This is the last post—Part Three of a three part series or “history”—on JazzAge Monterey (formerly Dixieland Monterey) before the event itself takes place starting Thursday night, March 5, with a “Puttin’ on the Ritz” dance party featuring San Francisco eight-piece band (“with a big band sound”) Swing Fever, with vocalist Denise Perrier. The event will run throughout the weekend at the Portola Hotel & Spa in downtown Monterey.
Here, I’d like to focus on just two years of the event’s history, 2013 and 2014, the years in which the event truly became JAM (JazzAge Monterey), undergoing changes in both programming and presentation that would initiate a new era. In Part Two of these posts, I mentioned that my wife Betty and I had slackened attendance at Dixieland Monterey over the years (after what I considered a sort of “Golden Age”), and did so for reasons medical doctors used to ascribe as “multiple causes” (in our case the death of, or illness among, friends with whom we had attended for years).
I had also increased involvement with another annual jazz event—the internationally known Monterey Jazz Festival: writing text and captions for a book (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years; Angel City Press, 1997), providing a film script for a Warner Bros. documentary of the same name, conducting interviews and writing profile pieces for the event’s programs, serving on a number of panels (from “Jazz Around the World,” “Jazz Trumpet Legacy,” to “Ralph J. Gleason: Perspectives on an MJF Co-founder”)–and hosting one: “Reflections on the Real Ambassadors” (a conversation on the Dave & Iola Brubeck “legendary jazz opera”)—and eventually providing copy for twenty-eight shelters for the local JAZZBUS project (each “stop” with information on, photos of, and even music from a single year of the Festival). I had also undertaken a book project of my own, The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, that would occupy my time for six years—and I lost touch with Dixieland Monterey.
In February of 2013, Doug Pinkham, whom I’d known as someone active on the local jazz scene, phoned and asked if I’d have breakfast and a chat with him and pianist Bob Phillips (whom I wrote about in the last post, and with whom I did participate in a Dixieland Monterey clinic for aspiring young musicians in 2002). We discussed “change in the air” (and on the ground!) with regard to the annual event. At the time, Doug was serving as a Director for “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” and he would become President of the JazzAge Monterey Board the following year. I’d put together a packet of articles I’d written on Dixieland Monterey (a “treasure trove file” in Doug’s words) and we had a fine conversation that morning—and then a list I received as follow up of musicians who would be playing at the 2013 event, performers whom Doug felt worthy of attention: the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Banu Gibson’s set with Pieter Meijers, and more. I attended the “last” Dixieland Monterey that year, and Doug’s advocacies (or his “prophecies” on performers I might be likely to admire) were well on the mark.
The first person I checked out was the high energy violinist/vocalist Tom Rigney and his group Flambeau (in Old French, a lighted torch or “little flame,” but this one in full force or exposure!). Rigney had performed as part of Queen Ida’s renowned Bon Temp Zydeco Band, and Flambeau was advertised as showcasing his “passionate, virtuoso fiddling, his commanding, charismatic stage presence,” and his “originality as a composer”—all of which proved true in what I heard and saw, right down to his “notorious red boots.”
I was impressed by the range of song offered: everything from a rocking country/western original (“You’re the One”) to Papa John blues (“I’m Tired of Cryin”: with hot guitar work by Danny Caron, and Steve Park on—God forbid at a “Dixieland” event—electric bass!) to a beautiful, subtle version of one of my favorite opera arias, “O mio babbino caro,” followed by an uninhibited, totally raucous Zydeco piece, “Swamp Fever,” and then, Rigney inviting pianist Caroline Dahl, “You got some boogie-woogie on that concert grand today?”, Dahl providing just that (I wrote down after: “She sure did! Good fun!”): righteous eight-to-the-bar left hand joy—one set I attended ending with Hank Williams’ classic “Jambalaya,” the second with “Orange Blossom Special.”
I also made my first “overall” observation on “Jazz Bash by the Bay”: “There’s much welcome variety in the music now … but not yet in the audience attending.” And I’ll have more to say about that later in this post.
