Sometimes it’s called “Trad (i.e., traditional) Jazz.” Sometimes “Dixieland” (tho’ Trad encompasses a lot of other styles). Sometimes “OKUM,” for “our kind of music.” It’s the staple of jazz festivals all over the world.
It’s also the staple of what appears to be the largest demographic at these festivals. Older folks. As in the “Greatest Generation,” folks like my Dad and late Mom, who when I was little would play for me their favorite record, a 10″ LP reissue of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s early recordings, and who, when we visited the Bay Area, would leave my brothers and me with our grandparents so that they could go into San Francisco to hear Turk Murphy.
One of the great voices of “OKUM” is a monthly tabloid-type magazine, The American Rag (www.theamericanrag.com), full of fun stories, interviews, histories and information about upcoming festivals and shows. While too often The American Rag’s letters section leans a bit heavily toward reader missives bemoaning how the Baby Boomer Generation (i.e., folks like me, now in our mid-60s) is dragging American down into some sort of political and social cesspool, I’m always impressed by the obituaries. I’m convinced that the secret to a long and happy life is to play traditional jazz, as it seems most of the recently departed musicians were still playing in their 90s (and even at 100 and older).
But Trad Jazz isn’t just for the older set. A lot of great young musicians are on the scene, and always worth hearing. Among them, a favorite group I most recently heard this past Sunday at the Second Annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in nearby Rancho Cordova, the Au Brothers. The Aus grew up here in the Sacramento area. Gordon is now based in New York City, where he appears with a number of popular jazz groups. Justin, a member of the Red Skunk Band, is based out of California’s Central Coast. And Brandon has stuck around Sacramento, but definitely isn’t “stuck,” playing with groups like the Crescent Katz and the Harley White Jr. Orchestra. (www.aubrothers.com)
The brothers’ own “Au Brothers Band” usually includes their uncle Howard Miyata, of Three Rivers CA (near Sequoia National Park), who plays trombone in festival favorite The High Sierra Jazz Band, and plays tuba and Sousaphone with the brothers. They always add a great drummer (Danny Coots, shown above, is on their new CD, and Saturday they brought in Ed Metz, Jr., from Florida).
Also joining them on Saturday were L.A.-based Katie Cavera on banjo, guitar, and vocals. (Katie also plays bass and ukulele, spreading her versatility among a lot of groups that include regular Disney California Adventure small-combo The Ellis Island Boys and the HUGE Vaud & The Villains. Check Katie out at www.katiecavera.com.) Not to mention Festival Special Guest Bob Draga. Draga, another Floridian, has parleyed his skill on the clarinet and his warm sense of humor and ability to connect with both audiences and musicians into becoming “the” star to have at one’s traditional jazz festival. (www.clarnet.net)
Finally, rounding out the Au Brothers’ busload of special musical guests was Sacramento-based Zack Sapunor. I’ve mentioned Zack before, in my February 18 post about the Sac-Town Playboys. A veteran of a lot of great jazz bands (including the Jim Cullem Jazz Band of NPR’s weekly “Riverwalk” program), Zack seems to be everywhere these days, adding his amazing slap-bass sounds to all sorts of music. You can hear him in person this coming Thursday night at Sacramento’s Torch Club when he appears with Hot City (or check out www.zacktown.com.com for his schedule).
If you haven’t gotten the trad festivel “bug” yet, I hope it hits you soon. There’s a tremendous amount of wonderful music at these festivals, played by musicians from junior high age up to top performers in their 80s and 90s. And whether they’re in the former group and just learning the music, or have been performing for 50 years or more, each performer puts a new spin on it every time.