Imagine a small band, perfectly balanced, without excess in any way, that honors the Basie rhythm section, the Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, Fifty-Second Street, steadiness, great lyricism, allying Teddy Wilson and Al Capone for a few minutes. What if you didn’t have to imagine this marvel? Yes, they existed for more than five sets — outside the recording studio — and you can enjoy them here.
The generous benefactors of small-band swing are Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet. All of this took place on Sunday, November 26, 2017, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.
The song they chose was the venerable MY GAL SAL, from 1905, music and lyrics by Paul Dresser, whose older brother Theodore Dreiser — the original family name — is more famous, although Theodore could never restrict himself to thirty-two bars. Paul’s story is fascinating and sad: read about it here.
Hal Smith reminded us that SAL was Al Capone’s favorite song.
It’s one of those harmonically simple compositions that can be played at a number of tempos, but Kris wisely starts it off at an easy bounce.
A digression. I am a relentless armchair critic. Even though my own musicianship is at best faded, I sit in front of the speaker or the musicians or the video and say (thank goodness, silently) “That tempo is too fast. He missed a chord in the bridge. She could have taken a third chorus!” and so on. But in this performance I wouldn’t change a note, a tone, an inflection, from intro to riffs to the ending. It’s “in the pocket” deeply and splendidly, a Keynote session realized in front of our eyes in 2017.
During this set, someone’s phone in the audience rang and rang, and Marc Caparone, dangerously witty, said to us, “Teddy Wilson’s calling. He wants his rhythm section back.”
I will post more videos by this band, because I followed Kris, Jonathan, Larry, Hal, and Nobu for five hour-long sets at San Diego. And if you haven’t seen the other performance I’ve posted — an absolute masterpiece — check it out here.
What a blessing to see and hear these musicians, and a greater blessing to be able to share their work with you.
P.S. (Pro tip for aspiring videographers: we in the trade ask the musicians for their permission to shoot video before the music starts, and we clear it with the musicians before posting. That’s what makes us different from the amateur with the iPhone at the back of the room.)
May your happiness increase!