In late January, 1917, five musicians from New Orleans known as The Original Dixieland Jass Band made their New York City debut at Riesenweber's Cafe, causing quite a stir and, according to some popular historians, ushering in "The Jazz Age."
The flavor of that evening was re-created Thursday at the Roof Garden of the Variety Arts Center when clarinetist Dan Levinson presented "At the Jass Band Ball."
The 22-year-old Levinson assembled a quintet that played transcriptions of the ODJB's original Victor recordings, offering a zesty, bouncy music that had an authentic feel. Dressed in tails, white high hats (each affixed with a letter that, left to right, spelled "Dixie") and spats, the fellows looked, as well as played, the period.
The band--Levinson, Dick Miller, cornet; Keith Elliott, trombone; Larry Fisher, drums and Ian Whitcomb, piano--gave forth a lively, occasionally raucous sound as they dug into such classics as "Tiger Rag," "Clarinet Marmalade," "At The Jazz Band Ball" and "Jazz Me Blues." The musicians shined on the faster numbers, as Miller's attractively rough sound, Elliott's round and fat tone and Levinson's bordering-on-squeaky meanderings all melded nicely.
Though the pieces were delivered ensemble style--remaining true to the recordings--with only here-and-there solo spots, differing parts could be heard, showing the group was not just playing unisons. Still, spotlighted improvisations would have given the show a flair that it ultimately needed.
Guest artists included saxophonists David Hutson and 85 year-old Dixie vet Rosy McHargue. The latter, who assisted Levinson with the transcriptions, played the now-obsolete C-Melody sax on "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," getting a sweet, quivering sound. He also sang a pair of humorous ditties in a vigorous voice. Galen Wilkes' 10-piece Palm Leaf Ragtime Orchestra opened the event with a variety of rags, two-steps and fox-trots. Dancers, many also in period costume, jammed the dance floor, enjoying the festive atmosphere the affair provided.