The Sweet and Hot Music Festival, under the direction of Wally Holmes, has evolved through the years from a dixieland-dominated
festival to one that features a wide variety of vintage jazz including New Orleans, swing, bop and West Coast cool jazz. With seven
venues going on at once much of the time over the Labor Day weekend at the LAX Marriott, this festival offers jazz fans a wide
smorgasbord of talent. In addition to over 37 hours of music during Friday, Saturday and Sunday (not counting six hours on
Monday) there are late night jam sessions that last till 2 a.m. and beyond. There is quite a bit to choose from and enjoy.
Unlike at the Monterey Jazz Festival, I did not attempt to see every single group. The Statesmen Of Jazz, featuring what cornetist
Warren Vache called “arrangements while you wait,” teamed together Vache with trumpeter Duke Heitger, trombonist John Allred,
pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Nick Parrott and drummer Leroy Williams. The music included swing and bop, with Vache on “Song
For My Father” taking a solo worthy of Freddie Hubbard, and Heitger hinting at Ruby Braff on “Skylark.”
Marty Grosz made a welcome return to the festival after too many years. He told humorous stories, played chordal acoustic guitar,
and sang like Fats Waller while joined by bassist Westy Westhofer.
Jack Sheldon played as great as always, showing that he is truly ageless as a trumpeter, singer and a risqué wisecracker. He led a
quartet through such songs as “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Milestones” and “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” and on Sunday
happily presented his explosive big band.
Guitarist Jonathan Stout brought in his fine swing big band for a Friday night dance, featuring popular standards and the appealing
singing of Hilary Alexander. The one criticism I have is that he should turn his band loose more often, with extended solos and
heated riffing, but he did attract a large dancing audience for his very musical show.
Dan Levinson has steadily solidified himself as one of the finest reed soloists of his generation. On clarinet he hints at Tony Parenti
and Jimmy Lytell in the 1920s, his C-melody playing closely emulates Frank Trumbauer and on tenor he can bring back the spirit of
Lester Young. But, truth is, he has his own voice and ideas on each instrument. During the weekend he kept busy, playing duets with
pianist Mark Allen Jones, accompanying his wife singer Molly Ryan, participating in an exciting clarinet battle with Allan Vache, Bob
Draga and Chuck Hedges, performing with Banu Gibson and popping up in other groups.
Another very busy player was cornetist Corey Gemme, who was also heard along the way on trombone, clarinet and C-melody sax.
He gigged with some of the big bands, seemed to be on nearly every set (performing with many different combos), and was one of the
stars of the late-night jams. On one session with Dan Levinson, the two traded four-bar phrases on an uptempo “Hindustan” while
switching rapidly between three instruments apiece, something I have never heard or seen before.
Banu Gibson and Rebecca Kilgore are regulars at the festival, and for good reason. Banu’s New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra is a sextet
(with Levinson, trumpeter Randy Reinhart and trombonist David Sager) that mostly performs superior songs from the 1930s.
Although worried about Hurricane Gustav at the time, Banu was in top form, singing and swinging her way through standards and
obscurities. Rebecca Kilgore, who performs with BED (a quartet with trombonist Dan Barrett, guitarist-singer-jokester Eric Erickson
and bassist Joel Forbes), always seems to sing the perfect note for the perfect spot. The chemistry between the musicians in BED
results in plenty of wit, solid swing and memorable music.
West Coast jazz was represented by the Dave Pell Octet (the perfect 1956 jazz band) and Johnny Varro’s Swing 7. Unfortunately both
bands were scheduled during the same hour slot; they both played on a high level. Roger Neumann led a four-tenor jam with Gil
Bernal, John Bambridge and Dave Pell that was so exciting (with spontaneous harmonies, riffing and heated tradeoffs) that this septet
should be recorded as soon as possible.
The Rhythm Club All-Stars, a new group led by drummer Daniel Glass (of Royal Crown Revue), is a band with great potential.
Comprised of Corey Gemme, John Reynolds on guitar, vocals and whistling, and bassist Marc Caperone, the quartet performs swing
and jive tunes from the 1930s including “Old Joe’s Hittin’ The Jug,” and “Flying Home,” often punctuated by Glass’ Gene Krupa-
inspired drum breaks.
Also worth discovering is acoustic guitarist Gonzalo Bergara, whose percussive and almost-violent attack on some numbers hinted at
Django Reinhardt in the 1940s. His quartet featured fine playing from rhythm guitarist Keith Maples, clarinetist Rob Hardt and
bassist Pablo Motta on both standards and originals, building on the legacy of “gypsy jazz.”
Carl Sonny Leyland is one of the finest boogie-woogie and blues pianists around today. Joined by bassist Marty Eggers and drummer
Hal Smith (that rhythm section is very difficult to beat), Leyland occasionally sang and always swung hard on such numbers as “St.
Louis Blues,” “Music Hall Stomp,” “Yancey Special” and “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”
And that is not to mention the authentic 1920s dance music of Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, the Hues Corporation, Ernie Andrews, 96-
year old Herb Jeffries, Vana’s Big Band Alumni, Louis Thomas’ Pieces Of Eight, Pianorama hosted by Yve Evans, Marilyn King, and
all-star jam session groups featuring guitarist Howard Alden and Barry Zweig, trumpeters Randy Reinhardt, Ed Polcer and Tommy
Saunders, trombonists John Allred and Russ Phillips, the sopranos of John Altman and Jim Galloway, pianists John Sheridan, Eddie
Higgins and Johnny Varro, bassists Jennifer Leitham and Richard Simon, drummers Jake Hanna, Dick Shanahan and Hal Smith, and
singers Polly Podewell, Dawn Lambert and Pat Yankee.
The late-night jam sessions, led by pianists Jerry Rothschild (always a powerful player), Bob Mitchell and Andrew Barrett (Dan’s
son), were full of fun moments and capped off each marathon day of hot music.