Tag Archives: swing dance

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part One): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

Find your Capezios, please.  JAZZ LIVES will wait.

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band” is delightfully subversive in its own way.

Its members are formally dressed in the way that jazz musicians used to be (Coleman Hawkins would never have gone to a gig or a recording session in a tight blue polo shirt with a band name on the left pectoral).  They are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory (which, to some, might paint them as an old-fashioned New Orleans jazz repertory ensemble).  Thus, they can seem scholarly rather than rambunctious (Hal, aside from being one of the half-dozen best jazz drummers, is a scholar of the music who can tell you what the band name means, to take just one example).

BUT.  Let us not be fooled by surfaces.

OTL, as I occasionally call them, is one of the best small swing units now playing.  They don’t copy old records; their music is uplifting dance music, and swing dancers have a wonderful time with it.  The band rocks; they are informal but expert; their solos soar and their ensembles groove.

Their secret, which no one whispers aloud, is that they are closer to a Buck Clayton Jam Session than to a Bill Russell American Music shellac disc.  And in this they are true to the source: Ory kept up with the times; he loved to swing, and he loved to create music for dancing.  But you need not take my word for it.

I captured three of the band’s sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and this one is particularly dear to my heart because it is music for swing dancers.  In 1959, more or less, the Kid and trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, old pals from New Orleans, made recordings and gave European concerts which drew on a swing repertoire somewhat looser than the stereotype.  Not “Dixieland” or “trad” in their essence, these records captured a particular musical ambiance where disparate personalities were free to roam.  The Verve records were particular pleasures of my adolescence, so to hear Hal and the OTL play those swinging songs was a joy, not only for me, but for the dancers.

I should point out here that the band at Evergeen was made up of Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; guest star Clint Baker, trombone, vocal; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader.  American Popular Songbook, too — two Gershwins, two Wallers!  (But — just between us — these are very familiar tunes which have been overdone in less subtle hands.  Hear how the OTL makes them soar, with what easy lilting motion.)

And here’s a nod to Bill Basie and the golden days, LADY BE GOOD:

The Fats classic, done at a nice tempo, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Yes, I GOT RHYTHM, played au naturel, at a sweet Thirties bounce:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, again, made new by a splendid tempo:

This music transcends categories.  And as such, it is transcendent.

May your happiness increase!

REMIX WELL! (Part Two): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Here’s the second part of a glorious evening of music and dance at Swing Remix, music provided and created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — who were, for this gig, expanded: Gordon, trumpet, arrangements, compositions; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander, Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  (R1 was there, stepping, twirling, and dipping, although my camera did not catch her in flight.)  It added up to great dance music, delightful small-band jazz, splendidly played, with inventive arrangements that make familiar songs seem new.

Here’s Part One.

Bechet’s SI TU VOIS MA MERE, featuring Matt Koza, in honor of Earl McKee:

From an elegy to an original by Gordon, dedicated to a wayward feline:

A classic from the time when people still carried nickels for the pay phone:

The lovely Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom paean to simplicity:

A nocturnal horror in Swing:

Let’s!

and an encore, from GUYS AND DOLLS:

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (Part One): GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at SWING REMIX (April 13, 2019)

Dance off both your shoes!  Who could do otherwise when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers play for dancers?  This took place at Swing Remix on April 13, 2019. That’s Gordon, trumpet, compositions and arrangements; Joe McDonough, trombone; Ricky Alexander and Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums; Molly Ryan, vocals.  R1 was there, too, which meant that the universe was properly aligned.

The usual caveats apply (not at all to the music!): I can’t shoot videos from the dance floor because of the eager traffic, people who have a right to be there and swing out.  So these videos were recorded from an upstairs balcony, and as a result the sound is somewhat distant . . . but it is what you would have heard if you weren’t fortunate enough to be dancing close to the wonderful band.  I also confess to some technical difficulties (a recalcitrant camera) so the sound is stronger in one channel than the other: no need for you to get a hearing test.  But it’s there. . . .

Here are seven bursts of instrumental pleasure from early in the evening:

Gordon’s own JUMP OUT AND GETCHA (perhaps because he is a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night?):

BLUE ROOM, with verse and clever arrangement:

Half of a new pair, PST (PACIFIC SWING TIME):

And a Grand Street Stompers’ classic, SWANG THANG:

The second half, EST (for EASTERN SWING TIME), a composition John Kirby would admire:

Gordon’s swinging and surprising  take on early bebop, GROOVIN’ HIGH:

and the attractive original NADINE:

There are more videos to come from this delightful evening.  But even better . . . see, hear, and dance to the Grand Street Stompers in person: follow them here.  See you on the dance floor (vertically, not horizontally).