One of the sets that Doug Pinkham had encouraged me to take in was Vocalist Banu Gibson featured with Netherlands-born Pieter Meijers and his Ensemble: Meijers billed as a man who acquired a doctorate in nuclear chemistry and physics and came to New York City in 1968 to “pursue research,” but “started to play jazz again.” Meijers displays his intelligence by way of an apt mix of lyricism and atomistic action (a charge exchange that produces musical elementary particles and electrons), technical acuity matched by improvisational invention and a comfortable stage manner that provides plenty of room for wit—but just as I got settled for a full set, I learned that Banu Gibson was a “no show” (“I have to tell you some sad news … Banu Gibson will not be here”; her husband ill). A vocalist named Brady McKay filled in, enjoyably (offering another of my favorite songs, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”), and pianist David Boeddinghouse sounded much at home with the idiom (loose and cool), as was bassist Bobby Durham (agile, purposeful), and drummer Jeff Hamilton trading fours: a tight group. But, in Banu Gibson’s absence, I decided to check out another of the artists Doug Pinkham felt I might be attracted to—and once again, this proved 100% true.
Once I heard just a few notes from the remarkable Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, I was hooked, and knew where and how I would be spending much of my time all weekend: listening to their exciting, emotionally engaging “modern variant of 1930s Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz” (as advertised). The music this group offers is technically demanding, easefully (it seems) and brilliantly enacted or “executed”: a genuine blend of Paris “vibes” and Bergara’s native Argentina. Both Guitar Player Magazine and Vintage Guitar Magazine had labeled his recent CD Portena Soledad a “masterpiece,” and I heard music that was instantly recognizable as masterful: arpeggios and open innovative runs of bedazzling speed, yet never sacrificing their melodic essence. Gonzalo Bergara has been quoted as saying, “I’d rather the audience feel something, rather than being extremely impressed with how fast the guitar solos are”—but he gives you the best of both of those worlds, simultaneously.
Supportive, co-existent roles are provided by Jeffery Radaich on rhythm guitar, Brian Netzley on double bass, and delightful will-o-the wisp violinist Leah Zeger—all of equal artistry. I heard the group in three different settings, each room’s ambiance filled with rich strictly acoustic sound. The fare (or tunes) they offered was a mix of standards (“Coquette,” “It Had to Be You,” “How High the Moon,” “What Is This Thing Called Love”); classic Reinhardt pieces (“Djangology” and “Nuage”); and originals with titles like “Gonzalogy,” “Something Hombre,” and “Nightmare #1,” “Nightmare #2,” and “Novembre” (from a suite: “Una Primavera Equirocada”)—originals grounded in the Reinhardt aesthetic but with epic contemporary expansion (and imagination)—“Nightmare #1” resonate with dynamics, a lush violin melody offset by dissonant guitar (and a sense of world history!); and “Novembre” conveying wild, Gypsy joy with just a touch or tinge of danger, of potential violence suggested at the close.
Rock groups work way too hard at it, but I don’t think I’ve seen many jazz groups whose visual appearance is so much at one with the music they play as the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet. When I first heard them, they looked as if they were having fun, were fully in sync with one another, before they played a single note—and when they did, the magic took off, took hold. The leader is a handsome Latin devil with hungry eyes, wide forehead, classic cheekbones and chin, and huge hands and elongated fingers fully capable of all the sounds he provokes and provides from an acoustic guitar.
Leah Zegar is a live wire whose hair seems to be as active as the bow in her hand—hair occasionally indistinguishable from her face, or with just a loose strand draped over one eye, like a patch. She’s a humming bird presence on stage, fully animated, playing as if assisted but not impaired by a strong wind, moving from truly Gypsy mournful intonation to frantic delight—and she can sing! “It Had to Be You” afforded sexy original phrasing and fine timing. The rapport between Gonzalo and Leah seems musically erotic, he closing his eyes when her enticing violin phrases began, their interactive timing (counterpoint; starts and stops; or the tease of delay, pregnant pauses) perfect, sudden full chord slashes enacted with Apache dance passion!
