DIXIELAND PROVES TO BE HOT TICKET

Mike Condon is convinced that the Dixieland jazz virus is one of the most contagious bugs to hit San Diego in years.

"Dixieland jazz, especially in San Diego, is more popular now than it has been in years," Condon said. "There are more bands playing Dixieland than ever before, and a growing number of nightclubs are beginning to realize that there is still a big audience for it.

"That makes me very happy. Dixieland is one of the few art forms that is distinctly American, and it's something I don't think America should ever lose."

Still, Condon added, the only way to ensure a full-scale Dixieland epidemic is for musicians and promoters to put aside their differences and start working together.

After all, he reasons, each is necessary for the other's survival. Without promoters, the increasing roster of local Dixieland musicians would find it difficult to infect the public through concerts and nightclub appearances, he said. Without the musicians, Condon added, promoters of this pioneering style of jazz would have nothing to promote.

"There's no question about it," he said. "We all need each other--now, more than ever, while we still have all this momentum."

So, for more than a year, Condon has been trying to smooth out the traditionally rocky relationship between art and business by playing an active role in both camps.

As a singer and harmonica player, Condon regularly performs in local jazz nightclubs with both Cottonmouth Darcy's Jazz Vipers and Ira Cobb's Jazzbo.

As president of the Dixieland Jazz Society of San Diego County, he helps book the society's monthly concerts, which are held the third Sunday of every month at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

"By being involved with Dixieland jazz as a musician as well as a promoter, I'm able to see things from both sides of the slate and make sure everyone's happy," Condon said.

"And at the same time, I'm doing everything I can to help spread Dixieland jazz to as many people as possible."

San Diego's current Dixieland revival began seven years ago, Condon said, with the formation of the America's Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society. Each Thanksgiving weekend, that group sponsors a three-day festival at the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley that includes appearances by dozens of Dixieland bands from around the country.

Since 1984, the America's Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society has also held concerts at Monk's nightclub, also in Mission Valley, on the second Sunday of every month.

Still, there's room for more, Condon said, particularly since the activities of America's Finest City are confined to the San Diego city limits.

"In cities all over the state, there are groups like ours whose purpose is to expand Dixieland's presence outside of a single nightclub and one annual festival," Condon said.

"By doing our monthly shows at the Belly Up Tavern, we're taking Dixieland into North County, which is just one of the areas around town where Dixieland has previously been ignored.

"Aside from that, we try to reach a little farther in terms of booking bands. We regularly bring in bands from all over California.

"We also place a lot of emphasis on local groups that don't get the chance to play as often as they should, like the High Society Jazz Band, the South Market Street Dixieland Jazz Band, and the Hysterical Dixieland and Banjo Society Band."

The Dixieland Jazz Society of San Diego County's next show at the Belly Up, scheduled for Sunday, will showcase Danny Davis and Jazz Formula from Hollywood. Davis is regarded as one of the top vibraphonists in the country, Condon said, and his credits include numerous television and movie sound tracks.

Next month's concert, on March 15, will feature the Night-Blooming Jazzmen from Riverside, who have toured all over the United States and Europe. The Jazzmen are also veterans of every major Dixieland jazz festival on the West Coast, including the prestigious Old Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee, which since 1972 has attracted more than 100 groups to the state capital each Memorial Day weekend.

"Eventually, we would like to start an annual festival of our own, preferably somewhere in North County," Condon said. "We also want to start bringing Dixieland bands into local high schools and grade schools, and maybe even offer scholarships for promising young musicians.

"The age group that is most receptive to Dixieland is people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. But to keep this type of music alive forever, we need to start reaching younger people as well.

"As soon as they hear it, they're bound to like it."

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