Rattling the rafters with Night Blooming Jazzmen

With a kick-up-your-heels rhythm, the Night Blooming Jazzmen laid a mighty fine Dixieland concert upon the ears of an eager audience of more than 500 on Jan. 26. As the third concert this season presented by the Indian Wells Valley Concert Association, the Jazzmen were truly well received.

Many of their selections were written in the early 1900s. The seven-piece band played with gusto in true jazz style. You could see them giving signals to each other, occasionally laughing and generally clearly having a grand time. The leader, Chet Jaeger, on cornet, announced the selections and kidded with the audience.

When announcing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Jaeger said the piece was originally written for a 240-piece marching band. “You’ll notice we’re about 232 short, but we’ll do the best we can. Sousa wrote this in 1896, which was almost a hundred years ago. But at least we had the good grace to not play it until after he was dead.” Jaeger is a mere 88 years old and started the Jazzmen 38 years ago.

“This is a popular tune from the 1920s,” Jaeger announced. “It’s called ‘A Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia.’ The reason Jim Richardson is going to sing this one is because he’s the only one who knows the words.” Richardson distinguished himself by playing not just one, but two saxophones simultaneously during the bridge sections of this piece, in addition to doing the vocals. He also played clarinet.

The other band members are Dick Doner on trombone and baritone horn, Doug Mattocks on banjo, Don Richardson on string bass, Larry Kostka on drums, and Vinny Armstrong substituting for Les Deutsch on piano. Most of the musicians also sang. All had solos in turns in most of the selections.

Jaeger announced a Hoagy Carmichael song, “The Riverboat Shuffle,” and said, “If you know the words to this one and would like to sing along, we’d really be dumbfounded.”

Some of the selections included “At the Jazz Band Ball,” “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me,” “She Wants a Big Butter and Egg Man,” “San Antonio Rose, “Floatin’ Down to Cotton Town, “South Rampart Street Parade,” “Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me,” “I Don’t Get Around Much Any More,” and “I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five- and-Ten-Cent Store.”

Mattocks played an unusual solo — “Malaguena” on the banjo. It was a fiery rendition, quintessentially Spanish, and involved amazingly tricky fingering.

“I’m out of breath just listening,” said Jaeger. “We invite each of you to come up after the show and inspect Doug’s hands — only has four fingers and a thumb on each hand, just like everyone else.”

Another exceptional piece was “a boogie-woogie with no name.” Armstrong on piano got to show off with an absolutely delicious rendition. It was impossible for audience members to keep their feet still.

“I’d like to compliment this audience. You were clapping in time to the music,” said Jaeger. “Most audiences don’t do that. They rush the beat and then you have to go faster to catch up with them.”

An essential characteristic of this type of jazz is that, once all band members are familiar with the tune, various members sort of play separately together with some fancy riffs and flourishes in places and they all come together again at a particular point. Sometimes this sounds spectacular — and sometimes it’s a joyous noise.

“Some pieces we have carefully worked out the arrangement — and we played both of them for you,” said Jaeger. “Some pieces we just see what happens, like that last one. It’s more fun for us that way. Some pieces we’ve worked out a beginning and an end, and we sort of wing it through the middle.

“If you know the tunes and the chords, you can sit in with jazz bands anywhere in the world. The difference between amateur and professional musicians is if you hit a bad note, the professional can recover. So we’ve hit a few bad notes here tonight so we can have an opportunity to show off our professionalism.”

The audience was so busy enjoying the spirited performance and the jokes that any awkward spots went unnoticed. The relaxed and jovial spirit of the musicians left us all feeling like we were sitting in on a happy jam session among long-time best friends.

The final piece was “God Bless America,” done in true Dixieland style, and it really rattled the rafters.

For more information about the IWVCA, call 760-375-5600 or see www.iwvca.com. Three more concerts are left in this season. For more information on the Jazzmen, see www.nightbloomingjazzmen.com.

Story First Published: 2013-02-06