Jeffery Radaich provides a stolid steady rhythm guitar presence, and Brian Netzley a more formal statuesque existence that swings. Above all, the group does look as if they are having a grand time at the game—are truly enjoying themselves, which readily communicates the same response in their audience. One of their songs, “Como Una Flor” (beautiful! Delicate, floating, powerful) is still indelible in my mind—and I made it doubly so by acquiring it, and several other fine pieces, on their Portena Soledad CD.
On Sunday morning, Betty and I received an additional Bergara treat. There was an “unexpected opening on the VIP invitation list” for a gala Patron’s Brunch at the Ferrante Room atop the Marriott Hotel (with its splendid view of Monterey Bay!), and who should be augmenting the conversation of the guests with their music but the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet; so I had a chance to hear even more of them then “scheduled”—and I did manage to tell Gonzalo just how fine I felt his group was, how much I admired their music. He responded in a modest manner befitting true genius.
Elsewhere, that weekend, I caught the end of a set by Yve Evans & Company (the name she gives her very able sidemen), the pianist/vocalist exercising a powerful voice and classic jazz, blues and gospel repertoire that brought on a very positive, appreciative response from her audience. Another group with solid, seasoned, musical credentials and considerable skill on display was the Cocuzzi/Vache Swing All-Stars, with leader John Cocuzzi on vocals and vibes, Allan Vache on clarinet, one of my favorite (tasteful) pianists John Sheridan, Paul Keller on bass and Ed Metz. Jr. on drums. Presented, like Yve Evans, as “world-class, globetrotting musicians,” their performance lived up to the reputation. Cocuzzi and Vache have worked together for twenty-five years, and they did full service to “Midnight Sun” (an instrumental by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke—lyrics added later by Johnny Mercer when, driving in his car and hearing the tune, he added words on his own), all that they played showing their solid roots in 19302/1940s swing and The Great American Songbook.
I also enjoyed another group of masters of their craft assembled for the 33rd Anniversary Celebration of Dixieland Monterey: “Classy Clarinets,” featuring Vache and Pieter Meijers joined by Bob Draga (whom our friend, Joe Gallo, an excellent clarinetist himself, felt was top- notch, whether interpreting timeless ballads or providing virtuoso improvisation at a nearly inhuman tempo or pace). It was more than likely the witty Draga who offered: “You remind me of my first wife … she used to laugh during sex, no matter what she was reading.”
Once again, because of the embarrassment of riches offered that weekend, I only caught a portion of the “Classy Clarinets” set, so as not to miss two local treasures, “local heroes”–Bob Phillips (piano) and George Young (reeds)–in the Bonsai Room. I walked in on this duo doing “Poor Butterfly,” George on alto sax—and then, switching to soprano (his clear quick tone apparent on both instruments) “Take the ‘A’ Train,” ably assisted by Bob’s expert comping: precision walking bass and alert sweetly dissonant “stabs” with his right hand. Sticking with the soprano sax, George offered a beautiful rendering of “Si tu vois me mere,” worthy of Sidney Bechet, who wrote this handsome piece that accompanied the “stroll” through postcard views of the city that opened Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris.
Bob Phillips provided an extraordinary solo (intricate right hand runs mixed with solid stride) on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” to which George Young added his own impeccable “touch” or tone on clarinet (his tone impeccable no matter what instrument he picks up)—and they topped off their two-man set with some Chopin no less (Bob: “As he wrote it,” but then “jassed” up—great each way) and closed out with some fine counterpoint on “Rosetta” and a lively “Bye Bye Blackbird,” with the audience encouraged to sing (and they did) the title refrain.
Betty and I heard other old friends and local favorites: Eddie Erickson and Big Mama Sue presiding over a Sunday morning “Kazoo Along to Gospel” service, featuring familiar fare such as “Down by the Riverside” and Eddie delivering a mock sermon on “Accentuate the Positive” (“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,/Eliminate the negative,/Latch on to the affirmative,/But don’t mess with mister in between.”), Big Mama assisting the liturgical message on washboard, employing what looked to be spoons rather than thimbles.
