Tim Onasch, President, PRJC
Saturday, September 19, 2015, didn't start out to be a grand day for the PRJC annual picnic.
It began with a dense, soupy fog that looked pretty darned ominous. However, by 9:00am or so, the fog began
to lift and the sun made its triumphant appearance. In fact, the rest of the day would turn out to be rather
pleasant to spend outdoors enjoying some really fine jazz and tasty food - a little bit on the hot side,
but not all that humid. A fitting end to the summer of 2015.
As you may have read in earlier editions of this newsletter, several of us board members
scoped out and opted to hold the annual picnic at the former Lorton Reformatory, which has been transformed
into a center for the performing and fine arts. We realized that we could never truly replace the old,
venerable (and now demolished) Blob's Park as a locale for the picnic. However, the arts center proved to be
the next best option. For outdoors events during the warmer months, such as our picnic, the center sets up a
large tent that seats up to 300 attendees. So this was another attraction for the likes of what we were used
to at Blob's Park.
As in the past, attendees could being their own picnic lunches and non-alcoholic drinks. The arts center also
provided a number of vendors selling such treats as hot dogs, Bolivian meat pies and ice cream. The center also served two types of beer and wine - just right for such an occasion!
As you may have read in earlier editions of this newsletter, several of us board members scoped out and opted to hold the annual picnic at the former Lorton Reformatory, which has
been transformed into a center for the performing and fine arts. We realized that we could never truly replace the old, venerable (and now demolished) Blob's Park as a locale for
the picnic. However, the arts center proved to be the next best option. For outdoors events during the warmer months, such as our picnic, the center sets up a large tent that seats up to 300 attendees. So this was another attraction for the likes of what we were used to at Blob's Park.
As in the past, attendees could being their own picnic lunches and non-alcoholic drinks. The arts center also provided a number of vendors selling such treats as hot dogs, Bolivian meat pies and ice cream. The center also served two types of beer and wine - just right for such an occasion!
The day's music was provided by three bands that most of you are familiar with -
The Jefferson Street Strutters, The Capital Focus Jazz Band and The Conservatory Classic Jazz Band.
Each band played two sets, beginning at noon and ending at 6:00pm. So the 60 or so who turned out for the event were
in for 6 hours of some authentic traditional jazz.
First up was the afore-mentioned Jefferson Street Strutters. This band has played for the club a number of times over the
years and seems to get better with each effort! On this day, it featured John Wesner on trombone, a musician
from the Baltimore area who has delighted PRJC audiences for nigh on to 40 years now with such bands as the
Bay City 7 and Falstaff 5 Plus 2. The Strutters opened with a rousing rendition of "Milenburg Joys", a taste
of what was to follow. This first set also featured a fine interpretation of a good old good one (as Satchmo
would say!), "Tishomingo Blues", a veritable chestnut of a blues tune. The band included a spirited version
of "Dr. Jazz" and ended its first set with "Yellow Dog Blues", which would've made W.C. Handy proud!
After a short break, the Strutters began set #2 with a great West Coast classic composed
by the legendary Lu Watters back in the late 40's, "Big Bear Stomp". This was followed by a faithful rendition
of "Royal Garden Blues". This final set featured a vocalist that many of us never heard sing before, Megan
Williams Elkins, who aptly sang the vocals on "Bye-Bye Blackbird" and "Louisiana", the latter from the pen of
Hoagy Carmichael. Next came another W.C. Handy classic, "St. Louis Blues", played very ably by the Strutters.
This fine band ended its day with a real barn-burner from the Original Dixieland Band, "Tiger Rag", which just
about blew a hole through the roof!
