Tag Archives: On the Levee Jazz Band

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!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Two): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, JOHN OTTO, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.

John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.

But wait! There’s more.

At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in.  Here are the first performances from that set.  Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes.  If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also).  How they all swing!

I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:

Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:

Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.

I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character.  And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:

People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED  — and this performance shines with happy energy:

Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval.  Watch this space.  And bless these inspired players.

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!

LIFE IMPROVES AT FORTY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST and SWING EXTRAVAGANZA (Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 2019)

The 1932 best-seller (with a Will Rogers movie a few years later):

Even before I was 40, I was slightly suspicious of the idea, even though it came from better health and thus longer life expectancy.  Was it an insult to the years that came before?  And now that I’m past forty . . . .

But the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza is celebrating its fortieth this year and is in full flower.  So no Google Images of birthday cakes for us — rather, music of the highest order.

The bands and soloists who will be featured include John Royen, Katie Cavera, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Grand Dominion, John Gill, On the Levee Jazz Band, the Mad Hat Hucksters, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Chicago Cellar Boys, Titanic Jazz Band, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, and more than twenty others, with youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and the Saturday-night dance extravaganza featuring On The Levee and the Mad Hat Hucksters.

The Festival is also greatly comfortable, because it is one of those divine ventures where the music is a two-to-five minute walk from the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center.

Click to access schedule.pdf

is the “almost final” band schedule for Wednesday night through Sunday.  I will wait until the “final” schedule comes out before I start circling sets in pen and highlighting them — but already I feel woozy with an abundance of anticipated and sometimes conflicting pleasures.

For most of the audience, one of the pleasures of the festival circuit is returning to the familiar.  Is your trad heartthrob the duo Itch and Scratch, or the Seven Stolen Sugar Packets?  At a festival, you can greet old friends both on the bandstand and in the halls.  But there’s also the pleasure of new groups, and the special pleasure of getting to meet and hear someone like John Royen, whom I’ve admired on records for years but have never gotten a chance to meet.

Here’s John, playing Jelly:

And here are a few previously unseen videos from my visits to the Jazz Fest.  First, one of my favorite bands ever, the band that Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones co-led, here with Doug Finke, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, and Marty Eggers — in a 2014 performance of a Fats classic:

and the Chicago Cellar Boys — who will be at this year’s fest — in 2018.  The CCB is or are Andy Schumm, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Johnny Donatowicz, and Dave Bock:

and for those deep in nostalgia for traditional jazz on a cosmic scale, how about High Sierra plus guests Justin Au and Doug Finke in 2014:

Pick the bands you like, explore those new to you, but I hope you can make it to this jolly explosion of music and friendship: it is worth the trip (and I’m flying from New York).  You’ll have an unabridged experience and lose your anxieties!

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE RAINBOWS OF SOUND: COME TO THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL! (July 26-28, 2019)

At the end of July, I will make my fourth visit to the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a weekend of music I look forward to avidly.  The rainbow photograph comes from my first visit; unfortunately, I couldn’t find the photographs I took of elk in the parking lot, but everybody comes out for fine jazz.

A small cautionary note: I waited until almost too late to find lodging — if you plan to go to Evergreen, make arrangements now: there’s a list of places to stay on their site, noted above . . . then there’s air travel and car rental.  But it’s all worth the time and money, I assure you.  Last night, I landed happily in Bears Inn Bed and Breakfast, among my friends, and I feel so fortunate: thank you, Wendy!

For me, previous highlights of Evergreen have been the music of Tim Laughlin, Andy Schumm, Kris Tokarski, James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, Hal Smith, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, the Riverboat Roustabouts, and I am leaving out many pleasures.

Here’s the band schedule for this year:

You see that great music will flourish.

I confess that my heart belongs to the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet (this weekend with John Otto in the reed chair), Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band (playing songs associated with Kid Ory in truly swinging style, with Clint Baker playing the role of the Kid) and the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, but I hope to see the Wolverine Jazz Band also . . . there are a host of local favorites as well, including Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles, Wende Hairston and the Queen City Jazz Band, After Midnight, and more.

Time for some music!