We have always enjoyed the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, and they were put to excellent use in 2013 with their unique swing era sound kicking off and inspiring a Saturday “Dance Marathon” that commenced in the De Anza Ballroom, playing two sets before Tom Rigney & Flambeau took over: the Dave & Linda Dancde Company providing lessons in foxtrot, swing, country two-step, waltz, balboa, and lindy hop as early as 10:00 Am. Eager dancers–young and old–in brightly colored garb took full advantage of this fortunate emphasis, and it was a delightful sight to see them transforming that large hall’s parquet floor, responding gracefully and passionately to the musical undulations of ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm,” performed with appropriate “original version” Cotton Club zeal. Ageless Carla Normand sang “It All Depends on You,” and a tune with quaint and catchy lyrics: “It is what it is/no complaining …/ Whatever it is/There’s no explaining …/When everything fails, just lower your standards” (which I consider good advice for special occasions). This song was followed by some one line humor: “We’re going to Niagara … don’t need no Viagra”–but it was the collective sound of the band married to the sight of spirited dancing that made this set so special.
I recently read an article–“Jazz Was Not Meant for the Dinner Table”—by drummer T.S. Monk (son of one of my heroes: pianist Thelonious Monk): a piece in which he decries the demise of great musicians as “entertainers,” exceptional artists such as Duke Ellington, The Dorsey Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald who “had a look,” who “put a face on their music,” who provided entertainment yet were “intellectually stimulating at the same time,” who possessed “individual styles,” and projected “true personalities beyond the notes coming out of instruments.” Monk feels the change came when restaurateurs took the music “downtown” (“jazz was not meant for the dinner table, or in many ways, not even the concert stage. It was meant for dance.”)—and further damage was done when the music got pulled “into the world of academia,” and became a “study” (my word), rather than a “dance” (my word again). T.S. Monk would like to see people view “jazz as fun once again,” and would like to see (and hear!) musicians, promoters, club owners, listeners, and everybody “bring back the fun.”
I think the Marathon Dance program, and much of the music I heard at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” in 2013 provided this “difficult balance” between a significant art form and “fun.” The word “bash” originally meant “a crushing blow” (usually to the head, not feet dancing), but the British slang term was quickly converted by Americans into “an exciting, memorable party; an exciting, or violently exciting, good time: a ‘ball’” (by way of example: the word equated with “jam session,” a quote from 1950: “some of these bashes were impromptu at 4 in the morning by trumpet players”). And it made sense when, the following year, taking advantage of a good fresh start, Dixieland Monterey would change its name to JAM (Jazz/Age Monterey)—but more about that in a moment.
In 2013, Betty and I also paid homage to what had been one of our favorite bands during Dixieland Monterey’s “Golden Age”: Blue Street, which provided familiar material (“Basin Street”) and plenty of nostalgia with tunes like “Montana Blues.” Vocalist Sherri Colby did a set of her own (with Blue Street regulars pianist Jason Wanner, Rick Canfield on drums, and her husband Matt Bottel on banjo). Sherri’s still going strong, although she spent nearly as much time retreating to the rear of the room to attend the needs of a child, her “Baby Cakes,” as she did singing. The child served as additional sideman support with its own infant vocalizations (creeping, crawling about on the floor, not yet dancing, and not too far from where I stood when Mama sang “Jeepers Creepers”)—and Sherri did a good job of paying homage to Nat “King” Cole (one of my all-time favorite vocalists—and pianists!) with “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
It was good to hear trombonist Dave Ruffin in a different setting, joined by the talented Au Brothers from New Orleans (Gordon, Justin, and Brandon on trumpets and trombone)—and Dave again playing harmonica not trombone with another mixed group. One of the refreshing things the Monterey Jazz Festival offered as early in its history as 1959 (its 2nd year!) was Jimmy Witherspoon singing in the great (and rare) company of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Woody Herman, Roy Eldridge, and Earl “Father” Hines—the Festival making good on its desire (which its Board would draw up as a “statement of principles” in 1960) to explore “the new frontiers of jazz” and “uniting musicians who ordinarily don’t have the opportunity to perform together.”
Dave Ruffin’s group offered “Le Rue Blue: Gypsy Jazz” (the influence of having Gonzalo Bergara “aboard” here?) and played “Corcovado” (“our only bossa”) and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with a Django Reinhardt emphasis—and Dave’s handsomely articulated voice was a (nostalgic) treat doing “I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.” I was fascinated by the dobro tone of a National Plectrum Guitar from 1932 (played by Matt Bottel?), an F-hole four string similar to one I once owned. And Jason Wanner played a very moving piano solo on “Old Man River.” I may have mixed separate sets up a bit here—but they were all good, and a fresh context seldom seems to hurt anybody!
