[Dixielandjazz] Dixieland Club Date in Martinez California

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat May 29 16:37:58 PDT 2010

For those in the San Francisco Bay Area who like to hear live  
Dixieland in a jazz club setting, this is a once a moth gig (4th  
Thursday) in nearby Martinez.

Steve Barbone

Mal Sharpe swings that Dixieland music
Armando’s attracts a full house of dedicated fans.
By Yael Li-Ron
Special to the Gazette
May 28, 2010
Dixieland is alive and well in Martinez. A standing-room only crowd at  
Armando’s on Thursday was entertained by Mal Sharpe and his band (Big  
Money in Jazz – also known as Big Money in Gumbo). 74-year-old Sharpe,  
a trombone player, comedian and TV personality, performs at the local  
music venue on the fourth Thursday of every month. Since the band  
started its standing gig at Armando’s, the number of loyal attendees  
has grown steadily, attracting many out-of-towners with toe-tapping  
renditions of classics such as St. James Infirmary, The Sunny Side of  
the Street, Swing That Music, and other Dixieland tunes made famous by  
Louis Armstrong.
There were a few 20-something people in the audience, a promising sign  
that Dixieland, which was all the rage in the early-to-mid 20th  
century, is still winning new fans with its gregarious, danceable  
tunes. It’s the quintessential American classical music, and Mal  
Sharpe’s band delivers a terrific combination of musicians playing the  
standard Dixieland instruments: Trumpet, saxophone, trombone, bass,  
guitar, banjo and drums. Most band players sing solos, as well.

Sharpe’s shows are interactive and include sing-alongs, give-aways and  
lots of jokes. A politically-incorrect non-sequitur between songs drew  
laughter and blushes: “[Trumpet player] Jack Sheldon just told me that  
the good thing about dating a homeless woman is that you can drop her  
off anywhere.”

The band started with a rendition of St. James Infirmary, and went on  
with Yes, Yes, Yes (Sharpe turned it into the Sarah Palin Blues),  
Sheik of Araby and other standards. During a trumpet solo Sharpe kept  
telling Sheldon, “higher, higher!” and Sheldon abided. At the end of  
the piece Sharpe said, “When I said ‘higher,’ I meant I would hire  
another trumpet player.”

Whenever Sharpe comes to Martinez he enquires about the beavers’ well- 
being. He always offers a quirky giveaway (often any old item he finds  
in his cupboard). On Thursday he asked the audience which philosopher  
he was thinking about, and the winner (this writer) who guessed  
Nietzsche was awarded an old shoe tree.

Sharpe raved about Armando’s, Roy Jeans’ music venue. “It’s the best  
music venue in the Bay Area,” he kept saying. “It’s better than  
Yoshi’s [a popular jazz night club in Oakland].”  The small venue  
lends itself to intimate jams. When the place is not crowded, there’s  
room to dance, but on Thursday night there was a tiny area next to the  
entrance to the bathroom where three women swayed and danced, while  
the rest of the audience nodded, tapped their feet and did the best  
they could in the confines of their chairs.

“Armando’s is the most unique music club in the Bay Area,” he told the  
Gazette on Friday. “The decor, the vibe. Roy is so hospitable, and the  
staff are terrific [as are] the locals who show up. We have people who  
come there that we don’t see in our San Francisco shows. Martinez  
[residents] are really lucky to have a place like that. It feels like  
being on a side street in New Orleans.” Much to his delight, “Nobody  
threw tomatoes [at the band].”

He voiced his concern about contemporary America: “I feel there is a  
dumbing down of a lot of our culture; we’ve gotten so absorbed in te  
screen culture. However, music still connects people. I just sit and  
play music and it feels healthy.” When asked for his advice for  
aspiring trombone players he said, “You must practice, practice,  
practice and, as Louis Armstrong said, brush your teeth. Also, listen  
to Vic Dickenson.”

Sharpe is grateful for “My daughter, my long marriage, and the fact  
that I’m playing music at this stage of my life. I’m really lucky to  
be doing something as engaging, and able to come play in loving places  
like Martinez.”

Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz will return to Armando’s on June  
24. Roy Jeans said he had already sold ten tickets for that  
performance. If you plan to attend, make a reservation and show up  
early (doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8 and ends  
promptly at 10) to find a comfortable spot on one of the couches at  
the back or at the stage-side tables.

At 10 p.m., following two sets, the band received a lengthy standing  
ovation. Instead of an encore, Sharpe held up an egg and said, “You  
gave us an ovation and I’m giving you an ovum.”

Greta Mart contributed to this story.

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