Tag Archives: Kris Tokarski

WE SAVOR THE RITUALS (WITH A SMALL UPDATE): THANKSGIVING at THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 21-25, 2018)

Even in the midst of darkness there are always reasons to be thankful.  Here is a detail from the classic Norman Rockwell portrait of a late-November American celebration, make of it and its assumptions (culinary, sociological, political) what you will.

But this post is about another ritual of communal gratitude, another place to give thanks: the thirty-ninth San Diego Jazz Fest, held this year from November 21 through the 25th. My update (as of late November 11) is to offer the flyer below, and to point out something I didn’t know when I’d written this blogpost — that the Saturday night Swing Extravaganza will also feature the wonderful band Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders with the wonderful singer Laura Windley. Add that piece of news into your computations.

I’m sitting here with the band schedule in front of me, and can narrate my own pleasure-map of delights for the weekend.  How about dance lessons, opportunities for “jammers” to play with others of their ilk, a Saturday night swing extravaganza?  Ongoing solo piano recitals featuring Kris Tokarski, Vinnie Armstrong, Stephanie Trick, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Paolo Alderighi, Paul Asaro, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor?  Then sets by the Dawn Lambeth Trio featuring Marc Caparone, High Sierra, Grand Dominion, the Chicago Cellar Boys, the On the Levee Jazz Band, the Original Cornell Syncopators, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Yerba Buena Stompers, Titanic, Colin Hancock, Charlie Halloran, Ben Polcer, Joe Goldberg, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, and more.

And more.  At any given moment at the fest, let us say on a Saturday, the music goes from breakfast to wooziness — 9 AM to near midnight — in six separate locations.  Using my right index finger (the highly-skilled instrument for such computations) I counted sixty-six sets of music on Saturday, sets either 45 minutes or an hour.

At other festivals, that would make for transportation difficulties (a euphemism for “How am I going to get to that other building before the band starts?) but since all the action is contained in one building, even people with limited mobility make it in before the music starts.

Did I mention that everyone I’ve ever dealt with at San Diego has been terribly nice, including such luminaries of cheer and comfort as Paul Daspit and Gretchen Haugen?  This is no small thing.

And for those of you who think you will be deprived of Thanksgiving edibles (which means “too much food”) as depicted by Mr. Rockwell above, take heart. There is a splendiferous buffet served on Thursday from 2 to 6 — you can reserve a place there, with a discount for those who do so before November 15: details here.  If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll still totter out of there, quite stuffed.

I am a late adopter who hasn’t made all 38 festivals (to explain why would tax all your five wits) but when I did make my way to the Fest, of course it was video camera at the ready.  And here are three sets that pleased me greatly.  I have shot several hundred videos, and that’s no stage joke, but I don’t feel right about using videos of X if X isn’t at this year’s festival.  But the three sets below feature people who are alive and well for this year.  First, here are the Cornell Syncopators featuring Katie Cavera in 2017.  Then, here are the Yerba Buena Stompers in 2016, and here are Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes paying tribute to Louism also in 2017.

Going back to 2009, I remember when I first started this blog, I used Rae Ann Berry’s videos as glimpses of the Promised Land.  Here, for example, is John Gill paying tribute, beautifully, to Mister Crosby, in 2009:

Why am I concluding this post with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and John’s beautiful rendition?  It seems an obvious message as far as the San Diego Jazz Fest is concerned, this year or in years to come. Good things are coming, the lyrics say, but you can’t hide under a treeIf you bestir yourself on Monday, November 26, you’ll have to wait a whole year for this opportunity to be grateful amidst friends and lovely heated music.  Take a look here and you will be glad you did.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

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FOUR-FOUR RHYTHM: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Jazz at Lincoln Center (and JazzTimes) just sent an announcement about the 2019 Jazz Congress, January 7-8, 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York.  One panel is:

 Jazz, Swing, Race and Culture
Considering swing as a rhythm or swing as a feeling or a verb, what are the social, cultural, and racial factors that affect individuals’ perception, acceptance or rejection of the concept? Player[s] and thinkers ponder what swing means in 2019.

I doubt that it will happen, but in my ideal world, the player[s] and thinkers at JALC will watch these videos before pondering.  The music was created in 2017, not 2019, and there are other ways to swing, but what Kris and his Gang did was genuine and might eliminate some theorizing.

These four performances come from a magical band that made a splash at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest: Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I could spend paragraphs pointing out resemblances and echoes of the Ancestors (you’re free to chase such things at your leisure) but I’d rather you admire these living heroes at play, and such expert play.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

REPEATER PENCIL (and, yes, such a thing did exist: see here):

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Festival organizers, club bookers, concert promoters with taste: now’s the time!

Incidentally, this is the charming 1929 record from which I take my title:

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ, HIGH ALTITUDES: KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER for twenty-five years, said, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  And although Evergreen, Colorado is 7,220 feet above sea level, the music I’ve heard at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in 2014 and 2016 has never been short of breath.  Or, for that matter, passion, swing, or inspiration.  I’m going there again this July 2018.

As evidence, I present seven informal hot performances by Kris  Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Hal Smith, drums, from a 2016 Saturday-afternoon session in a local restaurant.

Looking ahead to the weekend, SUNDAY:

IDA, which we dedicate happily to Ida Melrose Shoufler, back to herself:

The quartet assembles for Hines’ MY MONDAY DATE:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT.  Did someone whisper “Muggsy Spanier”?

It’s shocking.  She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

Tim’s featured on a lovely A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

And to close, Artie Matthews’ WEARY BLUES:

For more information about this month’s fiesta, click here.  The Festival is happening on July 27-29, with Dorothy Bradford Vernon’s barn dance featuring the Carl Sonny Leyland trio in Longmont, Colorado, on the 26th.

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!

“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!

“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!