The final version of the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival, held at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, was once again put on by John
Dieball, Connie Baker and Larry Baker. 16 different groups were featured over a three-day period at five venues at the Hilton
Hotel in Costa Mesa.
The first sound I heard at the trad festival was a flute, Anne Barnhart, playing with her husband pianist Jeff Barnhart as part of
Ivory & Gold. Actually this was an expanded group which, in addition to drummer Danny Coots, included the Midiri Brothers
(clarinetist Joe and Paul on vibes). The intriguing sounds were jazz chamber music (particularly when Joe played his haunting
bass clarinet) and such songs as “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Ghost Of A Chance” and “Jitterbug Waltz” benefited from
this group's treatments. They should record together.
The festival featured three of the world's greatest stride pianists: Louis Mazetier, Neville Dickie and Jeff Barnhart. Mazetier was
most often heard with Paris Washboard, arguably the premiere band of the weekend. Comprised of trombonist-leader Daniel
Barda, clarinetist Alain Marquest, Stephane Seva on washboard and the pianist, the group always swung hard, featuring exciting
ensembles and colorful solos. Barda has his own forceful yet versatile musical personality. Marquest, while influenced by
Sidney Bechet, also has his own approach, and Seva never lets the band's momentum slow down. But it is Louis Mazetier's
inventive stride piano that really propels and inspires the group. The quartet's many recordings (quite a few for Stomp Off) are
very rewarding but to see them alive is a particularly memorable experience.
Over the weekend there were three special sets featuring the trio of great pianists in duets. The one I caught featured Mazetier
and Barnhart. They always bring out the best in each other with Mazetier's phenomenal playing inspiring Barnhart while the
latter's wit also uplifts their encounters. Their performances of such songs as Fats Waller's “Hold My Hand,” a version of “12th
Street Rag” that went through seven keys, “High Society” and “Running Wild” were explosive while their individual showcases
(which in Barnhart's case was an Ellington medley of “Solitude,” “Drop Me Off In Harlem” and “Cotton Club Stomp #2”) were
Neville Dickie was mostly heard during the festival playing solo piano although there were a few sets on which he was joined by
drummer Danny Coots. Equally skilled at stride, swing and boogie-woogie, Dickie (who has a huge repertoire) always puts on a
swinging and witty show, and the addition of Coots is a strong asset. Jeff Barnhart, in addition to his work with Ivory & Gold, led
the humorous and always enthusiastic Titan Hot Seven which had outstanding clarinet playing from Jim Buchmann and a
powerful cornetist in Flip Oakes.
The Midiri Brothers are always a joy to see. Joe Midiri, whether on his virtuosic clarinet, his jump alto, or taking a surprise
vocal that sounds exactly like Louis Armstrong (few people look less like Satch than Midiri), deserves to be much better known,
as does his twin brother Paul Midiri. Always full of energy, Paul not only plays heated vibes a la Lionel Hampton but can be
heard occasionally on drums and trombone. The rapid clarinet and vibes unisons on “Jubilee Stomp” and the six clarinet
choruses on “C'est Magnifique” were among the highpoints.
The Original Wildcat Jass Band, a group with strong potential, is led by banjoist Rob Wright and features trumpeter Jason
Carder, Kelland Thomas on soprano and the veteran Ray Templin on drums and piano. They performed excellent obscurities,
fresh versions of standards and one of the fastest versions of “That's A Plenty” ever heard. The High Sierra Jazz Band, led by
the fine clarinetist Pieter Mejers, in their new edition feature two strong trumpet talents in Bryan Shaw and Marc Caparione. Its
rhythm section tends to be a bit stodgy but chances are that this group is at a transition point. A version of “Potato Head Blues”
found all of the horn players (including trombonist Howard Miyata) switching to trumpets and cornets to play a harmonized
version of Louis Armstrong's famous solo and their rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's “Kansas City Stomps” was quite hot. Wally's
Warehouse Waifs featured clean ensembles and excellent solos from reedman Jim Snyder (best on clarinet) and trumpeter
Dave Tatow, whose lead was warm on “Pete Kelly's Blues.” The St. Louis Stompers displays plenty of spirit, a fine soloist in
trumpeter Steve Lilley and the forceful sousaphone of David Zink. Pianist Tom Hook's Black Dogs, a cult favorite, played
bluesy dixieland with wit. The Titanic Jazz Band revived music from the repertoire of Turk Murphy and Lu Watters. 1920s
dance music was provided by the Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra while the Mike Henebry Orchestra delighted dancers
with their renditions of swing standards. The veteran Night Blooming Jazzmen performed their brand of “ragged but right”
dixieland. Guitarist Jerry Krahn from the Titan Hot Seven performed subtle cool jazz in a quartet with two guitars, bass and
drums. Another departure was provided by Tom Rigney & Flambeau. Their brand of danceable “New Orleans gypsy cajun
music” emphasized Rigney's light appealing vocals and fluent violin on such songs as “Moonlight On The Bayou,” “The
Prisoner's Song,” “Rigoli's Blues,” and even “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
It was fun while it lasted.