage with the exception of Charlie Fardella, whom I’ve only encountered on disc, I can say that this is a glorious record of the talent still at work in New Orleans and elsewhere.

I don’t know what the Tiffin audience members said when the powerful applause died down, perhaps, “That was a very nice show.  Let’s buy one of her records?” but now, thirty years later, this video record of a concert seems a precious gift to us all.  Thanks to everyone on the stage, to Bob and Ruth Byler, but especially to David Sager, who set this post in motion.

May your happiness increase!