Bob Draga is on the mend, and could use your good wishes. Keep those cards and letters (and emails) coming in! (photo by Laura Wuest)
The sounds of New Orleans were very much in evidence at the 28th annual Arizona Classic Jazz Festival held Nov. 2-5 at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler. Appearing for the first time in the ACJF line up were the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Jass Band led by charismatic James Williams, who served up large portions of early jazz with a modern twist., and pianist Kris Tokarski, a relative newcomer to the NOLA jazz fraternity, who recruited veteran drummer Hal Smith and Windy City multi-instrumentalist Andy Schumm to form a swinging trio.
While all the bands and artists demonstrated diversity in their musical offerings, Denver’s Queen City Jazz Band, High Sierra, St. Louis Rivermen, Dan Reed’s Dixieland Hotshots, and the Sun City Stomperz all carried on the tradition of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on the 100th anniversary of ODJB’S first recording. B.A.D. Rhythm, Cornet Chop Suey, Hot Jazz Pie from Florida, Wildcat Jazz from Tucson, and 52nd Street representing the Swing Era were popular with the dancers. Standout performances by guitarist Howard Alden, clarinetist Dave Bennett, and super-stride pianists Stephanie Trick and husband Paolo Alderighi provided the frosting on the cake for another successful festival.
Trumpeter James Williams, an Arizona native, organized the Swamp Donkeys in 2012 and selected the name, which has some interesting connotations. “We swing real hard and care about the music” is how he describes the band, which started touring nationally in 2013 and now spends 55% of its time on the road traveling to far-off places like Japan, Europe and Africa.
Tokarski grew up in a family where he heard a lot of Hungarian folk music, but transitioned to traditional jazz while in high school. He is a graduate of Berklee College and has a Master’s degree from the University of New Orleans. His introduction to the festival circuit was at the San Diego Thanksgiving Festival. He performs two nights a week at the Bombay Club in the French Quarter and serves as the Club’s music director.
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Everyone’s favorite Sunshine Girl and cat lover, Katie Cavera recently revealed that she is undergoing treatment for cancer, which was discovered in September following a series of tests. She has completed five weeks of radiation and chemo and is scheduled to have surgery in early January, after which she will need up to six weeks for recovery.
In typical upbeat Cavera fashion, she told fans and friends, “I have a good plan in place with Kaiser, and the doctors are confident that this was caught early enough that I’ll recover completely. I miss playing with the Ellis Island Boys, but hope I’ll be back at Disney next February/March. I’m really itching to get back playing again, but the doctors warned me that I need to look at this as a marathon and not a sprint.”
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While acknowledging the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the best one yet, directors Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock have just announced that the annual event, which is an outgrowth of the old Conneaut Lake and Chautauqua Jazz Festivals, will be the latest to cease operation.
Their statement read: “As they say, ‘Go out on a high note.’ After four years trying to make a go of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, we find we cannot continue. We gave it our best shot. This was a very hard decision for us, but we were never able to get to the break-even point. The costs involved in putting together the first class productions we all appreciate are too high for us to absorb.
“We are still trying to think of a way to continue to support traditional jazz in a small way, but for now, we find we need to disband the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. We will always remember the wonderful friends we made, and the good times—and some of the challenges—we had along the way.”
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Fans who attended the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party are still talking about the Wild Bill Davison tribute band that drummer-jazz scholar Hal Smith put together for one of the sets he led. He called the group “Pretty Wild” and recruited Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Howard Alden, Joel Forbes, and Rossano Sportiello to join him in performing in the best Davison-Condon tradition. To see and hear the group in action, check out Michael Steinman’s Jazz Lives blog on the internet.
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The first annual Jazz Congress will be held Jan. 11-12, 2018 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway & 60th Street in New York City. Its purpose is to bring together presenters, promoters, musicians, media, and jazz advocates for a series of panel discussions, workshops and performances regarding music consumption, shifting audience trends, and developments in technology that are impacting music today, among other pertinent topics.
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The latest word is that Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria, British Columbia continues to operate, but its long-term future is still very much up in the air. One of Canada’s best-known jazz venues for the past 30 years, the Nieweler family has kept the Club operational since their father Hermann passed away in 2015, but is looking to divest themselves of the property. A local non-profit group has been conducting a campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the building and to continue operating Hermann’s as a restaurant and jazz venue, but its efforts to date have fallen short of their fundraising goal.
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There are only a limited number of instrumental slots still open at the San Diego Adult Traditional Jazz Camp Jan.18-21. Here’s a chance to learn from a top-notch faculty that includes Clint Baker (trumpet), Dan Levinson (reeds), Howard Miyata (trombone) Eddie Erickson (guitar), Marty Eggers (tuba/bass), John Royen (piano) and Steve Apple (drums). Get all the details at www.SDjazzfest.org.
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Clarinetist and raconteur Bob Draga has been among the missing on the festival circuit of late, and it turns out that he has been dealing with a severe case of pneumonia and flu since September, which led to a diagnosis of weakened heart function and atrial fibrillation. His cardiologist is confident that his condition will improve with medication, so he is lying low at home and recuperating for the time being.
Well-wishers are advised not to call Bob because his a-fib makes it difficult for him to talk, and he tires easily. Cards and emails, however, would be most welcome. He can be reached at 11220 54th Ave N, St Petersburg FL 33708 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ken McMurray, top gun of the late-summer Hot Jazz Jubilee in Sacramento, modeled a tee shirt on Facebook that proclaimed: “I am a Festival Director. Of course I’m crazy. Do you think a sane person would do this job?” Granted it can be a difficult and frustrating job in the light of changing interests and rising costs, but we all should be indebted to those festival and jazz party directors who will take on the challenge of keeping this music alive.
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A thought to ponder: Life is not the way it’s supposed to be—it’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
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