One quick (I hope) sociological observation. In the past, Dixieland Monterey could always be counted on to have one bar in each venue offering music, yet was the 2013 Prohibition Act in effect the result of a “new direction” (the event not just resuscitated but reformed) or merely hotel policy? I raise this issue half jokingly (it took some effort and a search, but I did manage to find a couple of friendly dispensaries, so I could enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir with whatever genre of music I felt it might go well with).
Overall, I was impressed by the sense of a new, fresh “direction” taken in both programming and presentation in 2013: a fortunate blend of groups I’d not heard before (Tom Rigney & Flambeau and the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet) with familiar fare. I could see how a fresh emphasis (such as the Dance Marathon and mixing up favored players in “new” groups) might attract a younger crowd leery of the appellation “Dixieland”; and I had a good conversation with Don Irving (an excellent saxophonist with whom I’ve had the good fortune to play—and now Musician of the Year for 2015) regarding the Youth Bands on hand (Crazy Eights, Dixie Dominoes, Take Two) and the contribution they make to the event. Three pages of the program were devoted to such groups and a “Focus on Young Musicians,” including an account of Jazz Camp scholarships and a recently initiated “Elderly Instrument Rescue Project,” in which “neglected instruments” are “harvested” or refurbished for use by aspiring young musical artists.
I wrote that I would say something more about the aging audience in attendance in 2013, and I’ll just add two comments I found inscribed in my notebook: “In spite of some exciting ‘new’ music, I feel as if I am listening to it in a convalescent home, for I’ve never seen such an accumulation of canes and walkers and wheelchairs outside such institutions.” I feel I can come right out and say that because, at age seventy-nine, I always carry a cane myself when out in public (for safety’s sake after two knee surgeries and an ongoing vertigo condition). However, a couple sitting next to Betty and me at a table in the De Anza Ballroom, both of them with canes and looking as if they were barely able to stand up (much less safely if they tried), watched the dancers with envy, and then did stand up, slowly at first, and then, hand in hand, went down close to the Royal Society Orchestra’s stimulating, energizing music–and joined the dancers!
I also wrote in my notebook: “I cannot imagine a more enjoyable and rewarding weekend, except that our close friends Dick and Sarah Maxwell and Carolyn Keen and Joe Gallo can no longer be here. How often we shared Dixieland Monterey over the years with them and how many more we might have enjoyed together! And here, in memory of and to honor Sarah Maxwell, is a last set of her drawings made when we all attended Dixieland Monterey.
After the 2013 event and when Monterey Jazz Festival time came round (in September), Betty and I had dinner with the highly respected jazz critic Scott Yanow (who digs trad jazz and knows it well, along with all the other “genres” he writes about) and his wife Dori, a pre-Festival tradition we took up a couple of years ago. I asked Scott to give me a list of artists he would recommend for what, in 2014, would be called JazzAge Monterey (the name change having taken place—and I’d been asked to serve on an Advisory Board), and of the ten groups or performers Scott jotted down for me, I was pleased to discover that several—pianist Jeff Barhard, the Stephanie Trick Trio, and vocalist Rebecca Kilgore with Dan Barrett–were already scheduled to perform at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” 2014.
In a document made public called “The New Dixieland Monterey,” under a heading “Need for Change,” the following was declared: “Over the past decade, the Directors of this organization have had to face the music: it cannot continue in a purely ‘celebration’ mode [existing to “facilitate the live performance and appreciation of traditional (early) jazz and other historically-related music as part of the American musical heritage”]. Financial concerns were cited (“surviving mainly on Festival gate receipts” to cover a substantial annual budget) and the need to depend on “nostalgic respite supported by fans who are aging and not replacing themselves.” A “re-invention” of the event was announced, with, “above all,” the intent “to inculcate among youthful performers, their families, and their fans an abiding appreciation of this great, happy musical genre.”
