[Dixielandjazz] Federal Jazz Commission and Buck Creek

Marek Boym marekboym at gmail.com
Sat Jul 5 14:30:20 PDT 2008

I have one FJDC CD (FJC10), and its quite good indeed.  Sorry to hear
about its disbanding - I was hoping to hear the Commissioners one day.
And it's not like a Ritter (knoght in German) to quit!
As dwindling public - i refer you to the countless emails from Steve
Barbone.  There's young audience out there - it just has to be
reached!  True, a Dutch frind's children called the Breda Festival a
"geriatric Woodstock," but a considearable part of the Breda public is

On 25/06/2008, Ed Danielson <mcvouty78 at hotmail.com> wrote:
> You may already know about this.  It's rare to find a major newspaper that can actually describe how this music works.
> Federal Jazz Commission Plays the Farewell BluesBy Matt SchudelWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, June 24, 2008; C01Every Tuesday since September 1981, the Federal Jazz Commission has held a meeting at Colonel Brooks' Tavern, a cozy watering hole at 901 Monroe St. NE near Catholic University. At each gathering, the commission has proved to be an able, if unofficial, caretaker of an endangered national treasure.The Federal Jazz Commission is not a government agency -- even though it once showed up in the Federal Register. It's a group of six music preservationists dedicated to keeping the joyful sounds of old New Orleans alive and sizzling. When the Feds start blowing at full bore, and their fans start twirling napkins overhead, it's 1930 all over again.But tonight, after 26 years and nine months at Colonel Brooks', the Federal Jazz Commission will adjourn for the final time. With two members of the band, including its leader, moving to Florida, the group is breaking up, ending one of the longest-running gigs of any musical group in the city.The FJC has appeared at the White House, Smithsonian museums and international festivals, and has recorded 10 albums. Few traditional jazz bands anywhere play with the comfort and ease of the Feds, who have not had a personnel change in nine years."This is far and away the best version they've ever had," says Don Farwell, who has followed the group for 30 years. "This is simply one of the best bands in the country."One of its friendly rivals has been another D.C.-area group, the Buck Creek Jazz Band, which has ranked as high as No. 3 in national polls of traditional-jazz fans. In recent weeks, as the FJC's leader and cornet player, Marty Frankel, has been getting his new Florida house in order, BuckCreek's Jim Ritter has sat in as an ex-officio Commissioner. But, in a turn almost too sad for Dixieland fans to accept, the Buck Creek Jazz Band will also fold its tent by the end of the year. "The older guys are disappearing, and I don't see a cadre of younger musicians taking their place," says Ritter, who has become one of the country's leading early-jazz cornetists while holding down his day job as an architect. "The audience is evaporating. I think the future looks pretty grim, frankly."At Colonel Brooks' last Tuesday, every seat was filled. Many in the audience had white hair, and the only dancers to jitterbug along with the music were a couple pushing 90. But there was a feeling in the room -- call it the spirit of New Orleans -- that embraced everyone in the multiracial, multigenerational crowd."There's a magic when it's all working together, and you can feel the dynamics of the band," says bassist Tom Gray. "You can feel some of the excitement, and some tenderness. The band is a much better band for having played together every week for years and years."For many longtime listeners, the demise of both bands is a double blow.
> "To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one band is a misfortune," the 84-year-old Farwell notes. "To lose two bands looks like carelessness."Henning Hoehne, the FJC's dynamic clarinet and saxophone ace, will take over Tuesday nights at Colonel Brooks' with his Dixieland Direct quartet -- "We're going to play the same songs, but it's going to be more of a Benny Goodman sound" -- but even he recognizes that it won't be the same."Yes, it's the end of an era," he says. "It's going to leave a void."The Federal Jazz Commission was formed in 1976, when Washington was something of a hotbed of early jazz, and the New Orleans sounds of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong could be heard live just about every night of the week. (Aficionados almost never call it "Dixieland," by the way -- it's "early," "trad" or New Orleans jazz.)Frankel, the cornet player who is retiring to Florida, joined the FJC in 1978 and has led the group since 1985. In addition to Hoehne and Gray, the other members are Steve Welch on trombone and vocals; Donn Andre on banjo; and Sonny McGown on drums.All except Gray -- the former bass player with the pioneering bluegrass groups the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene -- have had long federal careers and were drawn to the music almost in spite of themselves."It's always fresh, it's always exciting," says Hoehne, who first heard early jazz while growing up in Hamburg, Germany, and spent 24 years playing in U.S. Navy bands. "I like the warmth of the music, the feeling that it comes from your heart, not your head."Behind its steady two- or four-beat rhythm, New Orleans jazz has an unexpected complexity. The three melodic instruments -- usually cornet, clarinet and trombone -- interact with the intricacy and delicacy of a string quartet, except that horn players are improvising all the while."You hear the ensemble, but you hear each voice," says Jeremy Koreznik, a Justice Department attorney who has been following the Federal Jazz Commission for 17 years. "It's so American. They have to listen to each other in order to play."The variety and emotional complexity of the music can be glimpsed in the names of a few classic tunes: "Wild Man Blues," "Billy Goat Stomp" and -- appropriate for the final performance of the Federal Jazz Commission -- "Mournful Serenade.""What I love about this music is that it's an authentic sense of exuberance, and under the exuberance there's some cognizance of sadness," says Koreznik. "The tradition of this music is both celebratory and mournful."It's safe to say that there's plenty of mourning among the fans of the Feds, and among the musicians themselves. "This band," says longtime fan Farwell, "evokes memories.""You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward." -- James Thurber
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