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Jazz Review

Swing Era Shows It Still Has Legs

September 03, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Sweet and Hot Music Festival has been a Labor Day weekend destination for nearly a decade. This year's installment--the seventh--once again took over most of the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel, delivering an appealing variety of pre-World War II jazz and popular music.

Sunday's performances revealed several intriguing aspects about the music of that era, which generally reached from the Roaring '20s through the Depression '30s and into the Wartime '40s.

The first was the way music and dancing were inextricably linked. The second was the vitality of the songs and their interpretations by different artists. The third was the sense of optimism that was especially apparent in the consistently buoyant rhythm in the music. Serving as the soundtrack for a period in which society was grappling with enormously powerful economic and cultural changes, it was music that managed to accompany those transitions with a blend of enthusiasm, confidence and maturity.

It's a fair observation that a substantial portion of the overflow crowds at the festival probably personally experienced some portion of the Swing era. But it also was an audience that included numerous participants still eager to call up the good old days on dance floors in many of the event's eight venues.

Many dressed in appropriate period outfits, and some of the dancing was occasionally enlivened by the presence of youthfully exuberant Swing fans.

Sunday's music was far-ranging, embracing the spirited tuba and washboard stylings of the Reynolds Brothers (grandsons of early film star Zasu Pitts), dance band rhythms of the Fulton Street Jazz Band and the Mardi Gras Band, the Dixieland of Yoshio Toyama and his Saints and the western Swing of Igor's Jazz Cowboys. With a few anachronistic moments such as a "California Cool" set by trumpeter Jack Sheldon's quartet and a thoughtful tribute to Lionel Hampton by vibist Isla Eckinger's trio, the kaleidoscopic diversity of the festival becomes apparent.

One of the further pleasures of such a colorful event is the occasional opportunity to experience previously unfamiliar but first-rate talent. On Sunday, it was the singing of Rebecca Kilgore. Although she has long been a fixture on the Swing revival circuit, her attractive combination of a honeyed sound and brisk, impeccable phrasing clearly deserves to be heard in a more stylistically far-ranging musical setting.

A convincing appearance in the highly competitive Diva Summit, in which she was surrounded by the likes of Yve Evans, Lillian Boutte and others, increased my curiosity to hear more from this talented vocal artist.

Appropriately, the evening wound down with a spontaneous jam session in the hotel lobby. Driven by players from the Japanese Saints, it was also open to anyone who showed up with an instrument--a further testament to the pleasures of the Sweet and Hot Festival.

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