May your happiness increase!

CHOOSING TO SWING: NIRAV SANGHANI AND THE PACIFIC SIX

I don’t have grandchildren*, but I can imagine myself gathering the younguns around and telling them, “Younguns, Grandpa knew Nirav Sanghani when he was only a swing dancer, before he began to lead a band!” They would be properly awestruck.  As I am by Nirav’s debut CD, its pretty cover displayed above.

Some facts: the CD is immensely danceable music, the tracks at righteous groovy tempos, with a mix of classic standards and riff-based originals.  Nirav is one of the young musicians mentored by Clint Baker, so you know that he has taken all the right impromptu classes and scored high on the real-life exams (in front of audiences).  And he understands rhythm guitar (rather than attempting to become a Famous-Solo-Guitarist-Clone) and playing for the band.  The band is a compact sextet of wise individualists, and they rock in solo and ensemble.  Beautiful sound . . . . and a digital download costs $8.  I am sure that Elders like myself could also buy a physical disc from Nirav at any of the swing events he and the Pacific Six adorn.

The band: Justin Au, trumpet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Rob Reich, piano; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass; Riley Baker, drums; Clint Baker, trombone (on BAKER BOUNCE only).

The songs: BAKER BOUNCE / DOODLE RHYTHM / MARIANAS / BLUE (And Broken-Hearted) / IRRATIONAL BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / LULLABY OF THE WAVES / WHISPERING.  arch 26, 2019

Recorded August 19, 2018 at Community Music Center, San Francisco, CA.

From the first notes, the band floats on a well-connected four-piece rhythm section: Reich, Sanghani, Hodge, and Baker have listened hard to the great small groups of the Forties and the wartime Basie influence is so happily evident (although none of the cliches are).  I noticed happily that more than a few of the tracks began with a rhythm-section introduction, reminiscent of the great small groups and also clearly setting the tempo for dancers.  (Incidentally, that rhythm section has its own delicious quirky approach: hear the opening chorus of WHISPERING to get at it: hilarious and completely effective.)  IRRATIONAL BLUES is beautifully evocative of the 1938 Kansas City Six, with a guitar introduction by Sanghani.

And the horn soloists (Zimmerman switching from clarinet to saxophone on some tracks; a terse, lyrical Au — with the impassioned Clint Baker, jazz parent, adding huge trombone sounds on the first track) are wonderfully idiomatic but never imitative.  Eddie Condon would surely admire their interplay on BLUE and on SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.  The jazz fans in the audience might think of 1946, of Savoy Records, of swing-to-bop; the dancers will be too busy dancing to consider such erudite matters.

Nirav’s originals are made of familiar materials but each has its own little surprises, and the arranging touches are well-shaped but never overfussy.  I know that if I heard this on the radio or on a DJ’s playlist, I might not immediately call each of the players by name but I certainly would insist on knowing about the band and buying a few copies of the disc.

I propose that people who enjoy this CD pass along copies of it to dance organizers who might be out of touch with the best Bay Area jive so that we can spread the swinging word(s).

My only complaint about this disc is that it isn’t a two-disc set.

Here is the band’s Facebook page, and here, perhaps even more important, is the Bandcamp page where you can hear the sounds and download the music.

If you have a swing dance event coming up, this would be one of the many fine bands to hire.  If, like me, you don’t, you surely will want to have the music in your home, your ears, your car . . . the possibilities are endless, and gratifying.

*Because I don’t have grandchildren, I am expecting like-minded younger JAZZ LIVES readers to visit us in assisted living, bearing new CDs, organic fruit and vegetables.  I think that’s not too much to ask.

May your happiness increase!

DANCE OFF BOTH YOUR SHOES: MICHAEL GAMBLE and the RHYTHM SERENADERS featuring LAURA WINDLEY (November 24, 2018): JOSH COLLAZO, JONATHAN STOUT, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOE GOLDBERG, NATE KETNER, CHARLIE HALLORAN, COREY GEMME

We didn’t miss the Saturday dance, I assure you.  And they crowded the floor.

