[Dixielandjazz] Hot jazz in the US NOW

Marek Boym marekboym at gmail.com
Sat Aug 3 01:10:05 PDT 2013

Following is a "Vanity Fair" article on hot jazz in New York:
How a Swath of 20-Somethings Have Tuned In to 1920s Pop
 By Will Friedwald <http://www.vanityfair.com/contributors/will-friedwald>

By Harry Fellows.

Hot Sardines.

It has been called New Orleans jazz, Dixieland (a term that most of the
musicians playing it despise), and most recently, “trad” (short for
“traditional”) jazz. Ever since Benny Goodman exploded onto the pop-music
scene in 1935 and ignited the swing era, the earlier jazz of the 1920s has
been relegated to music’s margins.
*But a funny thing happened on the way to the modern bandstand.*

*Gradually, over the past few years, more and more young jazz
musicians—mainly in their 20s and even younger—have begun to play this
music and, in the process, started again to refer to it by the name it was
known by when it was new: Hot Jazz*. Ninety years ago, dancers employed
designations of temperature to distinguish between “hot” bands, like King
Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band or Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers and the
“sweet” bands of the era, like Guy Lombardo’s.

*All of a sudden, Hot Jazz bands are all over New York (and, by various
indications, other cities as well)—most of them made up of musicians
roughly the age of trumpeter Mike Davis and Joshua Holcomb (who plays
trombone, tuba, and bass), both 21.* The two are recent graduates of the
Manhattan School of Music, where they jointly led a Hot Jazz
student-ensemble band, and are now part of the city’s workforce of
professional musicians. Such bands are heard in an increasing number of
clubs, including several devoted to Hot Jazz, such as Mona’s in the
Alphabet City neighborhood, and Radegast Hall & Biergaretn in Williamsburg,

*Nearly every week (particularly in the summer), these musicians also play
in bands at dance-oriented “retro nouveau” events, like Shanghai Mermaid,
the Jazz Age Lawn Party, and the Salon—a combination of dance, concert, and
costume party. Young dancers typically come in 1920s drag, and one can see
flappers and sheikhs texting and tweeting on the margins of the dance floor.
*The Lawn Party, the biggest of these events, usually attracts 3,000-plus
people (most in vintage attire, almost all under 30) for two weekends a
summer on Governors Island.* Movie director Baz Luhrman is a regular
attendee, and although his film adaptation of *The Great Gatsby*—based on
the definitive novel of what author F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the Jazz
Age”—featured little authentic jazz from the period, the movie’s box-office
success reveals again how the culture of the Roaring 20s seems to resonate
with contemporary audiences.

Hot Jazz is so prevalent now that New York has almost become like New
Orleans in the *fin de siècle* period: in covering the city’s jazz scene
for *The Wall Street Journal,* I find that I can go hear a 20s-style band,
almost inevitably made up of musicians born well after 1980, playing
somewhere in the city virtually every night of the week. For these young
players, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is Vince Giordano and
the Nighthawks, the 11-piece ensemble that’s kept the torch burning for
pre-swing music for almost 40 years. Most of Giordano’s regular musicians
are in their 40s and 50s, but he occasionally hires up-and-coming artists,
such as 26-year-old twins Peter and Will Anderson, two reed players
(clarinet and saxophone) who have been working with Giordano since 2007,
their sophomore year at Juilliard.

 From left to right: Gordon Webster (piano), Dennis Lichtman (clarinet),
Nick Russo (banjo), and Jared Engel (bass).
By Bruce Gast.
Mona's Hot Four.

Will Anderson feels that an understanding of early jazz is essential to
being able to play the music of *any* period. “I enjoy playing all styles
of jazz, because it is all rooted in the music of the 1920s—harmonically,
rhythmically, and melodically.” He adds, *“Twenties jazz has a clarity and
beauty that anyone can identify with; it expresses the most bitter sadness
and complete joy, simultaneously.”*
Along with the Nighthawks, a newer, smaller band that’s serving as the
focal point of the Hot Jazz movement is Mona’s Hot Four, which plays all
night long every Tuesday, to a capacity crowd of regulars and musicians who
come to sit in and jam. Here, alas, there’s no room for dancing and, in
fact, barely any room even for listening. “I believe musicians of my
generation and younger are attracted to the roots, blues aspect of the
music; the collective polyphony of the ensemble; the partner-danceability
of the rhythm [that has] revitalized excitement of the audiences,” says
Mona’s Hot Four’s guitar-and-banjo player, Nick Russo. Gradually, the mania
surrounding the music has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mr. Russo
notes that the more musicians play Hot Jazz, the more crowds are attracted,
which, in turn, he says, generates “more gigs.”

*What’s also interesting is that this new wave of traditional jazz relies
on nontraditional venues:* formal jazz clubs, mostly in midtown, generally
ignore it, and so far Jazz at Lincoln Center has not yet gotten hip—a
further irony, in that 30 years ago J.A.L.C. founder Wynton Marsalis was
one of the first major musicians to encourage younger players to study
Louis Armstrong as much as Miles Davis. (An exception is the Louis
Armstrong tribute band, led by David Ostwald, which has been playing weekly
in Birdland for over a decade.) Hot Jazz turns up in all manner of venues
that are far from exclusively jazz clubs, the most high profile of which is
probably Joe’s Pub. The Hot Sardines, the name reflecting singer and
co-leader Elizabeth Bougerol’s Parisian origins, currently enjoy a monthly
residency at Joe’s, and this summer the club is also presenting another
young French group, the Avalon Jazz Band.

 By Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images.
Cecile McLorin Salvant.

