Last Sunday, I spent five hours at the third annual New York HOT JAZZ Festival, a marathon (12:00 pm – 2:00 am) of international performers. Musicians and fans, young and old, zealots and the curious, some in straw boaters or vintage dresses, created an unflaggingly copacetic fraternity. I noted ninety year-old George Wein, creator of the Newport Jazz Festival, Garry Giddens, award winning author of seminal books on jazz, and Will Friedwald, author, producer, and music critic for The Wall Street Journal.
Friedwald tells me Hot Jazz is made up of styles of music popular up to what is now known as the swing era, roughly 1900 to 1935. The festival includes ragtime, blues, stride piano, more contemporary songs played in the style of Hot Jazz, and some swing.
Choosing from a bounty of simultaneous concerts in three rooms on two floors of the estimable Players Club (with available bars between), attendees moved at will from one to another sitting on the floor, steps, chairs, and couches, or standing at the back. Sometimes spontaneous dancing occurs. I watched both adept foxtrot and lively jitterbug irresistibly materialize. Performers ranged from solo piano to big bands. The event was organized with skill rivaling Hannibal’s trek through the mountains. Producers and director were in constant circulation. Whether artists were to one’s taste or not, enthusiasm was infectious. Herein a sampling:
Terry Waldo’s terrific Gotham City Band offered a thumpin’, stompin’ version of “You’re Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” unexpectedly followed by a 1920s Jimmy Rogers number lead by a yodeling banjo player with sassy disposition. That’s right, I used banjo and sassy in a single sentence. We were treated to a propulsive “California Here I Come” with ragtime dash and an easy, oozy, drawled rendition of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” – vocal by Blind Boy Paxton, during which you could hear the music smile. Singer Tamar Korn, who has her own band, Kornucopia, is the pint sized embodiment of another era. She’s got attitude and inflection down, gracefully rolls when she moves, and scats like brass with a mute. A duet of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” with pianist, Waldo who sings well, casually drags notes while “You‘re Drivin’ Me Crazy” arcs “crr-A-zee” over her head.
Waldo, whose teacher was the iconic Eubie Blake, later offers solo piano, charming patter, and vocals in another venue. His own composition “Proctology” is insinuating, sexy. (I find this odd only because of the title.) Apparently the track was picked up by WQXR, thus identified by name, much to his amusement, between Mozart and Beethoven. Waldo’s style is so casual, he might be composing a grocery list while splendidly performing. The first thing he learned from Blake, he tells us, was “The Charleston Rag,” considered unplayable so never published. It’s a dense piece with a daisy chain of themes as hard hitting as it is fast. Alternatively, “I Love a Piano” arrives about as jaunty and mellow as it gets.
The Rhythm Future Quartet, named after a Django Reinhart tune, performs dynamic arrangements of gypsy jazz standards and original compositions. These are young men with old souls. Jason Anick-violin and Olli Soikkeli-guitar, front-men and lead soloists of the group, have dizzying dexterity with their instruments. “Festival 48” is like riding a Luge, unstoppable momentum railing against curves and slopes while “Soul Ce Soir” conjures a moonlit walk on an empty beach. As if that weren’t sufficient indication of range, the group then plays an interpretation of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” whose underpinning is, I swear, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” And it works.
Dan Levinson’s Bix Millenium All-Stars brings to life the work of jazz cornetist/ pianist/ composer Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931), who left an enduring legacy to the history of music. Some of the artist’s memorable solos are recreated in three-part harmony by Charlie Caranicas and Jon-Erik Kellso (The EarRegulars) with virtuoso Dan Levinson on the rarely heard C-melody saxophone, an instrument inexorably linked to Bix’s music. “Davenport Blues,” manages to be both up-tempo and dark. Brass musically circles each other, one step forward, two steps back. It’s a glad-to-be-sad blues. “Changes” is a travelin’ tune, barumphing along like a jalopy filled with Prohibition revelers.
The Stephane Wrembrel Band was hired by Woody Allen to score Midnight in Paris. Like the iconic Django Reinhart, whom he’s said now to transcend with his own stylistic take and original compositions, the guitarist learned his craft among gypsies. Clarity of lightening guitar which melodically zig-zags makes one think of manic doodling. A song in French by Charles Trenent is evocative. This group includes an actual washboard instrument.
Jon Weber, known to the community for his passion, encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history, improvisation, and the ability to play as if he has four hands, appeared as solo pianist and in tandem with vocalist Margi Gianquinto (Margi & The Dapper Dots.) Weber is fanatically precise often at an unfathomable speed, though he can morph to just about any melodic material. Gianquinto has a naturally honeyed voice whose phrase ends seem literally swallowed. The vocalist soft-peddles lyrics, even scatting with rounded syllables. Weber creates propulsive, crosshatching. “Prisoner of Love” and “Laughing at Love” had people up and dancing.
Much of the band from the Broadway musical, After Midnight, originally hand-picked by Jazz At Lincoln Center artistic director Wynton Marsalis, is now under the direction of composer, arranger, and saxophonist Andy Farber as Andy Faber & The After Midnight Orchestra. The group offered such as “Theme from The Pink Panther” in full, phrase-response, swing arrangement and an up-tempo “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” utilizing colorful high hats. They sound twice the size. Guest vocalist Rebecca Kilgore sang a deftly phrased “Just in Time” with engaging bass line and a sultry, “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)” accompanied by brushes, episodic piano, and shadowing saxophone. Her lovely scat sounded like ripples in a brook. The lady has style.
How did this all begin? “Four years ago, quite by chance, I stumbled upon the fascinating world of hot jazz and instantly fell in love with it. New bands were being formed and terrific young musicians started to move to New York City. I thought that this community needed a day of celebration and two years ago I approached Canadian vocalist/trumpeter/band leader Bria Skonberg and, as technical producer, Patrick Soluri, who runs Prohibition Productions and for years has been putting together sexy, retro-nouveau, hot jazz and swing parties. And here we are one year and eight months after the first fest, which took place in decidedly less posh quarters.” Michael Katsobashvili- Co-Producer/Director
Bria, Michael & Patrick
I left at the end of Part I. Many people go to dinner and return, others only attend the evening program which included an After Party. This is an amazing event. There’s a buzz in the air and a townhouse filled with like-minded people with whom to share impressions should one be inclined. Musicians are top notch, production values high quality; the schedule runs like clockwork. Everyone listed has a web site as does The New York Hot Jazz Festival which I highly recommend looking out for next year.
Photos by Jane Kratochvil.
Opening Image – Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band with Blind Boy Paxton
The New York HOT JAZZ Festival: www.NYHotJazzFest.com
The Players Club
16 Gramercy Park South
May 3, 2015