ABOUT THE TJC
(From the liner notes by Michael Steinman, jazz critic for Cadence Magazine and The Mississippi Rag)
By contemporary standards, the Traditional Jazz Collective is a freakish group, not only because they are that rarity, a working band. The musicians don’t detest their nominal leader. Each of them gets to call tunes and set tempos. Even stranger, they are friends who hang out together to watch old movies and laugh wildly at the absurdities around them. This was normal behavior in 1928 Chicago when Louis, Zutty, and Earl ate spaghetti after the gig, but it’s exceptional now. And, as a result, so is the TJC’s music, reminiscent of the great Eddie Condon groups. The band is energized without being frenzied, relaxed without being tired of it all. Yes, the solo work is marvelous, but this is a band – evident in little touches, such as the uplifting backgrounds that two horns play behind a solo, and the little breaks and endings you’ll hear on this CD. And they swing!
The TJC pays homage to tradition by being creative. They aren’t the New OKeh Boys, who reproduce the notes Bix and Tram played in 1927 and glare at people who unwittingly request songs performed in other years. This is a First Amendment band, and freedom of expression rules. Its members are musicians who listen, not record collectors who need arrangements to play jazz. This band relies on songs that haven’t been done bloody, nothing so esoteric that it can be found only on one Argentine Odeon 78. The TJC likes to stomp but they are equally comfortable with a rhythm ballad or an erotically innocent “Rose Room.” And their unusual instrumentation – not part of some master plan, just the way it worked out – makes the ensemble sound fresh. Let’s hear some eight-bar verbal breaks from the six individualists.
KEVIN DORN (leader, drums, on-the-gig catering) got his friends together to form the TJC in 2004 to play Monday nights at the now-vanished Cajun. He can swing the dead, but doesn’t have to do that here. Kevin, who has reached enlightenment, believes that all you need to ensure safe passage through a treacherous life are Condon records and Universal horror films. The karmic center of his existence, he says, is the way Dave Tough played on the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session. He also notes, “My favorite Lon Chaney, Jr. performance is in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This was Chaney’s fifth and last portrayal of the Wolfman, and he is at the absolute peak of depression and hopelessness (I’m talking about the character of Lawrence Talbot, although the same was probably true of Chaney). It’s what I’ve based my whole personality on, a decision I sometimes regret, but it’s too late to do anything about it now.” At the moment, no one calls him The Dark Prince of the Splash Cymbal, but future generations might.
MICHAEL HASHIM (soprano, alto) is a virtuoso and a truly modest autodidact. We’ve talked about James Joyce, cuisine high and low, and Tijuana Bibles, and he’s so well-informed that it makes me envious. And his musical range – from Rudy-Wiedoft-on-LSD to rhythm and blues honks to melting Johnny Hodges ballads – is even more impressive. Michael explains, “Jimmy Rowles was my musical father and Benny Carter my musical mentor. I have performed jazz throughout the civilized world and some other places. I have been on major motion picture and TV soundtracks and appeared in some also. I have many recordings including projects devoted to Kurt Weil, Billy Strayhorn, Fats Waller, Frank Loesser, Frank Foster, Hammond organ groups, Punk rock and more. The only pies I can bake are apple and peach. I have read tons of literature and am almost an expert on fine art and comics. This has not made me a better person but I am interesting to talk to.”
J. WALTER HAWKES (trombone, vocal) can give out with a soulful Mississippi-tinged vocal that owes much to Fifties rock and pop (hear him show the congregation the only right path on “Lonesome Road”) and he is also a startlingly original trombonist, technically gifted in ways I associate with (whisper it) bebop, but it always fits. Of his work in other areas, he says, “The TV shows I’ve worked for (creating the music) are Blue’s Clues, Wonder Pets, and Oogloo and Angu. I have a weakness for 8-bit computers from the 1980s, especially Commodore machines. I like to cook, although my repertoire is limited. I’m really into Tolkien, Star Trek, and Erich Fromm, but I am a complete nut case when it comes to the first Star Wars trilogy.”
PETE MARTINEZ (clarinet, vocal) brings the irreplaceable Edmond Hall to life every time he plays. But Pete is no clone: he’ll begin with a quiet melodic paraphrase which blossoms into exuberant upper-register playing with a tone like a tender buzz saw. He’s a master of the Albert system clarinet, the instrument the New Orleans masters loved. And his quiet, meditative singing is subversively moving. He declares, “I’m truly proud of having reached Level 7 on Q*Bert. Jazz musicians are supposed to be these weird creatures, but I’m an orderly person. When I buy new pairs of socks, the first thing I do is number each pair – that way, #7, that’s been used for nothing more demanding than walking around, doesn’t get mixed up with #5, that’s been worn down playing baseball. It makes perfect sense, and I’m always surprised that the idea hasn’t caught on more. And I really enjoy the company of the guys in the TJC.”
JESSE GELBER (piano) has a distinctive style, compact and harmonically wise, although he can invent Basie aphorisms or two-handed percussive stomps. And those descending passages he loves echo the music played on the TV quiz shows of the Fifties when the contestant was being told that time had, indeed, run out. Jesse reveals, “Something I don’t normally put on my resume is how I ended up playing piano. When I was 5 years old I loved the Beatles and I started a rock band with my friends called The Fires. After I got tired of playing on giant Tinker Toys, I asked my parents for guitar lessons. I ended up studying with this jack-of-all-trades band leader, who was the only guitar teacher willing to take on a little kid. This old codger took a liking to my young and attractive mom, so he threw in piano lessons on a 2-for-1 deal just so my mom would stay longer in his house.”
DOUG LARGENT (bass) is essential to the TJC’s energy and harmonic foundation. His rhythmic pulse is irresistible; his solos and breaks are poised epigrams. Doug points out, “I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I began playing electric bass in high school and upright bass at UNC. I graduated with a degree in Mathematical Sciences with Computer Science Perspective, but I became a professional musician, married Nancy in 2000, and moved to New York. I currently split my time between the band White Widow, the Trio of J. Walter Hawkes, the Hawaiian / Western Swing trio Hulabilly, and the Traditional Jazz Collective. My dog’s name is Truffles, she’s a Pit Bull Terrier / Labrador mix.”
Here they come, to save the day -- the TJC is back!