|The 11th annual Orange County Classic Jazz Festival, held at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa, featured 18 groups during an August
weekend. Three great pianists appeared and consistently stole solo honors.
Louis Mazetier, pianist with Paris Washboard, the brilliant French quartet that also featured trombonist Daniel Barda, clarinetist
Alain Marquet, and Stephane Seva on washboard, is arguably the greatest stride pianist in the world. His duo piano set with Neville
Dickie was probably the highpoint of the weekend, but every time he and Paris Washboard appeared, a great deal of excitement
occurred. Among the many numbers that they joyfully revived were “I Wish I Were Twins,” “Melancholy,” “I'm Sorry I Made You
Cry,” “Royal Garden Blues,” “Russian Lullaby,” “Caravan” and a fast “Maple Leaf Rag.” Their many releases for the Stomp Off label
are essential for fans of 1920s jazz.
Neville Dickie, probably the top stride pianist from England, was mostly heard on solo sets or duets with drummer Danny Coots.
Dickie, who displayed a dry sense of humor, alternated between 1920s stride piano classics and heated boogie-woogie blues with Bob
Zurke's “Hobson Street Blues,” James P Johnson's “You've Got To Be Modernistic” and “Lady Be Good Boogie” being particularly
memorable. His two piano set with Mazetier, while not as competitive as when either pianist teams up with Jeff Barnhart, was very
musical and often dazzling. Their repertoire included the obscure “Take It From Me,” “It's Been So Long” and “California Here I
The third great pianist, Jeff Barnhart, is one of the best that the U.S. has to offer in prebop jazz. At the festival he proved to be the
hardest working performer, seeming to be onstage nearly every set and never running out of energy, creative ideas or wit. He co-led
the Frayer/Barnhart International Jazz Band, a group comprised of American and Brits that performed dixieland with clean
ensembles, excellent solos and spirit. Barnhart was a key member of the Titan Hot Seven, a group that emphasized crazy humor and
exuberant playing along with some outstanding clarinet solos from Jim Buchman Barnhart also played in a trio with his wife classical
flutist Anne Barnhart and drummer Danny Coots that is called Gold & Ivory. They performed ragtime (including the rapid “Rubber
Plant Rag”), a somber Civil War ballad, strong melodic pieces, and a singalong version of “Alexander's Ragtime Band.” And, as if that
was not enough, he played a duo piano set with Tom Hook. However since Hook is a more limited blues-oriented player, the matchup
lacked much excitement. However Barnhart did play a heartfelt version of “Black And Blue.”
Also quite outstanding were the Midiri Brothers and Le Jazz Hot. It seems strange that clarinetist Joe Midiri and his twin brother Paul
Midiri are not household names yet in the jazz world. Joe is an outstanding clarinetist who can sound like Benny Goodman playing at
double the speed yet also plays alto like Tab Smith and Johnny Hodges (with touches of Earl Bostic), while taking occasional vocals
in which he sounds exactly like Louis Armstrong, to hilarious effect. Paul Midiri is not just a high energy vibraphonist in the tradition
of Lionel Hampton but an excellent trombonist and a colorful drummer. With guitarist Pat Medcuri, pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist Ed
Wise, and drummer Jim Lawlor completing the group, hot swing was on the menu. The band ripped through such songs as “After
You've Gone,” “Shine” and “Stompin' At The Savoy” with joy.
Le Jazz Hot, a gypsy jazz-style quartet (although none of the San Francisco-based players are gypsies or from France) was
outstanding. Guitarist Paul Mehling, violinist Julian Smedley, rhythm guitarist Jeff Magidson, and bassist Clint Baker worked
together perfectly in building a haunting and timeless atmosphere, bringing back the spirit of Django Reinhardt and Stephane
Grappelli but also playing songs such as “Hot Lips,” “Nuages” and “Daphne” in their own style.
Also appearing at the festival, which had five venues going for most of the time, were the Firecracker Jazz Band (clarinetist Kelland
Thomas was their star), the Titanic Jazz Band (although Chris Tyle's trumpet skills were wasted since he was mostly heard on drums),
Wally's Warehouse Waifs (featuring the outstanding clarinetist Jim Snyder), Tom Hook's Black Dogs, Tom Rigney and Flambeau (a
bluegrass/country violin group that was definitely a change of pace), the High Sierra Jazz Band, Mike Henebry's Orchestra, guitarist
Jerry Krahn, the Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra, the Nightblooming Jazzmen, and the Yerba Buena Stompers (one of their two
trumpeters, Duke Heitzer, should really be given his own set). When Wally's Warehouse Waifs and the Titan Hot 7 were onstage
together, with clarinetists Jim Snyder and Jim Buchman recreating the superb arrangement of “High Society” that they played years
ago with the Rhythm Rascals, it was one of many magical moments to be heard at this outstanding festival.