I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club. Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.
The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands. Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings. What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity. I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.
Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying. For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other. So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly. This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case. And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below.
For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis. Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday. Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner. His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches. He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this. And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky. The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm. Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support. Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases. George Duvivier would approve. I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative. Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past.
This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military. I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor. Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare. Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless. Welcome back, Pete!
And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have. And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.
Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage. Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis. I hope so.
Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:
Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:
The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:
A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:
In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:
To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:
I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:
I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind. It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments. Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over. That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited. All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:
In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:
And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:
I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.
COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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