If there was an award for an annual Southern California jazz festival that should be discovered by jazz fans, the Orange County Classic
Jazz Festival would be the winner. Held at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, this 2 1/2 day event has music in five places at once, and
occasionally at a sixth venue at the Holiday Inn across the street. While the emphasis is on 1920s and ‘30s styles, it differs from the
Sweet & Hot Festival in that it mostly features organized groups as opposed to jam sessions.
Every jazz fan should know about Paris Washboard, Louis Mazetier and the Midiri Brothers; otherwise your knowledge of the
current jazz scene is incomplete. Paris Washboard consists of the Sidney Bechet-inspired clarinetist Alain Marquet, the spirited
trombonist Daniel Barda, washboard wizard Stephane Seva and the remarkable stride pianist Louis Mazetier. All four of the players
are superb and colorful but Mazetier is a wonder, a one-man rhythm section whose mastery of stride puts him at the top of his field,
next to Dick Hyman and such giants of the past as James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Ralph Sutton. His playing is that good. Paris
Washboard played many sets throughout the weekend and, whether it was “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Melancholy Baby,” a
ridiculously rapid version of “Hallelujah,” “The Mooche” or even “Twelfth Street Rag,” the quartet always came up with fresh ideas
and exciting ensembles. They have recorded eight or nine CDs for the Stomp Off label, so there is plenty of documented evidence of
their brilliance, but it is great fun to see just how spontaneous they are live.
Louis Mazetier, who was tireless all weekend, also teamed up on duo piano sets with Jeff Barnhart and Neville Dickie, with all three
pianists humorously jumping between two pianos during a boogie-woogie climax to their Saturday concert. The festival was rich with
great pianists. Dickie, who is arguably the top stride pianist from England, mostly performed a variety of stride classics, swing
standards and boogie-woogie romps as a soloist although on one set he was joined by drummer Danny Coots from Titan Hot 7.
Jeff Barnhart, one of America’s finest stride pianists, also seemed to be playing constantly throughout the weekend. In addition to
the duet match ups, he performed with his wife, classical flutist Anne Barnhart, in a trio with Coots called Ivory & Gold, performed
with Coots and clarinetist Bob Draga in a combo called We Three, and was extensively featured with the frequently riotous Titan Hot
7. Barnhart is a superb pianist, a personable singer, and a very funny jokester, which makes for a rather infectious combination.
The Midiri Brothers, a sextet featuring clarinetist Joe Midiri and his twin brother Paul Midiri, start with Benny Goodman and Lionel
Hampton as role models but perform with their own personalities, impressive technique and high energy. Joe, in addition to taking
lengthy solos on uptempo pieces (he is always great on “Air Mail Special”), also paid tribute to Artie Shaw on “Stardust,” occasionally
plays alto like Johnny Hodges, and throws in a surprise vocal or two that sound just like Louis Armstrong. Paul Midiri, whose vibe
playing also hints at Red Norvo, is a talented drummer (sets tend to end with a drum battle on one drum set between Paul and Jim
Lawlor) and also plays trombone. The Midiri Brothers, based in New Jersey, deserve to be household names in the jazz world.
All of the other groups were also of high quality. The New Wolverine Jazz Orchestra displayed plenty of versatility, ranging from Bix
Beiderbecke pieces to swing and late 1940s jump jazz features a la Louis Jordan for altoist Adrian Cunningham, from “Black Bottom
Stomp” to Horace Silver’s “The Preacher” and occasional songs from their native Australia.
Le Jazz Hot, a quartet from San Francisco consisting of violinist Evan Price, solo guitarist Paul Mehling, rhythm guitarist Jason
Vanderform and bassist Clint Baker (who occasionally played cornet), did their interpretations of Django Reinhardt/Stephane
Grappelli classics along with a few other swing tunes.
The Independence Hall Jazz Band, which features cornetist Charlie Caranicas (who sometimes hints at Ruby Braff) and clarinetist
Kim Cusack, showed that a tuba-banjo rhythm section could have a light touch and subtlety.
Buck Creek and Jean Kittrell’s Rivermen were both absent their leaders due to ill health. While the Rivermen had some cornball
humor, pianist Rick Templin did a fine job of filling in for Kittrell. Buck Creek sounded as powerful as ever even with the absence of
trumpeter Jim Ritter (Al Smith was a very good replacement) and they were particularly skilled at building up ensembles.
The High Sierra Jazz Band, with the skilled clarinetist Pieter Meijers, has a very solid frontline as they showed on “The White Cliffs
Of Dover” and other relaxed but swinging pieces.
Fulton Street, with the legendary pianist Bob Ringwald, saluted Louis Armstrong on “Blue Turning Grey Over You” (trumpeter Bob
Sakoi sounded just like Satch), romped on “That’s A Plenty,” and welcomed guest guitarist Katie Cavera.
Mike Henebry led two large ensembles: Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra (playing hot dance music of the 1920s) and the Mike
Henebry Orchestra (which performed hits of the swing era). As usual, one wishes Henebry had better soloists who would be allowed
to cut loose, but he definitely brought back the ensemble sound of both eras, to the delight of the many dancers.
The popular singer-pianist Yve Evans played standards and 1960s pop songs in autobiographical medleys, holding a very nice long
note at the end of “When Sunny Gets Blue.”
The Club 7 Jazz Band, a young quartet with clarinetist Michael Almich and pianist Easton Stuard, played swing with both sensitivity
The Titanic Jazz Band, with their hard-charging on-the-beat rhythm section and cornetist Dan Comins driving the ensembles, kept
the music and sound of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy alive.
The veteran Night Blooming Jazzmen, led by cornetist Chet Jaeger, as usual mixed together dixieland and humor quite effectively.
All in all, it made for a very enjoyable weekend, one that jazz fans of all stylistic interests should check out when it takes place again