Tag Archives: San Diego Jazz Fest

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 Three): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and  here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills.  But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.

Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:

CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):

Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:

and finally, PANAMA:

If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious.  But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this.  He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.

But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.

He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations.  Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.

He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is.  You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy.  I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future.  Thank you, Captain!

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!

“THE STRANGE INTERSECTION OF LOVE AND FIDUCIARY MATTERS”: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 29, 2019)

Above, the musicians.  Below, the text for the mellow sermon.

Now, this 1930 song seems a charming period piece.  How many people, ninety years later, know the archaic vocabulary painfully current shortly after the stock market crash? It owes its immortality to Louis, as so much music does:

Marc Caparone acknowledges our debt to Mister Strong in his own way, with Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass:

Some concepts never die: I just heard someone speak of “being emotionally invested” in another person.  May our psychic portfolios always gain in value.

And, speaking of value, the Holland-Coots Quintet will be appearing at the 40th Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, this March — and the Musician of the Year will be Mister Caparone.  Good sounds await.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part One): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM and SOLO at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: DAN LEVINSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (November 29 / 31, 2019)

An authenticated signature.

Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for  years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.

At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.  Photo by Alex Matthews.

For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

WABASH BLUES:

WOLVERINE BLUES:

That was Friday.  We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital.  This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.

But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself.  Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play.  And play he did.

His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals.  John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.

The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:

ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:

There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto.  An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2019)

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.

I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should.  Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it.  I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.

He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly.  And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on.  He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull.  But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer.  Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy.  Time to make new memories!” and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.

I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens?  It’s not easy.  Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar.  And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.

All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week.  The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf.  We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.

And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:

I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.

Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever.  Make new memories.

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!