Tag Archives: Hal Smith

THE CLASSICS, REFRESHED: EHUD ASHERIE, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOEL FORBES, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2017)

Sometimes, in what’s loosely known as traditional or Mainstream jazz, the band launches into “an old chestnut,” “a good old good one,” and listeners no longer hear the original song, but layers and accretions of conventions, of echoes of past recordings and performances.  Although satisfying, the whole performance may have a slight dustiness to it.

This wasn’t the case when Ehud Asherie, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and metal clarinet; Randy Reinhart, cornet, performed their set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, last September 17.  I’ve already posted their magical LADY BE GOOD here — exceedingly satisfying.

They did their magic on three other jazz classics, none of them newer than 1929, but making the music seem fresh and new.  They weren’t museum curators, carefully approaching the venerated antique with awe and cotton swabs; rather, they seem like little boys in the summertime, skinny-dipping in the music, immersing themselves in it, delighting in it.  Life, lived, rather than archaeology.

There are, of course, humorous and loving nods to the past: Ehud’s Tatum; the tempo chosen for WILD MAN BLUES which makes me think of Henry “Red” Allen on THE SOUND OF JAZZ; the Hawkins riff which shapes the last choruses of TEA FOR TWO.  But the music itself seems so lively that I thank each and every one of them.

Look out for the WILD MAN!

Have some TEA?

Inhale that floral bouquet, if you will:

May your happiness increase!

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A MAGIC TEMPO: EHUD ASHERIE, HAL SMITH, JOEL FORBES, SCOTT ROBINSON, RANDY REINHART (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2017)

One of the most durable songs in the jazz and pop repertoire, from its introduction in 1924, OH, LADY BE GOOD has always been performed at a rather brisk tempo.  Here’s an early dance band version:

and many jazz musicians took their cue from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc. version. But Basie and others knew that too fast is never good, that the sprinters can wear themselves out.  So I take special pleasure in this groovy performance from the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (alas, now a memory) by Ehud Asherie, piano; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Joel Forbes, string bass.

Whether the Lady behaved herself in response to this entreaty, I cannot say.  But making the request at this tempo was a real pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

WESTWARD HOT! EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29) and a BARN DANCE PARTY with the CARL SONNY LEYLAND TRIO (July 26)

I am a failure as a well-trained tourist, because I shun guidebook attractions such as churches and museums in favor of second-hand stores, outdoor markets, and restaurants.  But I am not yet at the stage where I want to stay at home all the time.  What makes me happy is going to a place (ideally, a beautiful one) where good friends play and sing the music that makes me even more glad to be alive.  And I know I am not alone in this desire.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Such opportunities for musical joy and fulfillment still exist, and one of them is the double boon of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado, and the barn dance concert that Dorothy Bradford Vernon and friends put on in Longmont, in the same state — they coincide most happily.

For those who want to go directly to the source(s), here you can learn all about the barn dance — featuring the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio — and here is the official site for the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a long weekend of beautiful music.

The EJF rotates its out-of-state attractions, so although I have twenty posts (with video evidence!) from my trips there in 2014 and 2016, I don’t feel it’s right to use videos from bands that won’t be there in 2018 to promote the current festival.  However, by typing EVERGREEN into this blog’s search engine, you can enjoy the evidence for many hours.  More about the 2018 band lineup below.

But since Carl’s Trio is more or less intact with the splendid Jeff Hamilton on drums (I believe Marty Eggers is playing string bass instead of our friend Clint Baker) I have no qualms about sharing this 2016 post with you.  My videos cannot convey the great warm welcome that Dorothy and friends extend to anyone walking through the barn doors.  The music and the dancers were truly memorable.

The Evergreen Jazz Festival offers ten bands, which means that the main problem most guests will have can be expressed by “I can’t decide between seeing X, Y , or Z,” rather than by “There’s nothing to do.”

Here is the schedule: eleven hours on Friday, twelve hours on Saturday, seven hours on Sunday.  You can sleep on Monday, or on the plane.  

A few words about the bands (you can read full descriptions on the EJF site).  Since I am an out-of-towner, I have no problem putting my fellow o-o-t women and men first — a kind of upside-down local pride.

Carl Sonny Leyland will be rocking the house once again (even the elk were doing splendid rhythmic gyrations in the parking lot).

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet — a band I succumbed to instantly last year in Nashville, where they recorded their debut CD, a tribute to Fats Waller that brought happiness and swing.  They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass.