Of all the Hot Jazz groups, the Sardines have probably come the furthest.
They’ve been together almost 10 years, during which time they’ve assembled
a unique repertoire, and a sound and a style that are distinctly their own.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys
Traditional “Jass” Band, a brand new combo that, within a few months of
being formed in the Crescent City at the start of 2013, was already drawing
crowds in New Orleans as well as in the New York area. The Donkeys even
boast a celebrity offspring: tubaist Wessell Anderson Jr. is the son of
saxophonist Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson, the longtime Marsalis sideman. (Full
disclosure: the father of the band’s banjo-guitarist-vocalist, Sam Friend,
is an editor at *Vanity Fair*.) Unlike the Sardines, the Donkeys don’t have
an identifiable band “book” of their own yet, and most of their tunes are
familiar Dixieland warhorses (many sung by trumpeter James Williams,
channeling Louis Armstrong), but that will surely come in time, the longer
they continue to work together. (Right now their most intriguing number is
a mash-up of two jazz standards based on the same chord changes, the 1920
song “Whispering” and Dizzy Gillespie’s 1945 “Groovin’ High.”)

The Sardines, contrastingly, have not only their own identifiable tunes but
a fast-paced act that combines jazz and old-fashioned showbiz, spotlighting
Ms. Bougerol’s singing (and spieling*).* Which points up another aspect of
the current Hot Jazz scene: virtually all of these players have grown up in
the contemporary, post-CD era, and to them the notion of bands scuffling
around trying to get “signed” by major record labels is an archaic idea
from a bygone age. None of these bands has been on a top label, although
some sell their own self-produced CDs. Yet audio-only representations, in
general, are almost entirely beside the point. To these groups, it’s much
more important to be well represented on the social networks, to have a
compelling Facebook presence, and to get noticed on YouTube.

 By Kaitlin Hanrahan.
The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys.

Modern jazz has grown increasingly into concert music, over the last 50
years especially, with musicians more or less looking like a string
quartet—just sitting and playing, sometimes reading music from stands.
Hot Jazz bands do everything they can to keep the audience engaged, making
the music visually appealing. The Sardines feature tap dancer “Fast Eddy”
Francisco, who functions as a second percussionist; they not only play for
dancers in the crowd but include a dancer as part of the music itself. Jon
Ramm, the 27-year-old trombonist with the Swamp Donkeys, makes a specialty
of maneuvering his instrument’s slide with his bare foot. It’s pure
vaudeville, to be sure. Mr. Ramm says, “A lot of people write off this kind
of jazz as antiquated, but the truth of the matter is it’s still pop music.
Twenties music has those qualities . . . a connection with basic human
emotion.* All the music we play is basic, structure-wise,
chord-change-wise. And it gives us an ability to reach all people.”

As the names of these groups imply, this music is about the bands, many of
whom have colorful and unforgettable appellations like the Hot Sardines,
the Swamp Donkeys, Baby Soda, the Grand Street Stompers, Emily Ahser’s
Garden Party, Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass Band, Jesse Carolina and the
Hot Mess—whereas modern jazz is often mainly about star soloists. There are
several outstanding individual players, nonetheless, who attract attention
no matter what groups they’re working in. Bria Skonberg, 29, is a Canadian
trumpeter and vocalist who moved to New York in 2010; she looks like a
Scandinavian beauty-pageant winner (or, as I wrote in the *Journal, *like
“Thor’s kid sister”), and when she puts the horn to her lips, it becomes
clear that she can compete with virtually any brassman playing jazz today.
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, 24, is African American, visually impaired, and
an Orthodox Jew who won’t appear in public without a proper head covering.
He sings and plays passionately (banjo, guitar, piano, and many other
instruments), working with folk, blues, and country bands as well as jazz.
They both know a million songs from the period, and their music is rife
with soul and personality. They both possess what jazz players of all
genres and generations strive for: a distinctive sound and approach to
their instruments.

The new movement is experiencing breakthroughs even as we speak: in June,
veteran clarinetist *Dan Levinson, age 48, hosted a jam session on the
stage of New York’s Symphony Space, featuring musicians who were 20 years
younger than him (including all of Mona’s Hot Four). Produced by the Sidney
Bechet Society, this was the first formal concert focusing on the current
generation of trad-jazz standouts.* At press time, the first full-scale New
York Hot Jazz Festival has been announced for August 2013; the gathering is
being planned as a free, one-day concert (August 25) at Mehanata, on the
Lower East Side, that producer Michael Katsobashvili hopes will grow into
an expanded annual event.

At 23, Cécile McLorin Salvant is a highly acclaimed jazz singer who does an
especially inspired job with songs from the 1920s, 30s, and beyond. She
compares the young musicians who specialize in this music to “a *Star
kind of thing. *We love the music from this time period, and we even have a
kind of nostalgia for something that we have never lived through in our own
lifetimes—or even our grandparents’! There’s just something special about
music that seems so far away; there’s a certain sense of mystery to it—and
then [someone is] able to bring it to you. Plus, let’s not forget: this all
started as party music for teenagers.”*

 By Mick Gold/Redferns.
Blind Boy Paxton.

In many ways, the new Hot Jazz players seem to be deliberately undoing the
accomplishments of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and then the modernists,
who spent generations trying to get the world to take jazz seriously. *These
musicians, instead, are working conspicuously to prove that jazz can be a
popular music all over again. It seems to be working.** *
*Will Friedwald writes about jazz and nightlife for *The Wall Street
Journal.* His last story for *Vanity Fair* focused on Michael Feinstein.
Friedwald is the author of eight books on music and popular culture,
including *A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, Stardust
Melodies, Tony Bennett: The Good Life, Jazz Singing,* and the award-winning
*Sinatra: The Song Is You. *He has written more than 600 liner notes for
compact discs and has received eight Grammy nominations.*

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