Tag Archives: Kris Tokarski

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

PARADOXES OF FEELING: BRIAN HOLLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27, 2019)

Ann Ronell’s 1932 song is a terribly sad one, a story of romance that failed.  Here is the verse that few sing — perhaps because it is so openly melancholy:

Oh Lord, why did you send the darkness to me?
Are the shadows forever to be?
Where’s the light I’m longing to see?
Oh Lord, once we met by the old willow tree
Now you’ve gone and left nothing to me
Nothing but a sweet memory.

But the instrumental version I present here — although its hues are dark — does not leave this listener feeling despondent.  Rather, I admire the technical, lyrical, and emotional mastery of these players: Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, in this performance recorded at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

One reason I call this post PARADOXES OF FEELING is that the five people playing such gloriously sad music are not in themselves depressives — to them it’s another artistic opportunity to enter an emotional world, fully inhabit it, and then move on to something of a different hue, perhaps CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, and “be” that song as well.

Another reason, more personal, is that tomorrow morning, when it is still quite dark, I will be driving to the airport to travel to the San Diego Jazz Fest, where this band and others will work marvels right in front of us.  The other bands?  Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band,” Grand Dominion, the Yerba Buena Stompers, John Royen’s New Orleans group, the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and too many others to mention . . . to say nothing of attending everyone’s set.  I’ll see my friends and heroes Jeff Hamilton, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Katie Cavera, and others — even if only in passing in the halls.

If I’m not laid low by a spoiled avocado or attacked by an enraged fan who wants to know why his favorite band doesn’t receive sufficient coverage on JAZZ LIVES, I will return with evidence of beauties, sad or joyous, to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART ONE: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

This is part of the world that Hal Smith’s Swing Central comes from — but the world of Swing Central is living and thriving now.

Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives

This little group is packed with pleasures.  It’s Hal Smith’s evocation of a world where Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young could hang out at Jimmy Ryan’s, where Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, Pops Foster, and Dave Tough could have breakfast after the gig, perhaps chicken and waffles uptown.  And the music they created as naturally as breathing was lyrical hot swing that didn’t have the time or patience for labels.

This version of Hal’s group has him on drums and moral leadership, Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and some original compositions, Dan Walton, piano and vocal, Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummns, guitar.  This is the first part of a long leisurely showcase at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California.

and a Bing Crosby hit that justifiably entered the jazz repertoire:

Jonathan Doyle’s wonderful HELLO, FISHIES:

something for people who have been to Austin, Texas, or for those who need to take a trip there, BATS ON A BRIDGE:

A dedication to one Mister Capone, who liked jazz when he wasn’t working:

Dan Walton sings and plays Moon Mullican’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, while everyone joins in on this jump blues:

for the Chicagoans and the rest of us as well, WINDY CITY SWING:

and we’ll close the first half of this uplifting set with HELLO, LOLA — a reminder of Red McKenzie and his friends:

Hal’s beautiful little group also made a CD where they strut their stuff quite happily: I wrote about it here.

And they will be appearing — with Kris Tokarski and Ryan Gould in for Walton and Pikal — at the Austin Lindy Exchange, November 21-24 — which, like love, is just around the corner.

Not incidentally, the Redwood Coast Music Festival is happening again, thank goodness and thanks to Mark Jansen and Valerie Jansen, from May 7-10, 2020.  More information  here as well.  Some numbers: it’s their 30th anniversary; it runs for 4 days; there are 30 bands; more than 100 sets of music.  Do the math, as we say, and come on.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part Two): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

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!

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!

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!