Hot jazz, along with swing dancing, has its roots in the 1920s, but it's being played today by an increasing number of gifted young jazz musicians, many of whom will be performing on March 3 at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany. The event is the New Jersey Jazz Society's Pee Wee Russell Stomp, five hours of music, dancing and food from noon-5 p.m.
The elder statesman of this group is 47-year-old clarinetist-saxophonist Dan Levinson, whose New Millennium All Stars will be one of five bands performing that day. Levinson, originally from Los Angeles, graduated from New York University in 1987 and always had an affinity for older jazz styles. While serving as an assistant to the legendary jazz pianist/composer Dick Hyman, Levinson spent a year as a street musician in Paris and also played on Bourbon Street in New Orleans as part of the band at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. An enthusiastic follower of the late Benny Goodman, Levinson is often called upon to present Benny Goodman tributes. "What I've tried to do," he says, "is assimilate him and create something that sounds like it's in the style of Benny Goodman but not a replica of his solos."
Levinson's band at the Pee Wee Stomp will include his wife, vocalist/guitarist Molly Ryan, trombonist Matt Musselman and drummer Kevin Dorn,who will also be leading his own trio. The New York Times has described Dorn's drumming and bandleading as reminiscent of "small-group swing of 1930s vintage." Smithsonian Magazine says his music conjures up "the smell of smoldering tobacco and spilled bourbon drying on the tablecloth."
The hit of the New Jersey Jazz Society's last two Jazzfest music festivals was Emily Asher's Garden Party, a band led by young trombonist-vocalist Emily Asher, which will also be featured at the Pee Wee Stomp. Will Friedwald, reviewing Asher's debut album, Dreams May Take You, in the Wall Street Journal, described her playing as having "both grit and grace, cooing lovingly but firmly on Louis Armstrong's cautionary tale, 'Someday You'll Be Sorry', then growlingly and barking like an obstinate chihuahua on the Latinate 'One Great Big Wall'."
A group making its NJJS debut, The Hot Sardines, has a sound characterized by Jersey Jazz Magazine as "wartime Paris via New Orleans, or the other way around. It's steeped in hot jazz, salty stride piano and the kind of music Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt and Fats Waller used to make: straight-up, foot-stomping jazz." The Journal's Friedwald singled out Hot Sardines clarinetist/saxophonist Jay Rattman, who, he said, "plays soprano with a trumpet-like, Sidney Bechet-inspired attack."
The afternoon will start off with the 2013 NJJS College Scholarship Quartet, a group of college jazz majors from New Jersey City University, Rowan University, Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts and William Paterson University. To order tickets or get more information, log onto www.njjs.org or call (908) 273-7827.