New York Hot Jazz Festival Celebrates Music of New Orleans and Paris


The sixth annual New York Hot Jazz Festival, held on Sept. 30, celebrated both the New Orleans Tricentennial and the 100th anniversary of jazz arriving in France, via Lt. James Reese Europe and his Harlem Hellfighters band. The day-long event, which has been held at to The McKittrick Hotel since 2016 (festival founder Michael Katsobashvili presented the inaugural bash at the Mehanata Bulgarian Bar in 2013, followed by two years at The Players Club, a Gothic Revival-style mansion facing Gramercy Park), ran for about 12 hours.

Festival stalwarts Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks held forth for two sets in the intimate, Art Deco-laden Heath nightclub on the McKittrick’s second floor. Giordano, a tuba player and bassist who received the first Hot Jazz Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement during a between-set presentation, guided his troupe in the first set through uncannily accurate arrangements of swinging period pieces by Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Bennie Moten. The band’s rendition of Moten’s “Castle House Rag” featured guest tap dancer DeWitt Fleming Jr. channeling his inner Bill “Bojangles” Robinson with some speedy stepping in the tight breaks of that piece. The second set, dubbed “From Harlem To Montmartre: A Jazz Age Voyage,” was dedicated to Europe and his band, and included guest appearances by vocalists Nicolle Rochelle for Josephine Baker’s “Aux Iles Hawaii” and Kat Edmonson on Maurice Chevalier’s “You Brought a New Kind of Love,” as well as a return performance by tap dancer DeWitt on W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues.”

The Hot Sardines, fronted by charismatic French singer Elizabeth Bougerol and featuring resident tap dancer A.C. Lincoln, covered Fats Waller’s “Your Feets Too Big,” before Bougerol broke out her native tongue on some alluring chanson. French soprano saxophone virtuoso Olivier Franc, one of today’s foremost interpreters of Sidney Bechet, blew with raw power and a touch of Bechet’s signature vibrato alongside his son, pianist Jean Baptiste Franc, who demonstrated a mean left hand on a solo stride showcase. The Heath also saw the New York debut of “This Joint Is Jumpin’,” a Fats Waller revue that played London’s West End last year, featuring singer Michael Mwenso and The Shakes, as well as tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman.

Up on the rooftop Gallow Green stage, Tatiana Eva-Marie and her Avalon Jazz Band explored the connection between Paris and New Orleans in a bilingual set that included tunes like “The Sheik of Araby” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” (both with French lyrics) and Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mère.” Backed by New Orleans clarinet virtuoso Evan Christopher, Eva-Marie was joined by New Orleans-born singer Sasha Masakowski on a playful version of Bechet’s “Les Oignons” and Masakowski’s own N’awlins flavored “Too Bad.”

New Orleans trombonist Charlie Halloran, a soulful player with a warm, singing tone and natural bluesy quality, led a tribute to prolific Jazz Age songwriter Spencer Williams. Halloran’s crew set a mellow tone with the slow drag “Farewell To Storyville.” He also took over lead vocals on the laid-back “Float Me Down the River,” while guest vocalist Queen Esther sang on two double-entendre numbers by Williams, “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jelly Roll” and “Your Jelly Roll Is Good.”

For sheer chops, it was hard to top accordion ace Julien Labro and guitarist Olli Soikkeli, who co-led a modernist quartet with bassist Eduardo Belo and drummer Rajiv Jayaweera. Labro and Soikkeli came out blazing with Mahavishnu-esque unisons on “Made In France,” then settled into a mellow reading of Django Reinhardt’s “Danse Norvegienne” before paying tribute to the classic Art Van Damme quintet with a blazing version of Neal Hefti’s “Cute.” They closed with a blistering version of Labro’s “Chutzpah,” his tribute to John Zorn’s Masada.

The party continued until the wee hours, with patrons flooding the dance floor and tapping their toes to infectious, swinging sounds from the Jazz Age. “What we had this year is sort of a grown up version of the first edition of the festival, which had an underground ‘off-the-grid’ atmosphere,” said vocalist Eva-Marie, a stalwart of the festival since it’s first installment. “It grew up without growing old, and it kept the same youthful energy and essence it had in the beginning. And the McKittrick is the perfect venue to showcase a thriving type of jazz that was always played to celebrate youth, rebellion, romance and recklessness. What better time than now to express those sentiments?” DB

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