The document listed eight items that were regarded as “Keys to the transformation” into a new Foundation, and another list of thirteen items that would constitute a “bright’ future—all of which (and too numerous to describe in full detail here) made good sense to me, balancing specific strategies with honest hope: top priority given to “strengthening and diversifying the organization’s youth programs” and projecting an “on-going marketing campaign” that would “emphasize audience development particularly with the 20-something and 40 to 60 age demographics.” On June 27, at a meeting of the Board of Trusties, a new corporate name was approved, and Dixieland Monterey was officially converted to JazzAge Monterey—or JAM.
In March 2014, I attended the premier JazzAge Monterey “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” and with renewed hope myself. I had a list of fresh performers I was eager to see and hear. The first set I attended was that of the Stephanie Trick Trio, which consisted of 27-year-old Stephanie Trick on piano, Phil Flanagan on bass, and Danny Coots on drums—the latter two possessing impressive time-honored credentials and Stephanie herself regarded as “one of the rising stars of Harlem Stride piano.” I wasn’t sure just what to expect from such a young practitioner of this style I love, having been a fan of Thomas “Fats” Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and James P. Johnson for years—and when I undertook piano lessons myself at age fourteen, my teacher, a Pontiac, Michigan DJ named Dean Yokum (who was an exceptional ragtime and stride pianist) started me out with an octave (tonic), chord , octave (dominant), chord style, hoping to cultivate (he also had me playing twelve bar boogie-woogie) my left hand as well as my right.
Consequently, the first thing I noticed about Stephanie Trick was her sizable what-I-call “piano hands” (when a teaching colleague first told me that Oscar Peterson could play open 14ths, he exclaimed, “It’s all anatomy!” And I have to “roll” 10ths!), perfectly formed long graceful fingers (she “noodled” a bit before her set began, beautifully: a couple of lush chords and clean, handsomely executed right hand runs), and her posture at the piano was unique for a jazz artist: sitting totally erect at the keyboard as if about to commence a classical concerto, back straight but easeful—a stunning, attractive, somewhat delicate artist, totally serious, dedicated to a cause higher than but well within the reach of self—and then: “Holy moly!” Assisted by bass and drums, Stephanie Trick was instantly converted (I had closed my eyes) to three hundred pounds of Powerhouse piano, Fats Waller himself—a clean, crisp, precision fierce two-handed performance emerging, her left hand a hummingbird blur of perfection, her overall posture not slackening a bit but fully focused, officiating over the wonders she was creating with her arms and hands.
The trio played a host of my favorite tunes: “After You’re Gone” (at a relaxed, easy, comfortable tempo and texture smooth as silk); Waller’s “Keeping Out of Mischief Now” (subtle blues slurs, Erroll Garner octaves, and much respect for the tune itself and all those who had gone before playing it); an up tempo “Minor Drag” (she rocked that piece!); “Rosetta” (both legs pumping in time while her body maintained its balletic poise—grace notes and a sweet gliss at the close); Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty” (played beautifully); and then a duo with drummer Danny Coots on James P. Johnson’s rapid fire “Harlem Strut” (fast and furious; I set down in my notebook: “My God, what a left hand!”)—the most difficult configurations emerging with joyous ease (it seemed).
Everything Stephanie Trick offered was immaculately assisted by Coots, a drummer who can actually “shade” rather than hog the show, content to be backseat here and truly enhance what she plays—whether with sticks on the snare rim, bright work on cymbals, or smooth wire brushes atop snare skin, fully in sync with the pianist; and Flanagan spiced his steady pace with Milt Hinton slap-bass, handsome accents of his own. A fine vamp led into boogie-woogie, and I realized that Stephanie Trick can do just about anything she chooses on a piano, as she next proved with a lovely ballad rendering of “These Foolish Things” (Teddy Wilson would have been proud of her!), her tasteful touch in evidence on every chord and note. The set closed out with an up-tempo “Keep Your Temper,” a Willie “The Lion” Smith tune to which she did full justice, and then more boogie-woogie as a sort of coda—as if to remind us all of how fully competent she is with her left hand, let alone the right (gorgeous two-handed piano!).
