Jazz U.K. Column - March
A night out on the town with Dan Morgenstern (whose new collection
LIVING WITH JAZZ is a must for anyone interested in reading
some of the best writing ever about the music) in late January
included visits to two clubs that are keeping pre-40s
jazz alive in New York. Every Tuesday, Birdland hosts David
Ostwalds Gully Low Jazz Band, whose repertoire is made
up exclusively of songs associated with Louis Armstrong (remember
him?). They have appeared in the UK at both the Brecon and
Nairn Festivals. Osti (as he is known) plays the tuba, supporting
the ensemble at all tempi so effortlessly that you would think
he never takes a breath. He is also not above taking occasional
liberties with the programming constraints, even venturing
into repertoire that he posits Armstrong "might have
played." The rest of the band are all first-call players.
The night in question it was the peppery Jon-Erik Kellso on
trumpet, trombonist Dion Tucker (how nice to hear a player
in his 20s who really gets the idiom), clarinetist Dan
Levinson, whose steady evolution on his horn is a cause for
wonder, in the front line. Howard Alden defied the odds and
made wonderful music on the banjo (he tosses off things you
never imagine could be done on the instrument technically
and idiomatically) and drummer Ali Jackson, Jr. who never
ventured into the usual slam-bang "trad" stuff one
is frequently subjected to in similar settings. He also played
at a restrained dynamic level yet with no loss of intensity
that let you hear what his rhythm section mates were up to.
The small but select audience included legendary record producer
George Avakian and author David Margolick.
It was just hop, skip and a jump to the Times Square Grill,
where Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks are featured on Monday
and Tuesday evenings. The band manages to satisfy those hungering
for the period elements of pre-Swing era jazz, with the radio
microphones, megaphones, painted bass drum, and a general
frenetic feeling that sometimes feels like an old movie that
was undercranked or being played back too rapidly. But thats
just the surface. Underneath it roils a hot jazz band, firmly
anchored in the leaders aluminum (or aluminium as the
leader is wont to call it) bass, tuba and driving bass saxophone.
Giordano is a true leader in the sense that every band he
puts together, and there have been many, all sound the same.
They capture the rhythmic essence of a style that has all
but gone out of jazz since Alf Landon was presidential timber.
It swings to be sure, but from an on-top-of-the beat posture.
Kellso and Levinson were here too, and contributed inspired
solos. Kellso in particular has mastered the elusive and almost
extinct art of the 8 and 16 bar solo. What a pleasure it is
to hear an immaculately sculpted musical epigram in the midst
of an ensemble chorus! The sets highlight was Jimmys
Tiger, one of the many times that Jimmy Dorsey recorded his
famous alto/clarinet Tiger Rag showpiece, this version done
during a European jaunt. Here it was arranged for three reeds
who managed the by no means easy feet with aplomb. Among the
listeners was noted Broadway historian Robert Kimball and
classical music host Lloyd Moss.
Hopefully Ken Burnss Jack Johnson documentary (did
you know that the fighter played the bass?) will be seen soon
in the UK, if it hasnt already. It tells a story with
many threads that connect to precisely what it was that made
the men who created jazz so extraordinary in their time and
place. It also amplifies the experience of hearing these two
bands that are maintaining styles that are decidedly of the
past, but with the immediacy of the present.