[Dixielandjazz] Let's hear it for the Old School Jazz Clarinetists

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 23 06:28:31 PDT 2006

This venue at JVC in NYC was packed. There is a huge audience out there for
tuneful music played by top drawer jazz musicians. Something festival
producer George Wein is very aware of.

Steve Barbone

Old-School Jazz Clarinetists Slip In a Few Surprises at JVC Festival

NY IMES - By BEN RATLIFF - June 23, 2006

The most radical gesture of the JVC Jazz Festival this year may be one that
has to do with very old music. It is the festival producer George Wein's
continued faith in the formula of the traditional-jazz concert series at the
Kaye Playhouse. By traditional jazz I mean the early jazz of New Orleans and
Chicago in the 1920's, the swing era and the repertory of ballads and
standards played by those who aren't filtering it through bebop, hard bop or
some kind of free-rhythm, free-harmony strategy.

There's no new wave of this. It is an I-beam of jazz, and a certain segment
of jazz listeners still have strong affinities to jazz from the days when it
was truly popular. They want to hear skilled musicians inspired by (to name
a half-dozen) Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw,
Art Tatum or Teddy Wilson improvising elegantly through a 32-bar form or a
blues. They will buy tickets year after year. Mr. Wein is a musician
himself, a pianist, and this is precisely the music he loves. He is not just
propping up a viable thing. He is following his pleasure principle.

Tuesday night's concert at Kaye, "Clarinet Marmalade," brought together the
clarinetists Kenny Davern, Evan Christopher, Ken Peplowski and Don Byron. It
was a concert with some good-natured dragginess, but it still worked because
it had soul and purpose.

Mr. Davern is 71 and has been around the block. He played in New York clubs
like Nick's in the 1950's and 60's, when Dixieland had its revival in New
York, and he remains a first-rate, generous musician who never seems
studious or virtuosic. With a band including the guitarist James Chirillo,
the bassist Greg Cohen and the drummer Tony DeNicola, he played songs like
"If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)" and "Old-Fashioned Love." In a
version of W. C. Handy's "Beale Street Blues," Mr. Chirillo made notes ring
out with louche dissonance, and the band became perfect in its sentimental,
tough, sinewy charm.

The younger Mr. Christopher (he is in his mid-30's), whose set dovetailed
with Mr. Davern's, has a forthright sound and a hungry energy, and he
brought out the pianist Cyrus Chestnut to continue the set with a version of
Jelly Roll Morton's "Mamanita"; the band established an implied, rolling
habanera groove, with Mr. Cohen roughly plucking bass chords. And as if with
much to prove, reining in and condensing his extravagant talent into hard
focus, Mr. Christopher played two original songs in honor of New Orleans,
where he made his name as a nightclub musician: "Blue Roof Blues," a funeral
dirge, and "Follow the Second Line," a tune of light, frothy joys.

Mr. Peplowski, whose playing is sleeker and more outwardly virtuosic, is
younger than Mr. Davern by more than 20 years, but unafraid to be perceived
as old. "It's required nowadays for jazz musicians to play songs by Elvis
Costello," he explained. "I, of course, chose the other Elvis." He followed
with a traditional-jazz arrangement of "A Fool Such as I," part of the
Presley songbook.

But he's more modish than he gives himself credit for. His set began with
"The Single Petal of a Rose," from Duke Ellington's "Queen's Suite,"
segueing into a version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "For No One."
(Presenting yourself as a traditionalist is useful if you want to take
people by surprise: Mr. Peplowski in the long view is as modern as musicians
come, and Mr. Cohen, who played bass behind him, was last seen during this
festival in Ornette Coleman's notoriously nontraditional band.)

Finally, Mr. Byron played a set that was looser in sound, intonation, rhythm
and repertory; it included "Body and Soul" and John Coltrane's "Giant
Steps." He played with a trio, including the pianist George Colligan and the
drummer Billy Hart but no bassist. Mr. Colligan made up for it by striding
or walking with his left hand, and the music overcompensated a little,
becoming very dense very quickly.

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