Much of what she does is “conventional” in the sense that she’s not taking risks she cannot fulfill, she knows well what’s within her reach, knows well her own “comfort zone,” keeps a continuous fortunate balance between taste and touch and deceptive passion (in that she never loses the “cool” contained in perfect posture, no over-striving, just solid attention to joyous detail). I was able to talk to Stephanie Trick for a few minutes after her set. She told me she started taking classical piano lessons at seven—and time well spent certainly shows (I wish my mother had made me do the same, ho ho). I got a copy of her CD Stephanie Trick: Something More, and have enjoyed it immensely ever since—although I had not seen and heard the last of her at “Jazz Bash by the Bay” 2014.
Thank you, Scott Yanow, for introducing me to her music! And thank you for introducing me to the music of another group you recommended: vocalist Rebecca Kilgore and her trio: this combo fleshed out with Dan Barrett on trombone and a young pianist from Italy, Paolo Alderighi, who just happens to be the husband of … Stephanie Trick! The first tune I heard of theirs was “I’m Coming Virginia,” and I discovered that Paolo has his own quick, clean, clear stride style, akin to Stephanie’s but with an added bebop punch: fine improvised right hand lines. Trombonist Barrett (who has a smooth mute-inflected style) introduced the vocalist: “Welcome back: the great, the lovely, the independently wealthy Rebecca Kilgore”—guilty on two of these counts but perhaps not the latter. She is a veteran singer whose voice, on “The Glory of Love,” has a throaty, sexy, youthful–almost “girlish”–timbre that belies her age: excellent phrasing, handsome timing (both pauses and “returns”). Paolo Alderighi provided his Bud Powell (full block chords) chops backing her, and Dan Barrett his smooth “wa wa” phrases, which prompted Rebecca to call out, “You tell ‘em!”
She did equal justice to “Cry Me a River,” soulful, throaty, sad (she could sing the song well a cappella, but Dan’s muted trombone solo, adorned with some growls, added nicely). Rebecca mentioned an Ivy Anderson (a singer with Duke Ellington’s orchestra) tribute she’d performed the previous night, and then rendered a beautiful brooding “Mood Indigo,” the word “moo-ood” embellished by Paolo’s taste and touch. The trio offered a set that left me much impressed–as I would be later (on Sunday), when the three were joined by Stephanie Trick, two pianos stationed on the stage. Rebecca sang “Moon Ray,” a beautiful song, enhanced by Paolo Alderighi’s graceful comping again—his solo so well constructed the others uttered overt approval when it was over.
Stephanie Trick came on stage and joined Paolo for “If Dreams Come True,” unison walking bass behind Rebecca’s vocal—the entire set a delightful display of individual (and combined) talents; the couple providing a four-handed “Ostrich Walk” with ragtime precision; Rebecca Kilgore playing the role of Nat “King” Cole with “Frim Fram Sauce” and then, with Dan on the second piano (eight-handed piano parts now, for Rebecca joined him), the vocalist plinked the same note several times (much to audience delight) on a close out “Route 66.”
Betty and I attended a second set by the Stephanie Trick Trio in the large Sierre II room, the pianist delivering “He’s Funny That Way” in her classic manner—and then she said, “I’m going to bring my husband up here,” and they joined hands (four!) on Frank Loesser’s (Fats Waller also played it) “I Wish I Were Twins,” a song Stephanie said would be “a little Brazilian,” and it was, but at a blazing tempo, the couple proving once again that they are as amazing together as apart. “We’ll Meet Again” followed, ending with a promised “special e-ffect; if we play it correctly, you can imagine you’re hearing the sound of some bells; if we are not playing it correctly, you will not hear them,” Paolo added in a pleasing Italian accent. The bells were there at the end, ringing all over Rome (so to speak), or at least in the Sierra II hall. The set ended with Fats Waller’s “Clothesline Alley,” a piece combining concerto ambiance, quick stride, and a lyrical close, masterfully—and then George Gershwin’s “Lisa,” with Danny Coots back on drums and Phil Flanagan on bass, the former adding his loose, joyful, liquid shading and the latter steady swing.
