New York’s Hot Jazz Festival Sizzles at Stylish McKittrick Hotel

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Cécile McLorin Salvant performs at the Hot Jazz Festival in New York City on Sept. 25

(Photo: Aidan Grant)

One set that was decidedly not from the ’20s or ’30s was a re-creation of the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong duets on the 60th anniversary of their 1956 Verve studio album, Ella And Louis, featuring the Oscar Peterson Quartet.

When Katsobashvili (who serves the festival’s director) learned earlier in the day that Brianna Thomas was suffering from throat problems and would not be able to perform the role of Ella in these duets with singer Michael Mwenso, he had to act fast. So Katsobashvili put in a call to South African singer Vuyo Sotashe, who filled in admirably at The Heath stage.

Sotashe’s swooning falsetto brought a dramatic quality to “I Loves You Porgy” and his infectious swing factor alongside Mwenso had dancers whirling in front of the stage on the set-closer, “Stompin’ At The Savoy.”

The wondrous team of singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and her regular accompanist, pianist Aaron Diehl, produced the most absorbing moments of this all-day event. With Salvant channeling her inner Bessie Smith and Diehl summoning up the spirit, alternately, of James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith with his touches of stride, block chords and dazzling right handed flourishes, this inspired duo made magic in the dark intimacy of The Heath.

The set included faithful renditions of Bessie’s “Frosty Morning Blues” and Valaida Snow’s “You Bring Out The Savage In Me.” Additionally, Salvant sang a mournful rendition of Smith’s 1927 song “Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan),” and then the duo swung with fervor on the 1928 Tin Pan Alley tune “Nagasaki,” which was popularized in the early ’30s by the Stephane Grappelli-Django Reinhardt Hot Club of France.

Salvant got a bit risqué on two classic Bessie tunes from the 1920s, “Take It Right Back” and “Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jellyroll Like Mine,” with Diehl serving as the perfect contrapuntal foil to Salvant’s earthy blues delivery.

Then the vocalist struck a powerfully dramatic pose on a gripping, a cappella rendition of Bessie’s harrowing feminist ode, “You Ought to Be Ashamed (Of What You Done To Me).” The duo closed the compelling set on an upbeat note with the ’30s swinger, “I Can’t Dance (I Got Ants In My Pants).”

Trumpeter Brian Carpenter led his Ghost Train Orchestra at The Heath through re-imaginings of Tiny Parham’s 1929 tune “Skag-A-Lag” and Charlie Johnson’s “You Ain’t The One,” featuring violinist Mazz Swift on vocals, along with Carpenter’s original “Hot Town,” which featured him playing harmonica through a megaphone to eerie effect.

Saxophonist-clarinetist Dan Levinson—a Hot Jazz Festival mainstay—led his Gotham SophistiCats septet, featuring vocalist Molly Ryan and cornet ace Mike Davis, on classic and classy fare from the 1930s.

The party continued into the wee hours, thanks to an all-star jam session featuring Lichtman on clarient, with Delysia La Chatte channeling Josephine Baker with her banana skirt burlesque dance routine. Plus, there was a Jazz Age Best Dressed contest.

Maybe Netanyahu stayed for those extracurricular activities, but six hours of incessant swing in The McKittrick Hotel was enough to satiate even the most ardent hot-jazz fans.

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July 2022
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