Duke Ellington Jazz Festival: Jazz on the National Mall

Date: 06.14.2009
Publication: Washington City Paper
Author: Michael J. West


2:20 PM - Announcer Willard Jenkins informed us that the Bob French Original Tuxedo Jazz Band had been founded in 1910 and in continuous operation since then. Ninety-nine years may indeed be long enough to leach the vitality out of music; the OTJB was unquestionably chopsy and polished, but missing a certain pizazz and energy that Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band had in spades. They also had some sound problems, with clarinetist Orange Kelly inaudible when not soloing and pianist Paul Longstreth had microphone problems when trying to sing.

What the OTJB did have, though, was color–mainly in the persons of leader-drummer French and trombonist Frederick Lonzo. For Lonzo’s big feature “On the Back Porch,” he showed off a long descending slur—long, as in several minutes (surely it was circular-breathed) — with French urging him “Lower!” and “G’on down!” until Lonzo was actually well below the bass register. Then Lonzo began talk-singing, with plenty of double entendres (”when that big ol’ moon is shinin’…I’ll show you that big ol’ moon!” he shouted, grabbing his ass), and finished with another long note, this time sung, and with a short breath—but Lonzo took it by spinning around and pretending that he was still singing, but we couldn’t hear him.

Then came a real singer: Juanita Brooks, who sang “Bye Bye Blackbird” in a smokey, faintly choked voice that hurt her vocal range a bit but was nonetheless silky-smooth in delivery. She apologized for this and for her casual attire (she’d been evicted from her hotel that morning, she explained) before launching a soft, emotional take on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” A girl sitting next to me who introduced herself as Erin St. Pierre, a New Orleanian and LSU alum who shouted merrily at any reference to the Crescent City, turned to her friends after the song and said “Can I go home now?”

Submitted by Ben on June 14th, 2009 — 12:00am

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