|HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND—"HIGH SIERRA GOLD" (Own label: vol. XXIII).
Playing time: 73 m. 45 s.
Sage Hen Strut; Potato Head Blues; Flatfoot; Blue Turning Gray over You; Fickle
Fay Creep; Old Fashioned Love*; Burgundy Street Blues; Rhythm king; Davenport
Blues; Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night*; Froggie Moore Rag; Of All the
Wrongs You’ve Done to Me; I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby†; Georgia Bo Bo; Original
Charleston Strut; Blues in the Morning; Georgia Swing.
Recorded in Costa Mesa, Calif., in 2009.
Personnel: Pieter Meijers, reeds, leader; Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Howard Miyata,
trombone, vocal†; Stan Huddleston, banjo, guitar; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Earl
McKee, tuba, vocal*; Charlie Castro, drums.
In California, the High Sierra Jazz Band is something of an institution, having been
in existence for some thirty-three years. It evolved from a short–lived band called
Jazzberry Jam in 1976, and four of the founding members are still with the band: the
Huddleston brothers (Bruce on piano, Stan on banjo), Charlie Castro on drums, and
Earl McKee on sousaphone. Over the years the personnel has remained remarkably
stable, Al Smith having held down the cornet chair from the beginning until his
retirement in 1998 and Vic Kimsey the trombone chair until his death in 1989. The
addition of Pieter Miejers on reeds at the time of Smith’s retirement marked a
departure of sorts because for the first twenty-odd years the band was a six-piece
aggregation, eschewing reeds altogether.
During all these years they have had legions of devoted followers, despite the band’
s unlikely home base being the small town of Three Rivers (population about
2,500), located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains foothills at the entrance to the
Sequoia National Park. The High Sierra Jazz Band is also the host band at the
monthly meeting of the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club and the yearly Three Rivers
jazz festival, “Jazzaffair,” and it travels worldwide on tours and cruises once a year
or so, the latter organized by an agency headed by the leader’s wife. So the band’s
name is recognized in many locales outside California. A few of the members travel
a fair bit to attend rehearsals and events in Three Rivers as they do not live there,
testament to their commitment.
Playing in the West Coast style in the vein of the Lu Watters and Turk Murphy
bands, these seasoned musicians always give first-rate performances. As the tune
list on this, their 23rd album, shows, their tastes are eclectic as they cover numbers
from as widely diverse composers as George Lewis and Bix Beiderbecke, as well as
those often featured by bands playing in this style: Armstrong, Watters, et al.
Their tight arrangements are geared to avoiding the monotony that so many bands
create with the same pattern of ensemble-solos-ensemble. For variety they
introduce different textures, such as a duet between trumpet and banjo without
backing, ensemble joining at the bridge; or a piano taking sixteen measures solo
with again ensemble joining in at the release; or stop time backing a trumpet solo.
Tunes such as Jelly Roll’s Fickle Fay Creep and Georgia Swing are replete with
interesting breaks and rhythms, as are so many of his compositions, all of which the
High Sierra Jazz Band handles well. So there is no dullness in this recording, and
the ears are not assaulted by forte playing either, restraint being the watchword.
On Davenport Blues Shaw makes no attempt to sound like Bix, being content
(wisely) to sound like himself. Meijers is accompanied only by most of the rhythm
section on Burgundy Street Blues, and he does not try to sound like George Lewis.
That I find refreshing. Why try to play a tune - or sound - like someone else when
the original is available?
Vocals are often a weak spot on jazz band CD’s. This one largely escapes that,
although McKee seems to strain a bit on Old Fashioned Love to reach the high
Overall, then, this CD provides a very tasteful, enjoyable hour-and-a-quarter of
good listening. There are no liner notes, the insert merely listing the personnel,
recording information, and tune titles. Ordering information is obtainable at the
band’s web site www.highsierrajazzband.com or at P.O. Box 812, Three Rivers, CA