Here’s a romping tribute to Fats Waller by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, whose debut CD “This Is So Nice It Must Be Illegal”) is a Waller tribute: that’s Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass, seen here at the Monterey, California Jazz Bash by the Bay on  March 2, 2019.  At Evergreen, the reed chair will be filled by John Otto from Chicago (you know him from the Fat Babies and Chicago Cellar Boys):

and COME BACK, SWEET PAPA by the On the Levee crew:

This band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass: PAPA was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

And finally, a real delight — Dorothy Bradford Vernon’s Thursday-night barn dance in Longmont, Colorado, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocals; Marty Eggers, string bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Information here — wonderful music, irreplaceable atmosphere, reasonable ticket price.  That’s July 25, 7:30-10:00 PM.

I will miss it this year (travel conflicts) but here’s how YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME rocked the barn last year:

I hope to see many of JAZZ LIVES’ readers and friends in Evergreen.

May your happiness increase!

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT: CAFE BORRONE, MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, TOM WILSON, CRYSTAL HOLLOWAY (June 7, 2019)

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

In my brief and sometimes intermittent California sojourn (2011-14) in Marin County, one of my pleasures was in going to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park to hear and video Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars.  It was like a regular transfusion of joy and hope, even though the drive was over two hours from where I was living.  I knew not only that I would hear vital music but that I would meet friends — musicians, fellow listeners and dancers, waitstaff, a combination that means the world to me.  The Cafe was another home.  I was welcome there, and I was able to meet people I admire: Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, Tom Wilson, J Hansen, Robert Young, Jason Vandeford, and some whose names I am forgetting, alas.

Today I present a few videos taken on June 7, 2019, by Rae Ann Berry, not because of nostalgia, but because I am captivated by the band’s easy swing.  Borroneans will note that this is a slightly streamlined band, but that’s fine: what you hear is honest unaffected music, no frills, no gimmicks, no group vocals, no tight-and-bright polo shirts.  The generous-spirited creators are Riley Baker, trombone; his father Clint, trombone, trumpet, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Tom Wilson, string bass; Crystal Holloway, washboard.  The whole band is in some mystically satisfying way engaged in heartfelt relaxed conversation, a great thing to behold.  I’ve left several tracks for you to find on Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, the California traditional jazz rabbit-hole to end all such diversions.

About the band here.  Yes, I could quip, “Two Bakers!  No Waiting!” but I need to be more serious than that.  Clint has long been one of my heroes, not only for what he plays, but for his religious devotion to the Music.  He understands its Holiness, as I do, but he can then pick up any of several instruments and make that Holiness manifest for all of us.  He is always striving towards the great goals, with Hot Lips Page as one of our shared patron saints.  I met Riley, his son, at Borrone, when Riley was starting to be the superb musician he is now — first on drums, then tuba.  And Riley has blossomed into a wondrous young man and player: I am especially taken with his nicely greasy trombone playing, which you will hear here.  And the emotional telepathy between father and son is both gratifying on a musical level and touching on a human(e) one.  A third horn in the front line would be an intrusion.  Such lovely on-the-spot counterpoint; such delightful lead-and-second voice playing, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  You might think that a trombone-clarinet front line would be automatically New Orleans old-school, but Clint and Riley understand the sweet play of swinging voices: people whose love comes right out to the back of the room without the need to get louder.

Riley will be playing the role of Edward Ory in Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band at San Diego this Thanksgiving, and I look forward to that: I’ve already videoed him with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang: check those appearances out for yourself.

Jeff Hamilton is such a joy — not only one of the handful of drummers who lifts any band, but also an enlivening pianist who swings without getting in the way, constructs generous accompaniments and memorable melodies.  He has other musical talents that aren’t on display here, but he never lets me down.  Bill Reinhart knows what he’s doing, and that is no idle phrase.  He understands what a rhythm section should do and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t.  And his solos on banjo or guitar make lovely sense.  Tom Wilson’s rich tone, great choice of notes, and innate swing are always cheering.  And Crystal Holloway (new to me) tames that treacherous laundry implement and adds a great deal of sweet subtle rhythm.  Taking nothing away from Clint and Riley, one could listen to any one of these performances a second or third time exclusively for the four rhythm players and go away happier and edified.

