The second New Orleans Jazz Festival in Tel-Aviv took place on June 20-22, in the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art and in the square in front thereof. A month has gone by, and I have not yet decided how does one sum up a three-day festival in a few words, when each show invites a separate essay? Not that I attended all the shows – a mission impossible, really, taking into account that it took place in three concert halls, sometimes simultaneously, and from 8 PM there were also free outdoors concerts by various bands.
I found some shows – paid and free – uninteresting. I didn’t go to the Billie Holiday tribute (the feedback from friends who did was less than enthusiastic) or to the Cuban shows. There were other shows I had to give up, too. Basically, I went only to strictly traditional jazz shows. True, I heard thrice each the French Olivier Franc’s Sidney Bechet messengers and the Michael White Quartet from New Orleans (all members were native Orleanians), but we are not too spoilt with groups of that quality.
Some of my friends and I heard the Olivier Franc Band at the Gold Washboard Festival in Poland in 2003, so we knew what to expect; some friends who had never heard of Olivier Franc (he should be no stranger to followers of Trevor Richards) thanked me for tipping them off. It is not too often that we hear father and son in the same band, but in this case it’s true: papa Olivier plays soprano sax (which was previously owned by Bechet), while his son Jean Baptiste Franc plays piano with the band. Add to it the late grandpa Rene Franc, a traditional clarinet and soprano player, and you get a real jazz dynasty!
The repertoire, as the name suggested, comprised mainly songs by Sidney Bechet or often played thereby, but also some originals by Olivier and Jean-Baptiste Franc. I was rather disappointed they did not play “Onions” – not my favorite, but Bechet’s greatest hit at the time. The trombonist Benoit de Flamesnil played different Vic Dickenson composition in each set, justifying it by mentioning the frequent collaboration between Dickenson and Bechet.
The bassist Yann-Lou Bertrand and the drummer Thomas Racine provided solid swing; when soloing, Mr. Bernard sang higher than the bass line, Major Holley style. Jean Baptiste Franc also played a solo set which, although labeled “Tribute to Fats Waller” covered the entire gamut of piano playing, with nods to other stride pianists, as well as to Errol Garner.
There were some originals, including a boogie woogie which, Mr. Franc said, was NOT his style. He received a well merited standing ovation. The next set was a boogie woogie solo by the Swiss boogie woogie wiz Silvan Zingg. I went to hear him because I had a gap between performances, and was well rewarded. True, there was too much talk and too little music to my taste, but the public loved it! Inter alia, Mr. Zingg told a story about his classical piano teacher and how, when she was in the room, he played classical, while as soon as she went out switched to boogie woogie, demonstrating it by playing Dvorak’s “Humoresque” straight and as boogie woogie.
The Dr. Michael White Quartet from New Orleans was perhaps the most popular group in the festival, its first show being sold out (actually, so was one of the Cuban shows). True, it was held in a relatively small hall, but it was full to capacity. Actually, most shows around 8 PM were very well attended, better than the earlier ones. I attended one every day of the festival, and it was worth it. All the members – Dr. White, Greg Stafford (trumpet), Detroit Brooks (banjo) and Lewis Kerry (bass) are New Orleans natives.
For its third show, Duke Ellington in New Orleans, our own Eli Preminger sat in; Greg Stafford, although he stayed on stage, sat out for some of the Ellington numbers. I was sorry the group was pianoless, but the cooperation between the banjo and the bass created a piano-like impression on some banjo solos.
The Israeli Isradixie Band, with guests Enrico Tomasso and Bruce Harris, gave a better than usual show, labeled “Trumpet Summit” and devoted to Louis Armstrong. It captivated the audience from the first song – an unaccompanied Pau More vocal rendition of “Let My People Go.” What can I say about the band that I have not said before? Thoroughly professional, good solos from all members, with Anton Lutsky (sousaphone) sitting in for the regular Shay Buxbaum.
I have praised Felder, Jacques Sany, and Merton Cahm so often that I have nothing to add. The rhythm section with Aharoni Ben-Ari on guitar and banjo and Amram David on drums (and Paul Moore on ukulele banjo and washboard) is just perfect for the band.
Enrico Tomasso is an internationally known (at least in Europe) English trumpeter/singer. Duncan Harris is a young black American trumpeter/singer, who has learnt about Satchmo’s music through Wynton Marsalis. I also caught Isradixie outdoors, this time with Shai Buxbaum, giving its usual great performance.
Another free show I caught was by Larry Brandt’s Doctor Jazz. I was really happy to hear the band serving its usual good time jazz (isn’t it what OKOM is about?), as I hadn’t heard tell of the band in a long time and started wondering whether it was still around.
Larry still sings well, and the band sounded happy to be playing. The banjo player Shimi Gilad always seems so enthusiastic! There rest of the band were Amnon Ben-Artzi on trombone, Eli Preminger (trumpet), Larry (vocals and an unidentified horn labelled in the programme as “parade trombone), Anton Lutsky (sousaphone), Dan Cohen (drums) and a very good soprano saxophonist whose name I do not recall at the moment.
Arguably the best group featured was the Europa Social Club, the members being Brits Enrico Tomasso, Ian Bateman (trombone), Adrian Cox (reeds), Denny Illet (who had been the accompanist of Lilian Boutte), and the French Sébastien Girardot (double bass) and Guilluame Nouaux (drums). I have heard all of them before, but somehow this time they managed to sound better than ever.
They were joined by the New Orleans singer Patricia Boutte for several numbers. Ostensibly a tribute to King Oliver, it was really an excellent traditional jazz concert with wonderful arrangements and great solos from everybody.
The last group I managed to catch was the Hungarian Jazz Steps Band in a program labeled “Let’s Dance,” devoted to Benny Goodman and Count Basie. A very good band, but somehow not on par with the others. Judging by the way it played traditional standards, it probably sounded better on its first show devoted to the ODJB. All this windfall was masterminded by the musical director Ziv Ben, who seemed to have accomplished “mission impossible,” and has already promised another one for next year. I confess that I can’t wait!