I had an extraordinarily good time at Dixieland Monterey 2011 (March 4-6) which took place at the Convention Center and other venues. For those who might quail at the word “Dixieland,” there wasn’t a sleeve garter in sight — at least not among the musicians. And there was plenty of soaring hot jazz, as my videos will show.
But the weekend started off in a more lovely pensive fashion: Sue Kroninger (vocals, commentary, washboard); Eddie Erickson (vocals, banjo); Chris Calabrese (hot piano) gave a lighter-than-air presentation on five great American songwriters — Irving Berlin, Walter Donaldson, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael.
All this took place at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California — in a beautiful room with wood walls, a lovely piano, a delighted audience. Click here for more details: http://www.hiddenvalleymusic.org/.
Here is the whole precious program (I couldn’t bear to keep a note of it to myself). Catch the wonderful interplay, wit, and feeling. Unlike other programs of the sort I’ve seen, this one is beautifully balanced among the three players, who obviously like each other a great deal. And Sue knows her stuff without being stuffy!
(A note to the suspicious, something perhaps superfluous. Some of my readers will see a woman with a washboard and two whisks to keep time, a banjo player, a pianist . . . and they will think, “Oh, no . . . ” and skip these videos. I understand their terror — their primeval fears. But this trio makes such beautiful swinging deeply-felt music that nothing they do could scare off anyone. I promise. Or your money back.)
Sue began the program with a 1913 Irving Berlin tune, AT THE DEVIL’S BALL — which features both hilarious vaudeville lyrics and a tune that, once heard, is impossible to extract from your cortex. And Sue is having the time of her life. And ours:
Then, Eddie took on a wonderful song (I associate it with Louis and the Mills Brothers — can you blame me?) from 1927, THE SONG IS ENDED. It might seem an odd choice for the second song of a program, but it’s such a good song! And Eddie, dear Fast Eddie, sings it so beautifully:
Finally (for Berlin), Chris took a wonderful turn at ALWAYS — with hints of the Master, Dave McKenna:
Less well-known than Mr. Berlin was Walter Donaldson (but think of AT SUNDOWN, MY BUDDY, and fifty others). Sue called for Eddie to perform a hit from the early Twenties — nothing could be sweeter than Eddie singing CAROLINA IN THE MORNING. Hear the variations he brings to his timbre and delivery — and how Chris rocks:
Then a rollicking rarity (a bit of social commentary) that Sue explains, with the irreplaceable title YOU HAVE TO PUT A NIGHTIE ON APHRODITE TO KEEP THE MARRIED MEN HOME (or words to that effect). I think hearing that song was worth the airfare from New York. Hope you agree. Sue is a born entertainer who grabs any audience as soon as she opens her mouth to sing:
And what might be the best-loved song in America (easier to sing than STARDUST), MY BLUE HEAVEN — with the lovely verse, delightfully played by the quiet man Sue calls “Mr. Excitement”:
Onward to the deservedly famous — and short-lived — George Gershwin, with an old favorite, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, winningly sung by Sue. She isn’t Lily Pons or Sarah Vaughan when it comes to a four-octave range, but this is all to the good: her casual, understated delivery comes from the heart:
STRIKE UP THE BAND shows off Chris (and friends) without ever being militaristic:
Then, a high point for me — Eddie’s rendition of EMBRACEABLE YOU. Eddie gets terribly embarrassed when I praise him, so I’ll go easy in print here (but I might just say very quietly that I’ve called him “our Sinatra” and I mean it). Chris’s subtle traceries make me think of Tommy Flanagan:
Changing the mood, here’s Johnny Mercer’s cheerful life-affirmation, AC-CEN-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE, always good advice:
From a title that’s nearly impossible to spell to one of the simplest — Chris leads the trio through a jaunty version of DREAM:
And as a special favor to me (I had said that I would like to hear Sue “unplugged”) she indulged me with an acoustic JEEPERS CREEPERS, happy as the day is long:
The trio’s version of RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE calls to mind the young man from Davenport, Hoagy Carmichael’s pal Bix — note the funny little personalizing Sue does with the bouncy lyrics (after Chris makes sure that the joint is entirely jumping):
LAZY RIVER (not UP A) shows off the easy grace of Mr. Erickson, Louis-inspired without a bit of gravel in his hopper:
And — instead of the more hackneyed Fourth of July closing — Sue chose one of the most tender songs in the last century, the Carmichael-Loesser TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, where the melody, the lyrics, and the loving wit come together exquisitely for Sue, Eddie, and Chris:
My weekend at Dixieland Monterey was off to the most gratifying start: these three dear artists already had me floating with pleasure, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.
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