I NEVER KNEW, with nods to Benny Carter and Jimmie Noone:

AS LONG AS I LIVE, not too fast:

BLUES FOR DR. JOHN, who recently moved to another neighborhood.  And — just between us — themeless medium-tempo blues are such a pleasure and so rarely essayed:

I always had trouble with math in school, but FOUR OR FIVE TIMES is just what I like:

TRUE, very wistful and sweet:

THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI, a song I last heard performed by (no fooling) Ben Webster with strings [a 1961 record called THE WARM MOODS].  Sounded good, too:

Asking the musical question WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

IT HAD TO BE YOU.  Yes, it did:

Bless these folks, this place, and bless Rae Ann for being there with her camera and her friend Roz (glimpsed in little bits to the right).

May your happiness increase!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

SEVEN MEN AND THE KID: THE “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: HAL SMITH, JOSH GOUZY, ALEX BELHAJ, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOE GOLDBERG, BEN POLCER, CHARLIE HALLORAN (November 25, 2018)

Some children get upset if the green beans and mashed potato on their plate are touching.  Some listeners separate “their” music into schools and styles, existing in the same space but kept at a safe distance.  I just read a review of a festival where the writer delineated “trad” and “not trad at all,” which to me is a shame.  Musicians know that they can play any repertoire in inventive ways, move in and out of rigidly defined “traditions” and create lasting satisfying art.

Here’s a shining example, the ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND (that’s the cover of their debut CD above).  I’ve posted music from another performance here.  To me, their joyous essence is a mixing of “genres”: soloists who know Blakeney, Darnell Howard, Don Ewell, but who are also aware of Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  The secret is a flowing 4/4 — music for dancing as well as listening.

This most excellent small band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet / vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. The set presented here was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

. . . .and study war no more:

A problem with transporting a precious substance:

Hey, Dad — you coming back?

Some early Ellington with a debt to Joe Oliver:

“Honey, are you free on Monday?”:

Gus Mueller, if I recall, said decades after the fact that the title had no hidden meaning — they just liked the sound:

This one always comes in handy:

A song for parents of newborns or anyone embracing transformations:

For further announcements and more good news, visit here.  I’m pleased to say I will see them three times in 2019: the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the San Diego Jazz Fest.  You come, too.

May your happiness increase!

The ON THE LEVEE BAND at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Part One: Nov. 24, 2018)

Official Jazz history, which tends to compress and simplify, has often portrayed Edward “Kid” Ory as both a limited trombonist and a man lodged in the earliest decades of the music.  Both of these suppositions are wrong; as far as the first, ask any trombonist how easy it is to play what Ory played, and for the second, Ory’s later groups played for dancers in the Forties and Fifties and thus he was very much aware of the subtleties of the Swing Era-and-beyond four-four rhythmic pulse, as his later recordings show.  Drummer / scholar Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND takes its name from a club Ory ran in California, and its musical inspiration from those later performances.

Unlike some quite respected traditional jazz bands, the OTL floats rather than pounds, and its horn soloists clearly enjoy the freedom of playing with and among such gliding pulsations.  It’s their secret, one that perceptive listeners enjoy, even if they are not aware of the swinging feel of the group.  At times, they remind me happily of the ad hoc groups of Swing Era veterans recruited to perform “Dixieland” tunes c. 1959-60: think of Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and Buster Bailey over a grooving rhythm section — playing the opening ensembles correctly and respectfully but going for themselves in solos.

In addition to Hal, the band as it performed at the 39th San Diego jazz Fest featured Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet, Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. These selections come from a set the band did on November 24, 2018.

AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING:

TISHOMINGO BLUES, with a vocal by Ben:

Joe Oliver’s SNAG IT:

SAN, named for a King:

DUSTY RAG, a feature for Kris, Josh, and Hal — reimagining classic ragtime in New Orleans — that means Morton — style:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

HIGH SOCIETY / WITHOUT YOU FOR AN INSPIRATION:

What a pleasure this band is.  And here is their website, as well as news of their debut CD here . And here is my review.  I approve!  And the band also has the Gretchen Haugen Seal of Approval, which is not an accolade easily won.

Catch them at a gig; buy the CD.  Have a good time.

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!

SWINGING FOR THE KID: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure.  His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.

But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so.  In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs.  Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4,  and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging.  At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.

Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties  has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms.  That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.

I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.

Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).

The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November.  I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.

For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos.  Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.

WEARY BLUES:

DOWN HOME RAG:

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way.  And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.

May your happiness increase!