Westoverledingen, Germany just might not get its own chapter in the ultimate chronicle of famous jazz cities, but that would be a pity. It is where Manfred Selchow, jazz scholar and impresario, lives. For more than 20 years, he has been producing concerts and tours that begin there. The weekend of September 20-23, 2007, exemplified the high-spirited international jazz he has lovingly fostered.
This, the fifth Westoverledingen jazz spectacular, was also the 30th year of jazz concerts in the cozy "Rathaus" of the Imhove Town Hall. It featured guitarist-banjoist-singer Eddie Erickson's International Swing Band and the Echoes of Swing Orchestra, co-led by alto saxophonist (and pianist) Chris Hopkins and pianist Bernd Lhotzsky, featuring sing er Shaunette Hildabrand. Erickson's group was made up of Dutch trumpeter Menno Daams, American Bill Allred on trombone, Antti Sarpila (Finland) on clarinet and reeds, young Italian Rossano Sportiello (born in Milan but now a New Yorker) on piano, Henning Gailing (bass) and Moritz Gastreich (drums), both from Germany. In addition to Hopkins, Lhotzsky, and Hildabrand, Echoes of Swing featured Dutch reedman Frank Roberscheuten, Colin Dawson on trumpet (England), Dirk van der Linden on guitar and Karel Algood on bass, both from Belgium, and German Oliver Mewes on drums. With the obligatory passport information duly noted, on to the music.
Thursday evening showcased the International Swing Band, which played Armstrong-associated songs: "Jubilee," "I'm in the Mood for Love," "Dinah," "That's My Home," "What a Wonderful World," and, as an encore, "Tiger Rag." They also took rewarding glances at Goodman and Bechet in Sarpila's storming "China Boy," and Holiday with "Did I Remember?" Gailing and Gastreich were a cohesive rhythm pair; Sportiello showed off his splendid Harlem stride in "Dearest," initially a rhapsody before becoming shifting into overdrive. The front line created riffs and backgrounds and jamming ensembles in the best Thirties and Forties style. Bill Allred has exchanged many ideas with his son John, and his approach thus has much of the fluency of post-war jazz without losing the lovely tone I associate with Teagarden or Lawrence Brown. Sarpila, who got his early reed training from master Bob Wilber, has a wondrously glossy sound, an intuitive swing. And he is a splendid arranger, who offered a clipped, boppish chart on "Pick Yourself Up."
I knew nothing of Menno Daams before this weekend: my loss, although one I can repair in coming years. He is marvelously eloquent, recalling Braff and Clayton, a nimble player who can silence a room with a delicately-embellished melody, as on his duet with Sportiello on "I Surrender, Dear." A Damms solo is never needlessly loud or showy, but has great power, each note perfectly placed. And he is equally articulate when his horn is in the case: we talked at length about the stylistic subtleties of lesser-known players, Joe Thomas and Irving "Mouse" Randolph, among others.
Eddie Erickson is an understated virtuoso who is only lately being recognized for his inventiveness and beautiful phrasing. He is also an old-fashioned vaudevillian who refers to his hijinks as "Ham and Baloney." He pretends, for example, before em barking on "Play, Fiddle, Play" (!) that his banjo is a balky gasoline lawnmower that needs to be started up by yanking on an invisible starter cord. But Erickson is also a moving balladeer and rhythm singer, somewhere between early Crosby and middle-period Sinatra, full of feeling without over-acting, as his loving slow rendition of "I'm Old-Fashioned" proved.
Friday night featured the Echoes of Swing Orchestra, playing two dozen songs recalling Holiday and Teddy Wilson, with the invaluable singing of Shaunette Hildabrand, who summons up early Billie on her own terms with an ease that other singers, trying hard, do not have. Although the EOS's compact performances now and again borrowed a telling Brunswick riff or Vocalion background, they have internalized the grand style, so their solos and ensembles seem both new and classic. The snap of Mewes' snare and hi-hat work suggested Catlett, Tough, and Jo Jones; Algood recalled Hinton; van der Linden neatly became Freddie Green or Charlie Christian. Lhotzsky can stride ferociously, can create a sunny right-hand arpeggio or walking left-hand tenths that evoke 1938 Wilson, but he, too, is his own man. The trombone-less front line honors John Kirby but with none of the Sextet's baroque fussiness. Dawson is a truly hot player after Eldridge or Shavers; Roberschuten is a fluent clarinetist and a rhapsodic Webster tenorist; altoist Hopkins has Pete Brown's bouncing energy.
