With up to eight venues operating simultaneously over a four-day period, the Sweet & Hot Music Festival offers nonstop fun over the
Labor Day weekend. Held at the LAX Marriott, the festival features dixieland, swing, bebop, West Coast cool jazz, jam sessions,
vocalists and big bands. This year's edition had the best attendance in years (what recession?), and rarely less than two or three
things of interest going on at any one time.
For me, the festival began Saturday morning with Pianorama, a series of solo piano minisets hosted by Yve Evans. Carl “Sonny”
Leyland, who performed that weekend with his trio (bassist Marty Eggers and drummer Hal Smith) sounded joyful in his solo piano
performances of “Blame It On The Blues” and Albert Ammons' “Boogie Woogie Stomp.” Big Mama Sue, a witty singer and washboard
player, led a trio with the virtuoso tuba player Westly Westenhofer and a brilliant pianist, Chris Calabrese. Sue was quite entertaining
on a rapid and funny version of “Stumbling,” a song rarely sung. Calabrese's solo piano version of “Cornet Chop Suey” was especially
Rebecca Kilgore, Eddie Erickson (vocals, guitar and banjo), Dan Barrett (trombone and occasional piano) and bassist Joel Forbes
came together as BED. This is a group that one can listen to all day for Kilgore uplifts every song she sings and Erickson's humor is
often hilarious. On “In A Gypsy Tea Room,” Erickson took the vocal while Kilgore and Barrett were background singers with
deadpan expressions a la Keely Smith. Barrett's mellow trombone was wonderful on “If I Didn't Care,” and his plunger playing on
“Cry Me A River” found him harmonizing perfectly with Kilgore's beautiful voice.
Banu Gibson celebrated being at the Sweet & Hot Music Festival for the 25th time by performing many of her favorite songs from the
1920s, '30s and '40s. Her band featured trumpeter Randy Reinhardt, Dan Levinson on tenor and clarinet, pianist David
Boeddinghaus, and trombonist David Sager. Because Sager had broken his shoulder, he struggled on valve trombone during the first
couple of sets but was back sounding more comfortable on slide trombone for the last performance. Banu had a special hour in which
she sang Johnny Mercer songs (everything from “Pardon My Southern Accent” to “Skylark” and “Strip Polka”) but best was her final
set when she used Westy Westenhofer and guitarist John Reynolds as vocalists, teaming them with her full band.
Along with the perennials, there were a few new discoveries at the festival. Bonnie Bowden, who sang with Dave Pell's Prez
Conference (during which Pell and a sax section played harmonized renditions of Lester Young solos) and Johnny Vana's Big Band
Alumni, has a wide range, a very attractive voice, and the willingness to take chances. She was at her best on a slow version of “Indian
Summer,” “The Nearness Of You,” “Foolin' Myself” and “I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues.” Gina Eckstine, daughter of Billy
Eckstine, guested during Herb Jeffries' annual performance at the festival, sounding wonderful on “I'm Beginning To see The Light”
and especially “I Apologize.” She deserves to be much better known.
Herb Jeffries at 96 is a wonder. His voice is still powerful and could pass for 60. While his repertoire is small, he sounded in prime
form on “Satin Doll,” “I Got It Bad,” and “Old Man River,” accompanied by the Marty Harris Trio. Harris was also part of Roger
Neumann's four tenor-sax blowout which always generates a lot of excitement.
Gonzalo Bergara is a brilliant guitarist inspired by Django Reinhardt. His group with the equally talented clarinetist Rob Hardt is
reminiscent of Django's postwar bands when the gypsy guitarist was exploring bebop.
The Rhythm Club All-Stars, comprised of leader/drummer Daniel Glass, John Reynolds on guitar, banjo, vocals and whistling,
cornetist Corey Gemme (who also played trombone and clarinet) and a colorful bassist, Johnny “Spazz” Hatton, was quite
entertaining. Glass' Krupa-inspired drums propelled the group and there was a great deal of humor provided by the bassist who on
several occasions plunked his instrument while laying on the floor. Once he played his bass upside down and, at the end of the final
song, he actually stood on it. The music ranged from “Diga Diga Do” to “Flying Home” and a Perez Prado mambo.
Clarinetist Tim Laughlin and trumpeter Connie Jones were featured in a sextet also including trombonist Clint Baker and pianist
Chris Dawson, performing hot jazz of the 1920s along with some newer Laughlin originals. The clarinetist played beautifully
throughout. He was also one of the stars of a stirring five-clarinet set with Dan Levinson, Allan Vache, Bob Draga and Chuck Hedges.
And there was much more. All-star groups featured the likes of trumpeters Ed Polcer and Tommy Saunders, trombonists John Allred
and Russ Phillips, clarinetists Bob Draga, Allan Vache and Chuck Hedges, soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway, pianists Mark Shane,
John Sheridan and Johnny Varro, guitarist Howard Alden, bassists Richard Simon and Nedra Wheeler, and drummers Jake Hanna
and Hal Smith. There was also the Jennifer Leitham Trio, Ernestine Anderson, Dan Levinson leading his Swing Wing, soprano-
saxophonist John Altman paying tribute to songs from Hollywood movies, and Ernie Andrews. Igor's Jazz Cowboys combined
cornball humor with some hot Western swing from mandoliist Billy Parker and violinist Ron Rutowski. And not to be missed was the
Jack Sheldon Big Band, which was roaring from the start. Sheldon's monologues were not as long as usual but his trumpet playing and
singing were excellent, and pianist Mitchel Forman often took solo honors.
Not everything during the weekend worked. An American Idle singing contest hosted by Ava Dupree would be much better if the
judges made comments (witty and otherwise) about the contestants. And the late night jam sessions were a complete bust.
But there was so much to choose from that the Sweet & Hot Festival is heaven for fans of swinging jazz. Congratulations to Wally
Holmes for putting on another great festival.