Could it get any better than what we just heard? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, as next on
stage came the Capital Focus Jazz Band (or CFJB from hereon). This fine ensemble of enthusiastic youths has
been playing for the club and at just about every one of the four corners of the earth since its inception in
1989. As you all very well know, Dave Robinson (cornetist extraordinaire) founded the band and has been its
mentor and director ever since. It's played in Europe a number of times, down in the Caribbean and in New Orleans
(it blew everyone away who heard it play at the 2014 Satchmo Summerfest!) as well as a number of other festivals in the U.S. This latest edition of the CFJB features a number of young men who've been with the band for at least a year or more, so we knew that we were about to hear some real "veteran" musicians on the bandstand.
The CFJB commenced its first set with a rousing rendition of a number that the now-defunct
Federal Jazz Commission used to open every one of its sets with, "All The Girls Go Crazy". I think that Marty
Frankel and Co. would've approved of the kids' version of this standard. The CFJB also played a nice version
of "Big Butter And Egg Man" during this set. To This Writer's delight, the kids (and I use this term affectionately) included a very faithful re-creation of the 1923 King Oliver (with a very young Louis Armstrong on 2nd cornet, reprised with Dave Robinson on 2nd cornet) Creole Jazz Band's recording of "Mabel's Dream". As some of you may know, this is one of my all-time favorite trad jazz tunes which I really appreciate hearing when a band decides to include it among its offerings. The CFJB ended its first set with a number that's become one of its signature tunes, "Chinatown My Chinatown". Wow, what a dynamite first set!
Set two began with another good ole barn-burner, "Kansas City Stomp", also another one of
Yours Truly's favorite trad tunes. This was followed by an original piece from one of the CFJB's pianists,
Andrew Flores. It's called "Sloppin' Around" and is so authentic that you'd swear it was written back in the 1920's instead of some 90 years later! Later in the set, Dave R. rejoined the kids on stage with the great Louis Armstrong number, "Struttin' With Some Barbecue", which nearly tore the roof off the tent. The kids then finished their day with a tune that's also become one of their signature numbers, "Over In The Gloryland", which I first heard them play during the 1999 French Quarter Festival.
We barely had time to absorb what we had all just heard when the Conservatory Classic Jazz Band took the stage.
Again, this band needs no formal introduction as it's been delighting PRJC folks for nearly 2 decades now. It's fronted by Dave Robinson on horn and includes such fine luminaries as Gary Gregg on reeds, Dan Hall on bass, Jeff Reynolds on banjo/guitar, Brian Priebe on trombone, Anders Eliasson on drums and, last but certainly not least, the incomparable Leny Seikaly on vocals. Brian and Anders couldn't attend the gig on this fine day; however, they were aptly substituted for by John Wesner and Mike Flaherty, respectively.
The first set included Lena's wonderful voice on "Everybody Loves My Baby" and the Billie Holiday
chestnut, "Am I Blue?". The band also did a superior rendition of one of the earliest blues tunes, "Tin Roof
Blues" (another one of This Writer's favorites). This was followed by another barn-burner, "Cakewalkin' Babies From Home". This fascinating set concluded with Lena doing one of her signature numbers, "I Double Dare You", in flawless fashion.
After a short intermission, the CCJB (for short) opened its second and final set with
"Runnin' Wild". Next came Lena on another one of her signature numbers, "I Cover The Waterfront", one of the
best renditions of the song I've ever heard! This was followed by another barn-burner, "When My Dreamboat Comes Home".
Lena flawlessly provided the vocals on the final three songs of the set, "Jealous Heart Of Blues", "You Do Something To Me" and "Wild Women Don't Have The Blues", the latter being one of the first tunes I heard Lena perform some 14-15 years ago!
As stated above, we'll never be able to replace the picnics of yesteryear held at Blob's
Park. However, this year's version of the annual picnic came pretty darn close. The arts center proved to be a
worthy successor, as many in attendance attested to (including a member from Pennsylvania and a number of Marylanders who ventured out to the
venue from afar). So, if you like what you've read above, please do plan to come out for next year's picnic as
we plan to hold it at the same place. Believe me... you won't regret it!
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