|Classic jazz fans, lovers of 1920s music, and dixieland collectors are always advised to attend the Orange County Classic Jazz
Festival. Held during the first weekend of August, the festival this year mostly took place at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa, with a
few sets held across the street at the Holiday Inn. 19 different groups were featured and the quality of both the musicianship and the
dedication to early jazz was consistently high.
Dan Levinson led two of the most colorful and unusual groups of the festival. His Canary Cottage Dance Orchestra is a sextet
comprised of violin, trombone, piano, banjo, drums and the leader's C-melody sax and clarinet. Although there was some
improvising and short solos, it primarily played arrangements that made it sound like a dance band circa 1918. Molly Ryan and the
delightful Stage Hogs (a vocal quartet) sang on about half of the selections in charming period style. Such songs were performed as
“It's A Long Long Way To Tipperary,” “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France,” “Just Like A Butterfly That's Caught In The Rain,” Scott
Joplin's ragtime waltz “Bethena,” and “Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old Kentucky Home,” tunes that are not heard all that often in 2009!
Levinson's other band, The Sons Of Rosy, was his annual tribute to his mentor, the great C-melody saxophonist Rosy McHargue. The
octet, with wonderful harmonizing by Levinson and Matt Germaine (also playing clarinet and C-melody sax), mostly featured friends
of McHargue's who performed his arrangements and repertoire with spirit and wit. In addition, Molly Ryan and the Stage Hogs were
featured on a few numbers. The overall highlights included “Sunday” (with John Reynolds on the vocal), “They've Gotta Quit Kicking
My Dog Around,” and a nostalgic version of “I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now” that was an adaptation of Rosy McHargue's
arrangement for the Ted Weems Orchestra.
The emphasis at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival is on organized groups that have their own approach to vintage jazz. The
Titanic Jazz Band (led by and featuring cornetist Dan Comins) and the Yerba Buena Stompers both revived the Lu Watters and Turk
Murphy San Francisco jazz styles of the 1940s and 50s.
The Yerba Buena Stompers included trumpeter Jon-Eric Kellso (behind lead trumpeter Leon Oakley) and clarinetist Orange Kellin,
but they were pretty well restricted by the format. It is a pity that Kellso (one of the top trumpeters around today) did not also have
his own set.
The Titan Hot 7 is always fresh and lively, and their humor is sometimes hilarious. Pianist Jeff Barnhart and clarinetist Bob Draga are
the main stars but all seven of the musicians had opportunities to get in on the act. Among the numbers that were featured were a
sing-along on “Goody Goody,” “Hindustan” and a somber feature for Draga on “Poor Butterfly.”
The High Sierra Band, with leader-clarinetist Pieter Meijers and trumpeter Bryan Shaw, matched wits with the Titan Hot 7 during a
wild two-band set that included a version of “Nagasaki” on which the two groups traded off every eight bars, “San Antonio Rose,” and
a funny mixup of the two songs that are titled “Once In A While.”
Pianist-singer Carl “Sonny” Leyland, with bassist Marty Eggers and drummer Hal Smith, showed once again that he is one of the
finest boogie-woogie and blues performers alive. His trio gets tighter every year and sounds like they are straight from a Bluebird
record date of 1936.
Le Jazz Hot, an outstanding quartet comprised of guitarist Paul Mehling, violinist Evan Price, rhythm guitarist Jason Vanderford and
bassist Clint Baker, performed high-quality gypsy jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli without copying
The St. Louis Stompers, led by the excellent trumpeter Steve Lilley and mostly featuring the arrangements of pianist Dave Majchzak,
was one of the best trad bands at the festival. Their music ranged from Jelly Roll Morton's “Little Lawrence” to “My Pretty Girl” and
“Rockin' Chair.” David Zink's light but fluent playing on sousaphone was impressive.
The Independence Hall Jazz Band, led by trombonist Doug Finke, featured spirited and skillful solos from cornetist Charlie Caranicas
and clarinetist Kim Cusack. Wally's Warehouse Waif's is a solid dixieland band that romped through “Jazz Me Blues,” “I Found A
New Baby” and “Airmail Special.”
The Side Street Strutters brought some swing to the festival with such tunes as “Cotton Tail” “Caravan” and “Dream A Little Dream
Of Me” although “Take Five” was pushing it a bit! Tenor-saxophonist Rob Verdi was excellent. And also at the festival was the crowd
pleasing Night Blooming Jazzmen, led in good-natured style by veteran cornetist Chet Jaeger.
Neville Dickie, one of the best stride pianists in the world, performed several solo sets and teamed up with the equally great Jeff
Barnhart during a stirring hour of piano duets that included “Love Me Or Love Me” “I Would Do Most Anything For You,” “Wildcat
Blues,” “Every Evening,” and “It's The Talk Of The Town.” Dickie's solo version of James P. Johnson's “You've Got To Be
Modernistic” seemed impossible to top, but Barnhart's variations on “Sweet Georgia Brown” (taken at a ridiculously fast tempo) did
My favorite set of the weekend was the final one I saw. Pieter Meijers (from the High Sierra Band) led his own combo, a sextet
featuring the very talented vibraphonist John Cucuzzi, pianist Randy Morris and singer Brady McKay. While the musicians played
hot swing (including “Coquette”and a rapid “Runnin' Wild”), it really came to life when Brady McKay was on stage. Her singing puts
her near the top of her field, her interpretations were warm-hearted, and she was quite entertaining and witty in her interactions with
Meijers and Morris. “Blues My Naughty Baby Gives To Me,” “100 Years From Today,” “Alabamy Bound” and a closing “Enjoy
Yourself” put everyone in a good mood.
The Orange County Classic Jazz Festival is a great festival that should not be missed.