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Elephant (in the) Room

By Dan Augustine

continued from pg. 1

So what kind of gumbo do you get with these ingredients?  Well, you got your San Antonio roux (Pittsley, Hess, and Torres all played with Jim Cullum for decades, and Tim Paco is a native).  Then there's the New Orleans influence with both Pierre Poree and Tim Paco.  Add a hefty dollop of East Coast with David Jellema (Washington DC) and Ed Torres (New York City), and finish off with a soup on of Sacramento (Pittsley grew up around there) and West Coast styles.  Stir, and you get a fine blend of flavors that change the way you hear each song.  Moreover, these are not only highly experienced musicians with great technical mastery over their instruments, they build on top of that by being enterainers as well.  If you want to put on a great show, you can't get up there and just play notes, you have to connect with the audience with showmanship.

Photos of Mission City Hot Rhythm Cats Nov. 16, 2008

The first set opened with "Swing That Music" (which you can hear of sample of at http://missioncityjazz.com/Sound%20Clips.htm), with each player taking a solo.  About Ed Torres' solo, what the MCHRC-website said about his playing is appropriate here: "Eddie has now achieved his own notoriety in the jazz world.  Many of the greatest drummers in the business today have stood in awe and marveled at the techniques Eddie effortlessly employs to propel a jazz band to new levels of musical excitement and drive."  The next tune was perhaps intended to stretch our ears a little (elephants have pretty big ears, you know): "Bernie's Tune", an old straight-ahead jazz favorite from the 1950s (catch a great version of it on YouTube with Gerry Mulligan at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k0FS3VszT4), with Tim Paco using some double-stops in his fine bass solo.  "Somebody Stole My Gal" took us back to more traditional fare, with a good beat and Pierre Poree doing a solo and a great vocal (even if he did forget some of the words).

One of Turk Murphy's aims in a concert was to entertain both the audience and the band by playing "one for them, then one for us".  MCHRC did the latter by dipping into some New Orleans history with an old Sharkey Bonano tune called "Git-Wit-It".  David Jellema then traded his cornet in for his clarinet in "Poor Butterfly", which got a lot of couples out on the dance floor.  Eddie Torres then demonstrated how to play a New Orleans street-beat on drums behind "My Gal Sal" (to which ATJS President Tom Straus, a banjo-player, responded that MCHRC was "co-opting a lot of banjo-club tunes").  The set ended with more fine drum-work in Duke Ellington's "Caravan".

During the intermission, ATJS vice-president Dave Stoddard made some announcements, including the fact that one of our favorite clarinet-players, Rose Imperato, will be playing a final time this Friday at the Carousel Lounge with the Chaparral Dixielanders before decamping with her husband Artie for the wilds of New York City.  Then our own Ben Conroy favored us with a number of boogie-woogie tunes on piano.

Before the second set started, the band played "Happy Birthday" to Dave Stoddard, whose birthday today it was, and the crowd joined in to wish him a happy 39th birthday (but which 39th was not vouchsafed to us).  The set was devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, and it should be noted that David Jellema brings a special authenticity to his performances of the music associated with Bix.  In 1999, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society reported that the Jellema's band (The New Traditional Jazz Band from Maine) at that year's festival had "the most faithful Bixian sound and style" of all ten bands there.  They continued that "one of the highlights of the Festival was David Jellema's reading on Sunday afternoon at LeClaire Park of the poem 'Bix Beiderbecke Composing a Suite for Piano, 1930-1931: mist, candlelights, cloudy, flashes, dark' by his father, Rod Jellema." (http://ms.cc.sunysb.edu/~alhaim/

The band played "Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down", with a good beat and alternating fast and slow tempos after the solos.  (Several glosses on this title were also mentioned, such as "Since My Best Gal Turned Me In".)  Mike Pittsley had a forceful trombone solo on "Rhythm King", and "Susie" showed off the nice chord-changes of that tune.  A less frequently played song was "Blue River", with Jellema on clarinet, then a section without rhythm of clarinet, sax, and trombone.  "Clarinet Marmalade" in a fast 4 with a good beat followed, and one of Bix's best-known tunes, "Singin' the Blues" featured a very Bixian cornet solo by David Jellema.  The last tune of the set, "Sensation Rag", showcased Mike Pittsley's trombone solo, which at times reminded me of the solos that Abram ('Abe') Lincoln used to play.  Mike later told me that this was no accident, as he is working on a website on Abe Lincoln (http://www.abelincolntrombone.com/).

The last set delved back into traditional songs, with "Dixieland One-Step" (another fine drum solo by Ed Torres), and Pierre Poree showed what an expressive song-stylist he is with a vocal on "What a Wonderful World".  The little-heard "Weary River" was next (garnering the Elmer Fudd pronunciation-award of the day, according to the band), and David Jellema displayed some nice plunger work on his cornet solo.  "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" had an infectious beat, and Mike Pittsley is the first right-handed trombonist i've ever seen suddenly switch his bell around to play the slide with his left hand, an amazing bit of dexterity that he explained was due to some kind of cramp in the fingers of his right hand.  The concert ended with an old favorite, "Tin Roof Blues", featuring both Pierre Poree and David Jellema on clarinets.

After Jellema's final introduction of the band, the crowd rose almost as one and gave them a standing ovation, as well they should have, as it was one of the best band and best concerts we've seen since, um let's see, probably the last time Jim Cullum played for us.  The Mission City Hot Rhythm Cats said that they'd like to play for us again, and you can be sure that they will, and soon.