The EOS's repertoire included the less-played "Everybody Shuffle," "Lady of Mystery," and "Bb Swing," recalling Wilson's associations from 1933 to 1944, as well as Holiday songs not overdone, "The Moon Looks Down and Laughs," "What Shall I Say?" and "It's Too Hot for Words." I knew I was in the hands of Swing masters as soon as they began a six-minute "Dickie's Dream" which would have gladdened Basie's heart.
Saturday was a true extravaganza, a concert of more than four hours. But the music wasn't windy dissertations on familiar chord changes. Instead, Manfred had reshuffled his players into new combinations for six sets, each devoted to the music of a popular composer whose work had been recreated by classic jazz players. Ellington, Waller, Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart were no surprise, but Jimmy McHugh (and Dorothy Fields), and Gus Kahn (often with Walter Donaldson) were unusual, rewarding choices. The McHugh set began with a happy explosion: Menno Daams' version of "Diga Diga Doo" that started with his recreation of the shouting trumpet introduction to Goodman's "All the Cats Join In." A languorous "Sunny Side of the Street," with Hopkins finding his inner Hodges, was a highlight. The Ellington set was full of delights (no "Satin Doll"), with Lhotzsky's playful "There Was Nobody Looking," and a trio of Hildabrand (soaring wordlessly a la Adelaide Hall), Lhotzsky, and Roberschuten fervently reinventing "The Mooche."
A Carmichael mini-celebration was notable for Antti Sarpila's rich soprano on "Rockin' Chair," Bill Allred's tumbling vocal chorus on "Riverboat Shuffle," with its tongue-twisting lyrics, and his eloquent "Stardust."
The Gus Kahn set began with a wistful "Pretty Baby," with Lhotzsky playing the unheard verse, and then the temperature rose with a fast "Love Me Or Leave Me," featuring unaccompanied four-bar trades for Hopkins and Allred. A trio of Hopkins, Lhotzsky, and Mewes created a soulful "I'll Never Be The Same," and the set concluded with a rousing "I Never Knew," Daams leading his troops into the closing riffs from Benny Carter's 1933 Chocolate Dandies version, which, if I were king, would be law whenever that piece is played. A Rodgers and Hart set had atypical urgency, with brisk tempos, even on "Isn't It Romantic" and a lovely Hildabrand – Roberschuten investigation of "I Could Write a Book." With three masterful Stride pianists in the room (Rossano, Chris Hopkins, and Bernd Lhotzsky), Selchow made the closing set a Waller extravaganza.
Any set that begins with "Moppin' and Boppin'," then proceeds to a medley of Waller ballads including a tender "Sweet and Slow" sung by Eddie Erickson," and makes its way to a "Honeysuckle Rose" that concludes with the "Henderson riff," proves that the participants are not only fine players but also jazz scholars of notable breadth and repertoire. The promised stride fiesta did not disappoint; it began with a strolling Lhotzsky-Hopkins piano duet on "Louisiana Fairy Tale" that modulated into an uptempo "The More I Know You." Sportiello joined them for an exuberant "I Found A New Baby," and the generous program closed with "Two Sleepy People." No one was particularly sleepy, though, and an exciting brief impromptu session among EOS members developed in the passageway outside the concert hall.
All too soon it was Sunday afternoon, time for the closing concert. The opening set by the International Swing Band had the bonanza of six Erickson vocals, from a jaunty "Pick Yourself Up" and "Shine On Your Shoes" to the heartfelt "S'posin'" and "That's My Home." All of the soloists shone, with special plaudits going to Moritz Gastreich's pushing hi-hat work. The ESO paid tribute to Kirby, featuring Dawson who seemed to have Emmett Berry on his mind on Chopin's "Butterfly" Etude and "Anitra's Dance," as well as more unusual Waller material, including Hildabrand happily wooing and cooing on "The Spider and the Fly." The final set, supervised by Sportiello, was a jazz version of Haydn's Farewell Symphony, as members of the International Swing Band had to leave, one by one, to get to a Sunday evening concert several hours away. (That concert was recorded and will be a future Arbors issue.) The trumpeters jousted on "Tea for Two," Sarpilla and Roberschuten rocked with "Jumpin' at the Woodside," "Hopkins and Allred, in a late-Forties combination of alto and trombone, went back to the Twenties with "Some of These Days," all leading to a riotous closing "After You've Gone" and a cool-down encore, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans."
I would never have believed it, but now I know what it means to miss Westoverledingen, home of extravagant musical generosities.