It is probably the top annual jazz festival held in Los Angeles since Playboy is not exclusively jazz and the Angel City Festival (more
on that below) is still pretty new. The 15th annual Sweet & Hot Music Festival featured dixieland, swing, big bands, bebop, cool jazz,
r&b, and vocalists in seven venues at the LAX Marriott over a four-day weekend. Despite its lack of press coverage (where were all of
the jazz journalists?), this was one of its most successful years.
There was so much going on that it was impossible to see everything, but I caught a large sampling. Three great jazz singers were
among the main stars. Banu Gibson's Hot Jazz sextet featured trumpeter Randy Reinhardt, trombonist David Sager, Dan Levinson on
clarinet and tenor, and the great stride pianist David Boeddinghaus (who should really have a solo set too). The band served as the
perfect group for Banu's singing. Among the many songs that she performed were “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” the completely
obscure “There's Honey On The Moon Tonight,” “About A Quarter To Nine,” “Doin' The Uptown Lowdown,” and the humorous
“The Monkey Song.”
Rebecca Kilgore's quartet with trombonist Dan Barrett, guitarist-singer-comedian Eddie Erickson and bassist Joel Forbes (the group
formerly known as B.E.D.) was as wonderful as usual. One set had guitarist Howard Alden easily fitting in with the band. Ms. Kilgore's
singing, with its subtle improvising and perfect placement of notes, is always a delight; she uplifts every song. Although there was not
as much comedy from Erickson as one would prefer (he is often hilarious), the beloved B.E.D. sound is very much intact. As usual,
they performed a high-quality repertoire full of swing tunes including “Boogie Blues,” “I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me,”
“This Can't Be Love” (with Tim Laughin sitting in) and the country song “7 Lonely Days” (with background vocals by the musicians).
Veteran singer Ernestine Anderson, who is now 81, still has a tremendous voice. Her long tones were remarkable and every note she
sings is full of soul. Although her set had its dramatic moments between songs and almost seemed like an encounter group at times,
her singing on “You'll Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “Only Trust Your Heart” and “Down Home Blues” was very impressive.
Clarinetist Tim Laughlin's All-Stars featured trumpeter Connie Jones and Clint Baker on trombone along with an unbeatable rhythm
section comprised of pianist Chris Dawson, rhythm guitarist Katie Cavera, bassist Marty Eggers and drummer Hal Smith. Their
mixture of New Orleans warhorses and originals worked quite well because the solos were colorful, the frameworks stimulating, and
the musicianship was quite high. Laughlin displayed one of the most attractive clarinet tones heard today.
Having the Reynolds Brothers back at the Sweet & Hot after several years' absence was a major event. Ralf Reynolds (the king of
washboard players) and guitarist-singer John Reynolds performed lively music from the late 1920s/early '30s with trumpeter Marc
Caparone and bassist Katie Cavera. With Caparone sometimes sounding like Red Allen, John Reynolds hinting at both Dick
McDonough and Django Reinhardt, Cavera contributing a very steady walking bass, and Ralf Reynolds adding humorous
commentary and hot washboard breaks, this is a band that deserves to be more widely heard. They displayed a tremendous drive on
“Never Swat A Fly.” A highpoint was when Dawn Lambeth (Caparone's wife) contributed a haunting and beautiful vocal on “I Cover
Another set by the Reynolds Brothers found the group welcoming trombonist Clint Baker and altoist Larry Wright (who often
recalled Capt. John Handy). The three horns played spontaneous arrangements that sounded worked out in advance although they
were made up on the spot. Banu Gibson's drummer Jeff Hamilton sat in on piano and Banu (along with David Boeddinghaus) joined in
on “I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling.”
In addition to playing with Banu, Dan Levinson performed duets with pianist Mark Shane, often featuring Molly Ryan (who grows as
a jazz singer each year) on vocals. Her cheerful and sweet voice recalls Helen Ward a bit.
Gonzalo Bergara has, during the past few years, emerged as a major force in the Gypsy Jazz movement. The brilliant guitarist headed
a quartet with rhythm guitarist Jeffrey Radaich on rhythm guitar, bassist Brian Netzley and the outstanding clarinetist and tenor-
saxophonist Rob Hardt, who managed to fit solos that sometimes hinted at John Coltrane into the music. On such songs as “Minor
Swing,” “Coquette,” “I'll See You In My Dreams,” “Limehouse Blues,” and some originals, the group updated the Django Reinhardt
tradition, recalling the great guitarist from his later more bop-oriented period.
Moving to more mainstream jazz, soprano-saxophonist John Altman (doubling on baritone), an acclaimed writer for films (including
Titanic), performed songs from movies in a set with pianist Sean Colley. Altman's talking about the movies (some of which drew from
personal experiences) along with his superior bop-oriented solos and warm tones, made this a highly enjoyable set. Colley's playing,
ranging from Dave Brubeck to Erroll Garner, was a perfect match. He was assisted by bassist Putter Smith and drummer Jack
Another very compatible team was tenor-saxophonist Harry Allen and trombonist John Allred. Their quintet with John Sheridan,
bassist Jennifer Leitham and Jack LeCompte, burned on “The Way You Are Tonight” and “Splanky,” and sounded very pretty on
At Pianorama, hosted by Yve Evans, a variety of different pianists took turns having solo mini-sets including John Sheridan and
Johnny Varro (swinging on “It's You Or No One”). Vinnie Armstrong was in particularly spirited form, performing “How About You,”
“I'll Dance At Your Wedding,” “What Is There To Say” and “I'm Old Fashioned in a gentle but enthusiastic style.
Three trumpeters (Ed Polcer, Connie Jones and Randy Reinhardt) played a joyful set with a rhythm section although it is a pity that
none of the trumpeters were screamers. Four clarinetists (Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, Bob Drago and Allan Vache) worked together
quite well although their set was stolen by the very colorful drummer Dick Shanahan, whose playing was a happy throwback to Gene
There was much much more. Late night jams led by pianist Brad Kay kept the music going until 2 a.m. Andrew Barrett (son of Dan
Barrett) played obscure ragtime tunes (including “Springtime Rag”) in the lobby. An American Idle singing contest was enjoyable
even if none of the singers were excessively talented. But next year the judges should really have microphones so the audience can
hear their comments. Among the big bands, Jack Sheldon's was as hard-driving as usual, featuring trombonist Scott Whitfield and
drummer Dave Tull along with the leader's trumpet solos and vocals. Johnny Vana's Big Band Alumni entertained a large dancing
audience, as did the singing of Bonnie Bowden (heard on her trademark “I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues”). The Jonathan Stout
Orchestra played 1930s swing one night while Mike Henebry's Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra performed dance band music
from the 1920s.
Among the other stars were cornetist Cory Gemme, tenor-saxophonist Roger Neumann (who led a five-tenor jam), trombonist Russ
Phillips, bassists Richard Simon and Nedra Wheeler, boogie-woogie and blues pianist Carl Leyland, Louis Thomas' Pieces Of Eight,
The Hues Corporation, the Mills Brothers (actually one of the sons John Mills III. and Elmer Hopper, formerly of the Platters), a
barbershop quartet (The Ocenaires), singer Gina Eckstine, Zen Boogie and the Yankee Wailers.
The Yankee Wailers featured singer Ava DuPree and the head of the festival, trumpeter Wally Holmes, to whom we all owe a major
thank you for keeping the Sweet & Hot going on year after year.