Tag Archives: Sweet and Hot Music Festival

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND HOT: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EDDIE ERICKSON, JOEL FORBES, and TIM LAUGHLIN (September 3, 2011)

“You’ll find that happiness lies / right under your eyes,” say the lyrics for BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  I don’t have a backyard any more, but I stumbled across this performance — that made me happy in 2011 and continues to do so now — by accident.  In the decade or so that I’ve had this blog, I’ve spent a good deal of energy with a video camera, recording live performances.  Around six thousand of them are visible on YouTube now, and I get notified when viewers comment.  Ungenerous comments from armchair critics make me fume, and if they insult “my” artists, I delete the comments.  But someone saw this, felt about it as I do, and so it is Time To Share Some Joy.

This performance came from the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, held in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend.  I was fortunate to attend it in its last year, and it offered joyous music and very lovely people, not all of them musicians.  (“Hello, Laurie Whitlock!  Love from New York!”)

But the music was often stunningly pleasurable.

I think that I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS vied with GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART to be the song played at the end of the evening.  But Henderson recorded it as a hot dance number in 1925 (Louis on the verse) and it was picked up in the Swing Era by bands large and small — my favorite the Teddy Wilson Brunswick side.

But this 2011 live version is so dear: sweetly lyrical and rocking, balancing tenderness and Fifty-Second Street riffing.  And it adds to my delight that the musicians in this video are very much alive and making music.  Bless them.  I single out Rebecca Kilgore as my ideal of lyrical heartfelt witty swing.  Now and forever.

May your happiness increase!

PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ with DAN BARRETT’S DELTA FOUR

A Note from Dan Barrett:

I’ll be leading a quartet — the Delta Four — Friday nights at The Ritz Restaurant in Newport Beach for their Friday night New Orleans-themed “Pardi Gras.”   The band includes Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet and tenor sax; Brad Roth, banjo and guitar; and John Dominguez on bass.  I’ll be playing both trombone and my rusty (oops…I mean TRUSTY) cornet.  Clarinetist Tim Laughlin–from New Orleans–will be with us in August.   I’m sure you remember Tim from the Sweet and Hot Festival where he led a great band with Connie Jones on cornet.

Join us at The Ritz from 7:00-10:00pm every Friday through and including August 24th.  I know there is still an audience out there for this kind of jazz.  I’m sure there are many people in Orange County looking for a nice place to go to hear some jazz, especially since the end of the Sweet and Hot Festival.  I’m still trying to deal with that! Mixed emotions, I guess.   So sad it had to end, but so many great memories.

The Ritz Restaurant is located at 880 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660.  Reservations: 949-720-1800.

(P.S. from JAZZ LIVES: I learned about this from Karen Beatton’s DixieJazz E-List: email her at kbeatton@roadrunner.com to learn all that will soon become news.)

May your happiness increase.

FEED THE KITTY

I feel bicoastal gloom at the cancelling of the Sweet and Hot Music Festival, the closing of the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel.  Both of these sad events can be understood in economic terms, but these news stories are not new. 

I was speaking to a jazz musician two nights ago about his arrival in new York City in the mid-Eighties, and invariably our conversation became a litany of jazz clubs and restaurants that featured live music — all gone now.  Another musician reminded me of the magical decade of Fifty-Second Street: a block full of jazz clubs and nightspots that are now office buildings and chain pharmacies.  A few months ago I asked a young musician how she was faring and she told me of taking a job in Whole Foods to be able to get by.   

I understand that the “hospitality” business — restaurants, clubs, and other sites providing entertainment, food, and drink in return for profit — cannot be philanthropic.  When a club owner hires musicians, (s)he will want to see more money in the cash register (archaic terms these days) to offset the expense of the music.  In an era when bar patrons turn to their iPhones and to the multiple television screens for their entertainment, does live music, creative improvised music, stand a chance? 

The other factor is the machine we are all utilizing at the moment, and I acknowledge my responsibility in the problem.  “Why get dressed up in the cold to travel to a jazz club when there is so much to see and hear online?  Who needs to leave the monitor?  Besides, there’s that wall of CDs my spouse says I hardly ever listen to.” 

But I am talking about art and individuals that have more depth — and more fragility — than the moving images on the computer.  Jazz musicians are more than mp3s. 

One can find true community from listening to living people create art for other living people: like minds assembled to share joy.   

But too often, jazz listeners think they are supporting the music by having a bumper sticker or a seat cushion that proclaims their allegiance to jazz.  Writing BIRD LIVES on a wall won’t bring him back, and wearing a sparkly hat that says I LOVE DIXIELAND doesn’t help any player to pay the rent.  Buying another CD is always a good thing, but ask any musician how much money (s)he has received from the sale. 

Jazz Studies Programs have their place, as do vast online collections of “free” music, but do any of these activities benefit the musicians and their families?     

So I propose, not for the first time, an individual, active commitment to the art form.  If you are financially able and physically healthy, why not pay your debt to jazz by visiting a place where live jazz musicians are playing?  Buy a drink or a meal.  Listen attentively.  Put something in the tip jar.  Tell the manager / owner that you have made a special trip to this restaurant or club to hear ______ and her Hooligans (invent your own appropriate name).

Yes, I know that (in my father’s words) things are tough all over.  Sometimes the situation seems so bleak that one wants to retreat from those people — real and figurative — who have their hands outstretched to us.  What I am proposing costs money, takes time, is occasionally inconvenient.  But offering support to the people and music we love is a better use of our energies than mourning the losses after the sad news has registered.  And being generous to jazz may help insure that we can hear and see it, live, in the future.       

The generous people I know write checks to worthy charities, institutions that do good.   

What have you done for jazz this month?  It has done so much for you.

AWFUL SAD: THE SWEET AND HOT MUSIC FESTIVAL

It is possible to feel a stinging grief at the loss of an institution.  I write these words in a very sorrowful mood, because I have learned that the 2012 Sweet and Hot Music Festival has been cancelled. 

I came late to this particular party: my first (and only) encounter with this musical cornucopia was during the 2011 Labor Day weekend.  But as I’ve documented elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES, it was overflowing with good music — sweet and hot — and good feeling.   

I understand why enterprises of this scope find it impossible to continue, and I don’t plan to analyze the economic realities of 2012 here.  I feel so sorry for the musicians who have lost another place to play, and for the hard-working people behind the scenes, especially my dear friend Laurie Whitlock, one of the hardest-working and kindest people in jazz.  For now, I will think fondly of a whirlwind of jazz . . . I documented it on many videos on YouTube, but the future — at least my own version of it — isn’t going to be the same without the Sweet and Hot Music Festival. 

I originally planned to add a video performance or two from the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival to show what had happened there . . . and, by extension, what the dimensions of our loss would be — but it seemed an impiety.  My feelings find their best expression in silence. 

This is the space where the Sweet and Hot Music Festival used to be.

“BOY, DO THEY ROCK!”: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (SWEET AND HOT, Sept. 5, 2011)

Here are two splashes of musical hot sauce.  My title comes from an overheard comment (accurate music criticism) from a happy audience member at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles, California. 

And the objects of this praise?  None other than pianist (and gutty singer) Carl Sonny Leyland, string bass master Marty Eggers, and percussion wizard Hal Smith. 

How about a stomping version of James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which suggests that the amorous tempo was allegretto, not lento.  (So this is what Grandma and Grandpa were up to when we thought they were watching Art Linkletter!):

And something of a spiritual nature, with Brother Hal playing a melodic solo, echoing Zutty Singleton — OVER IN THE GLORYLAND:

Gloryland isn’t the half of it, I think.

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.