World-travelers Ivory&Gold — that’s Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Anne Barnhart, flute and vocals — who offer musical world tours that always surprise.

The frolicsome Rock Island Roustabouts — co-led by Hal Smith, drums, and Jeff Barnhart, with Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo/guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass.  The names alone will tell you that hot music is assured.

Multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud (yes, the name is strange — from a Bob Wills song — but the music is intoxicating) featuring Dennis on clarinet, fiddle, mandolin, and more, also with the phenomenal vocalist Tamar Korn and our man in swing Kevin Dorn, drums.

Pianists Brian Holland, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Jeff Barnhart will perform three trio sets on two pianos in the wonderful Evergreen church: beware of flying black and white ivories!

There will be a jam session set by the “EJF All-Stars”: Marc Caparone, cornet; Eric Staffeldt, trombone; Roger Campbell, clarinet; Rory Thomas, banjo; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Two sets by the Sweet and Hot Quartet: Jeff Barnhart, Bob Leary, Anne Barnhart, and Steve Pikal (Friday) and Hal Smith (Sunday).

If that were not enough . . . Denver’s own After Midnight, which fashions itself after the Goodman Sextet with vibraphone; Felonius Smith Trio, which pays tribute to venerable guitar blues; the Gypsy Swing Revue, which lives up to its billing;  Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles, a young energized swing band; the Queen City Jazz Band, celebrating its 65th anniversary and featuring Wende Harston on vocals; youth bands from the University of Colorado, the Denver Claim Jumpers, and the Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars.

The EJF features lovely small venues . . . so you need to consider purchasing tickets sooner rather than later.  I’ll be there, but I only take up one seat.  Hope you can make it also!  It’s been a great deal of fun and with this schedule, I know it’s going to continue.

And just in case you say, “What!  No music?” here is RUSSIAN RAG by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, recorded informally in Nashville in July 2017:

May your happiness increase!

YES, IT’S STILL POSSIBLE! (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Sometimes, as a devout jazz enthusiast, I feel caught between two ideologies — rather like a kernel of corn watching the two stone wheels approach. One group of fans insists that all the great music has already been made: that there’s really no point in leaving the house, because Lester and Louis and Hawkins are dead, so these fans bury their heads in their speakers and do takeout.  Another group embraces the new jazz flavors of the month, and insists that Hank McGillicuddy and his Stompers are as good as Basie at the Famous Door, and by the way, Zelda Red-Dress “brings Billie back.”  She doesn’t, but if you think so, that’s nice.

I offer a third possibility: that there are musicians who don’t have contracts with Jack Kapp or Eli Oberstein; they don’t pack the Palomar or the Savoy — but they are alive today, you can speak to them, they inhale and exhale — and they do that thing splendidly.  They are worth leaving the house for.

One shining example of this phenomenon — why I call this blog JAZZ LIVES rather than JAZZ NEEDS DUSTING — is the small group led by pianist Kris Tokarski that swung like mad at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Along with Kris, they are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  No too-small brightly-colored matching polo shirts; no funny hats; no group vocals.  Just wonderful music, sweet when it’s called for, hot enough to make us sweat.

Here are four examples.  Jazz thrives.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, evoking Crosby and Condon:

and what Kenny Davern used to call “face to face”:

and an explosive LITTLE GIRL:

and a lovely pensive MEMORIES OF YOU:

May your happiness increase!

HOT, SWEET, HOTTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRIENDS at CLEVELAND (Sept. 15, 2017), PART TWO: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH

I posted the first part of a frankly incendiary set from the now-lamented Cleveland Classic Jazz Party here, and it seems just the right time to offer the three performances from the second half.

ROSSANO.

Rossano and his majestice friends — Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — really know how to do it, to play the venerable repertoire with loving care so that it doesn’t seem stale or by-the-numbers, with heartfelt solos, intelligent ensemble work, and lovely tempos.

Here’s Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

Eddie Condon always mixed in beautiful ballads with the hot numbers, so Rossano features Dan Barrett in GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Since time was running out, the final number was compact — AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  But Rossano brilliantly said, “Four choruses, ensemble,” and offered us this memorable evocation of easy teamwork in the land of Hot:

Unforgettable.  And another reason to be grateful — to the musicians, to the traditions they embody, and to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  We who were there know why.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGING NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: FOR DANCING — OR JUST LISTENING!”: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Kid Ory hasn’t really opened his California jazz club, nor has he come back in the flesh.  But his music has, joyously and intelligently.