The event I’m referring to took place at the 39th annual San Diego Jazz Fest — a Saturday-night swing dance featuring Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders and Laura Windley, sharing the bill with the Mad Hat Hucksters.  I could only stay for Michael’s opening set, but the music I captured was honey to my ears.  And you’ll see many happy dancers too.

The Rhythm Serenaders were a mix of local talent and gifted people from New Orleans: Michael on string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Josh Collazo, drums; Joe Goldberg, clarinet and tenor; Nate Ketner, alto and clarinet; Corey Gemme, cornet; Charlie Halloran; trombone; Laura Windley, vocals.  Did they rock!  And you’ll notice the delightfully unhackneyed repertoire: this is not a group with a narrow range: no IN THE MOOD here.

An incomplete PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (the late start is my doing: at swing dances I have a hard time finding a good place for camera and tripod, and at this one the music was so good that I decided to take the risk of being intrusive and set my tripod on the stage, right behind Kris at the piano. The dancers didn’t notice, or if they did, no one came over to object.  Later on, I was able to achieve a pleasing split-screen effect.):

Laura sings IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they do:

Rex Stewart’s ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT:

Laura’s homage to Teddy Grace, the charming I’VE TAKEN A FANCY TO YOU:

Laura’s warning, courtesy of Kay Starr: DON’T MEDDLE IN MY MOOD:

The Henderson COMIN’ AND GOIN’:

Sid Phillips’ MAN ABOUT TOWN:

Chu Berry’s MAELSTROM:

For Billie and Lester, Laura’s HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM:

and the classic swing tune (Carmen Lombardo, don’t you know) COQUETTE:

Find Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders on Facebook here.

May your happiness increase!

THEY CAN REALLY DO THAT THING, AND MORE: FLOYD DOMINO’S ALL-STARS

That’s no idle claim.  Here’s the cover of the band’s new CD, which features Floyd, piano and arrangements; Emily Gamble, vocal; Lauryn Gould, saxophone, arrangements; Ryan Gould, string bass; David Jellema, clarinet, cornet; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

And here’s a lively audio sample:

and another, with organic Lester-and-Buck flavoring:

I know that there are many excellent small and mid-sized “swing dance” units in operation these days, and if you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you’ve heard my praise of them from New York to Vancouver and Texas.  We live in an age of good music (so those who lament the death of jazz are just wrong) but Floyd’s group has that most wonderful quality, a completely recognizable sound: individuals in solo and in ensemble.  I don’t have to clamber up on my soapbox and say that “When I was a boy you could tell who someone was in four quarter notes: Frank Newton didn’t sound like Charlie Shavers,” and so on.  But you know it’s true.

Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you know these musicians — or the two videos have offered convincing evidence of why you should.  But rather than write a handful of enthusiastic character sketches, for once I want to say something about the band, which has all the glide and grit of a working unit.  Smooth, but hardly decaffeinated.  What I hear in these performances is a kind of easy rhythmic intensity — think of a Forties small unit that has understood that shuffle rhythm, never heavy or obvious, gets the dancers on the floor.  (Although RIFF BLUES and the powerful MESS AROUND are solid exceptions: house-rocking music.)

The arrangements, as well, often feature Floyd’s groovy piano, but he isn’t always all alone. Rather, in the fashion of Basie and McShann, the piano often works against horn backgrounds (although the first choruses of HONEYSUCKLE give a nice simulation of Basie-time without any of the patented cliches, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS starts off with a honeyed sixteen bars of piano-and-rhythm before some pretty horn solos.  For the rest, you’re on your own, with notepad and pen if you please).

This CD is a homage to the music of another age, but it’s not imitative, although I now know the new lyrics to BLUE SKIES come from Slim Gaillard and the Royal Rhythm Boys; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER bows low to the Kansas City Six.

I will break with what I wrote earlier to say that Ms. Gamble is a wow: begin with her EXACTLY LIKE YOU and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  “Tonation and phrasing” in abundance!

The preponderance of “standard repertoire” on the disc, incidentally, should not drive any listener away.  Yes, you’ve heard TEA FOR TWO countless times, but this band makes even the most ancient song seem fresh and vivid, and, yes, that is a little cap-tip to Tatum.  I know also that the phrase “little arranging touches” is so overused that I should banish it, but in this case it’s true: the balance of ensemble and solos is so very pleasing, novel without being ostentatiously “innovative.”