Betty and I closed out the weekend with a last set by Rebecca Kilgore’s trio, joined by local favorite “Fast Eddie” Erickson on guitar. “Let’s Get Away from It All” was presented with unison joy, Eddie and Rebecca a delight together on vocals, trading stanzas (“He walks in while I walk out”), and Paolo Alderighi contributed another of his smartly constructed solos, Dan rubber-plunger blues—the group going all out at the end with Rebecca borrowing Eddie’s guitar (he slipped the instrument all the way down his body rather than overhead, and stepped out over the strap; Dan remarking, “That’s not exactly a show stopper, but it sure slowed things down a bit”); Rebecca strumming Eddie’s guitar with him on banjo now—the set ending on a humorous note with Eddie singing “Old Rockin’ Chair” (“I’ll be able to relate to this song in two weeks, for it will be my birthday”), and Dan Barrett granting Paolo Alderighi praise by saying that when he first met him, the pianist was “still in diapers … it was somewhat embarrassing because his mother would come out after he played a couple of tunes and change his diapers.”
Good fun all the way—and some great music! I’ve gone on (and on) at considerable length here because I thoroughly enjoyed the sets I’ve attempted to describe. There was one more group I’d not heard before, and another I had (as far back as the late 1990s, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!). The first is Side Street Strutters with vocalist Meloney Collins, the aggregate advertised as presenting “Shiny Stockings, a new musical experience … breathing new life into melodies popularized by the great songstresses of the golden age of jazz.” I took in a set that commenced with “April in Paris,” which brought the dancers back to the floor, and “Don’t Be That Way,” which kept them there: the first tune played with more than a nod to Count Basie, the second to Benny Goodman.
Meloney Collins has a large, fine, “Big Band” voice and she did good service to “The Lady Is a Tramp,” Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” (written for the Basie orchestra) and Neal Hefti’s (written for the same, with lyrics by John Hendricks) “Li’l Darlin’”—the vocalist encouraging, chirking up the more reluctant terpsichoreans among the clientele (“Get out on the dance floor … it’s good for your heart!”). She sang “At Last,” softly at first, then with stop time, and then a back-with-a-bang release which occasioned a standing ovation. The set closed out with “Almost Like Being In Love,” Meloney’s “little girl” voice aging to full-grown womanhood in the second chorus—showing her full range of feeling, and volume, backed by tight ensemble work (or play).
The second group (the one I’d heard at a jazz festival in San Miguel), Le Jazz Hot, did not exactly draw a crowd to the large Sierra II (I’d like to hear them in a more intimate setting) and having heard Gonzalo Bergara the previous year, I’ll have to confess I was somewhat let down by this set. The group can “cook,” every member giving his or her all to the music, and guitarist Isabella Fontaine sang “Nuage” (one of my favorite Django Reinhardt pieces, but which I’d not heard sung before), but leader Paul Mehling insisted on mixing performance with attempts at humor that I felt fell short (on Fontaine’s, who is from France, accent: “We let her order for us in restaurants because it’s so … amusing”), and he also insisted on giving a lecture on the importance of music laced with comedy (“It’s a time-honored tradition … ah look, more people came in! A plane must have landed” … or as preface to another tune: “As Dorothy Parker once said …”). Mehling introduced “Clair de Lune” as “Close the Saloon,” and whereas it was played so well it drew a standing ovation, I’m not sure I’d grant the same response to the pun.
I enjoyed repeats from the previous year: the Cozuzzi, Durham, Metz Trio; Old Friends with Bill Dendle, Bob Phillips, George Young, Jackson Stock, and Shelley Burns; the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Yve Evans & Company, and pianist Jason Wanner—and NOW: I look forward to a weekend in which I get to hear Stephanie Trick again (going solo in a “Salute to James P. Johnson,” and with her trio) and the Rebecca Kilgore Trio paying tribute to “The Music of Frank Sinatra”–along with newcomers Zydeco Flames (pictured below), and Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums; and the return of one of my very favorite pianists, Johnny Varro, playing with the Cocuzzi/Vache All-Stars.
Welcome back to the ballrooms and cabarets of the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center for the second JazzAge Monterey “Jazz Bash by the Bay.” I hope to see you there!