This year's Dixieland Jazz Festival brought Dixieland devotees out in droves. It was a mob scene inside the Masonic Temple on Riverside: musicians bustling their way through the vaulted corridors, vendors with all kinds of memorabilia ... and then there was me, the only guy under 60. There was so much blue hair, I thought for a moment that I had stumbled into a punk rock show.
If you ever have the chance to attend this festival or any other event at the Masonic Temple, you must go, you must see. The architecture is outrageous, the d & eacute;cor and woodwork is intriguing and the musty smell of decades past hangs heavy in the air. I caught my first Dixieland act in the Blue Room, where the performer, Scott Kirby, was whipping the seniors into a frenzy with his Scott Joplin ragtime tunes on the piano. Kirby's adeptness on the keys was impressive. I was already gaining greater appreciation for the ragtime movement.
One source of confusion was the groups' labeling of themselves as jazz bands, when really they were focusing only on a fraction of jazz as a whole, the Dixieland era. But that was all right. I was still entertained and educated. Which brings me to the Evergreen Classic Jazz Band, a seven-piece ensemble tackling classic renditions of Dixieland tunes. The band's players included a doctor, a commercial airline pilot and a college professor. The brassy, get-up-and-jump feel of the music was enough to get the show-goers out of their seats for a spin around the dance floor. Believe me, there is life after retirement.
The final group that I caught was Jean Kittrel and the St. Louis Rivermen. These guys really shook things up. In the jazz tradition, after the entire ensemble developed a theme, things got interesting: each player then took a turn soloing. And that' s just where this collection of fine musicians shined. Each member turned in technically sound yet imaginative solos -- each intertwining smoothly with the next without missing a beat. One festival attendee, 91-year-old Art Chevigny, was thoroughly impressed with "Red" Lehr, the Sousaphone player (big horn, looks like a tuba). "Keep an eye on that guy," he enthused. "He made me cry last year."
The majority of the acts became repetitive after awhile, but that didn't seem to stop the crowd from getting out on the dance floor to shake their hips (replaced or the ones God gave them). The mood was light, the music was grand, and this year's Dixieland Jazz Festival was another one for the aged... uh, I mean ages.
Publication date: 06/19/03