How can you bring this joy into your own life?  Ideally, if you’re at one of Floyd’s gigs, bring money and buy a cluster of CDs.  The holidays are coming, and so much holiday merchandise is designed to be obsolete the next morning.  This CD won’t be.  Or visit here and spread some joy.  But don’t give all the copies away: you’ll be sorry.

All I can say — for those who get the joke — is that if this band had existed in 1947, Jack Kapp or Herman Lubinsky would have signed them to disastrously corrupt contracts and they would be absolutely legendary.  How lovely it is that they are alive and well in our own century.

May your happiness increase!

JEN HODGE ALL STARS: “ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND JAZZ”

I sat down for a meal with string bassist / bandleader / singer Jen Hodge last year in New York City, and I was pleased to encounter a person I could admire as much as the music she’s been making: candid, friendly, playful, intelligent.  And her new CD reflects all these qualities.  Since it doesn’t have liner notes, I offer — unsolicited — a few paragraphs.

First, facts: the Jen Hodge All Stars are Jen, string bass, vocals; Chris Davis, trumpet; Connor Stewart, clarinet, tenor saxophone (whom I also met and admired); Josh Roberts, guitar; Marti Elias, drums.  You’ll note the absence of trombone and piano — for the true traditionalists — but you won’t miss them.  In fact, this instrumentation gives the disc a remarkable lighter-than-air quality.  The band soars and rocks.  Here’s a taste.  Admire their dynamics, too:

As soloists, each of the players is superb and sometimes superbly quirky: their imaginations are not hemmed in by constricting notions of appropriate styles, regions, or dates.  No one quotes from Ornette (at least I didn’t notice it if it happened) but everyone on the disc knows that the music didn’t stop when Lil and Louis separated.  The soloists fly with a fervent lightness, and they couldn’t be better as ensemble players.

A particular pleasure of this disc is that its members tend to burst into song, at widely spaced intervals, individually or in combination — a very touching duet on SMOKE RINGS for one.  On SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, Jen is aided and abetted by the hilariously expert “Jen’s Male Chorus,” whose identities you will learn after purchasing the music; other vocals are by Arnt Arnzen, Bonnie Northgraves, and Jack Ray — he of the Milk Crate Bandits.  HEY LET’S DRINK A BEER is given over to Jen and Bonnie, who suggest vocally they are Fifties carhops at the drive-in, on roller skates — perilously cute but they also know judo.

One could divide the CD’s repertoire into the Familiar and the New, the Familiar being DARDANELLA; BLAME IT ON THE BLUES; IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT; SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT; SMOKE RINGS, VIPER’S DREAM; HELL’S BELLS; STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY; ROCK BOTTOM; ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM.  But that designation of “The Familiar” would not be so accurate.  The JAZZ LIVES audience could hum or even sing perhaps seven of those songs, but I would be hard put to do the first eight bars of Fletcher Allen’s VIPER’S DREAM, Art Kassel’s HELL’S BELLS, or Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM.

Incidentally, I am not revealing too much by writing that Jen has a Platonic crush on Tiny Parham, which comes out with her recording a Parham song or two on each of her CDs.  It was not possible in this universe for Jen to ask Tiny to the Junior Prom, so these bouquets must suffice.

Here’s the hilariously quirky HELL’S BELLS, flying along in sixth gear:

And “The Familiar” songs are never handled routinely: each performance has a pleasing surprise at its center.  On my first listening, I was now and again happily caught off balance: I thought I knew how a band would end — let us say — IF I COULD BE WITH YOU — but the arrangement here was not predictable, although it was not so “innovative” to violate the mood of the song.  ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM has traces of the Braff-Barnes Quartet versions, with a brief and delightful excursion into Jo Jones’ solo patterns of his later decades.  STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, worn threadbare through repetition, is lively and fresh here.  The “New” material sometimes hints at familiar chord shapes: MY DADDY ROCKS ME, THEM THERE EYES, but the originals are cleverly enticing.

All I know is that I’ve played this disc several times straight through “with pleasure” undiminished.  And I know I am not alone in this.  I delight in hearing evidence that the Youngbloods are swinging so hard, with such taste, and individuality . . . and I delight in the particulars of their music.

Here is Jen’s Facebook page.

You may purchase this music in every imaginable form (except bright blue flexible celluloid 7″ discs and cassette tapes) here which also happens to be Jen’s website).  And I hope you will.

May your happiness increase!