Tuba player and bandleader David Ostwald – previously best known as the leader of the long-running “Gully Low Jazz Band” (the title also famously inspired by Louis Armstrong) formed this band in 2000 and brought it to Birdland with the intention of celebrating the mighty Armstrong’s centennial – which, as he calculated, would last at least from July 4, 2000 (the great man’s “ceremonial” birthday) to August 4, 2001 (his actual “historical” centennial date). That was the idea, but so far the band has thrived on Wednesday evening for the last eighteen years with no signs of stopping, making it, along with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks ten blocks uptown at Iguana, the longest-running hot jazz group in town. For two decades now, Mr. Ostwald has gathered the best traditional jazz players available, among them trumpeter Bria Skonberg and Jon-Erik Kellso, reed players Dan Levinson, Victor Goines, Adrian Cunningham, trombonist Jim Fryer, and dozens of others. There’s no better place to be on Wednesdays at 5:30 in New York, especially in that for all this time, the band has remained stringently true to its original mission of playing only tunes from the Louis Armstrong band book – and ending each session with a rafter-raising edition of “Swing That Music.” This, they do.
There are two major reasons for making the scene this Wednesday October 23rd: for one thing, Bria Skonberg, who is constantly on the road and thus doesn’t get to Birdland as often as we would like, will be on the bandstand, just in time to announce her excellent new album, Nothing Never Happens,which features her still-evolving cocktail of jazz (traditional and modern, hot and cool), blues, folk, pop, funk, and whatever (even a song by Sonny Bono. Sonny Bono? Sonny Fudging Bono?! You can’t get more eclectic than that.) Only Bria would think to combine Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” (which itself “samples” Chopin) and Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.” (PS: Ms. Skonberg is headlining with her own band at Jazz Standard in two weeks, from November 1st to 3rd.)
The other reason is to celebrate the 90th birthday of the greatest of all jazz historians, scribes, and critics, the redoubtable Dan Morgenstern, who somehow managed to escape Nazi Germany as a teenager and came to the USA to establish new standards of jazz writing and scholarship, as well as to bring the Institute of Jazz Studies (at Rutgers University) to its current heights of greatness. ( Maybe someone will talk him into singing “Gully Low Blues.”)
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