This cheerful development in the twenty-first century is the handiwork of drummer, scholar, and bandleader Hal Smith, who’s been playing gigs with his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND, which focuses on lively renditions of the music Ory played in the middle and later stages of his career.

And they’ve just released their debut CD.

I wrote happily about this band  (with performance videos) in December 2017, and you can see and hear more here.

Although Ory was born in the nineteenth century, he did not cling to a historical vision of the music.  His later recordings swung, and showed he and his musicians embraced performance styles more modern than 1926.  The ON THE LEVEE band is well aware of that gentle but persistent 4 / 4 rocking motion of jazz in the Thirties . . . and even beyond.

The virtues of the band require a brief digression.  I was once at a festival, sitting close enough to eavesdrop as the leader of a small ad hoc group called for a spectacular closing number.  It would be long, loud, with extended high-volume solos, and would conclude with a long drum and long horn solos.  The one horn player looked pained, and said to the leader, “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” to which the leader replied, “Do you want them standing and cheering at the end of the set?  Follow me!”  The horn player grudgingly complied; the chandeliers swung; the audience shrieked.  I thought I’d contracted tinnitus, but it went away. So, in this century, bands have often tried to grab an audience’s attention by manufactured excitement.  Songs are played faster and louder and with less subtlety, because the audience associates excitement with Hot.

Ory and his colleagues, including Joe Oliver, understood that jazz was essentially a dance music, to keep audiences in motion — or at least not blow them out of their seats.  Hal Smith and this new band understand that principle, so although the music is never Easy Listening (“The 101 Strings Play the Cassino Simpson Songbook”) it is easy on the ears and it promotes healing constant motion of the nicest kind.

The CD features Hal, drums and leader; Clint Baker, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass, performing ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / WANG WANG BLUES / BEALE STREET BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / MAPLE LEAF RAG / MILENBERG JOYS / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / SAVOY BLUES / WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / DOWN HOME RAG / YELLOW DOG BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / PANAMA.

I know that song list looks resolutely “traditional,” and listeners might expect a repertory concert rather than swinging dance music.  But here’s evidence of just how light-on-its-feet this band is.

ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP:

MAPLE LEAF RAG (what a nice tempo!):

DOWN HOME RAG:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING:

In addition to the lyrical soloing by Polcer and Goldberg, there’s also the supple but rough-edged (I think of corduroy) sound and attack of Clint Baker, who evokes Ory at every turn.  And for me what makes this band glide rather than lumber is the deliciously mobile rhythm section — no banjo, no tuba, no two-beat — of Hal, striding Kris Tokarski, powerful yet floating Belhaj and Gouzy.  I don’t want to upset those who live for “authenticity,” but everyone in this band has heard 1938 Count Basie as well as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra.  And the result would have made the Kid smile.

You can, as they say, “follow them on Facebook” here — and visit the band’s very entertaining website here.  The CD is available from Hal, at gigs, at the Louisiana Music Factory, and I think soon it will be on sale in other forms and from other places.

May your happiness increase!

“THE JOYS OF D*******D” (PART ONE): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2017)

Let the truth come out: the glorious pianist Rossano Sportiello loves Dixieland. Yes, that naughty word so scorned by many jazz listeners.

[An update: since I published this blog, with the word spelled out in full, I have been rebuked by several esteemed jazz journalists, a few of them friends, for my daring to print the obscenity, as if I were wrapping myself in the flag of the Confederacy.  “‘D*******d’ is the name given to the kind of music Rossano heard, loved, and played in his Milan youth.  And — should sensibilities still be raw — it’s the name Louis gave to what he played.  Do I need to cite a higher authority?]

Not, as he will point out, the homogenized variety, but the music he grew up listening to: Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, and their noble colleagues.

In 2017, for one of his sets at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, he chose to play the familiar repertoire . . . but with energy and love.  He called on Hal Smith, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet, to accomplish this.  And even though these songs (or almost all of them) have been played to shreds by less-splendid musicians, they shine here.  Admire the relaxed tempos and fine dynamics: the hallmarks of players who remember what the songs are supposed to sound like, that MUSKRAT and BARBECUE have fine melodies that must be treated with care and admiration.

They began with the song Louis loved so well, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Again, thinking of Louis, a sweet-and-slow AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Hot Five territory once more, but not too fast, for MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

There’s a second half, to come soon — classic performances, created on the spot.

Thanks not only to these delightful creators, but to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock for making all this possible.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party is now only a sweet memory, but it was a glorious outpouring while it lasted.

May your happiness increase!