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Queens Chronicle

Lucky Dogs play Louisiana jazz of past

Lucky Dogs jazz band will perform snazzy horn solos in Louis Armstrong’s Garden

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Thu Aug 9, 2012.

Walking into Louis Armstrong’s garden from his neon blue kitchen, you can imagine the sense of ease the quiet Japanese-style space would have provided the jazz legend during the last year of his life.

The garden boasts more greenery than most swatches of Corona, a fish pond, winding paths and a performance space

It’s on that stage that many jazz musicians get as close as they probably ever have been to Satchmo, a nickname short for satchelmouth, the large-mouthed trumpeter.

On Saturday, Aug. 18 the New York-based jazz band the Lucky Dogs will get their turn to show off their intricate horn solos and improvisations at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

“I don’t think Louis’ ghost is there, but it’s not your average beer garden,” said Lucky Dog guitarist Mikey Hart. “It’s definitely very special. We’ve all made pilgrimages there on our own, but playing there is heavy.”

He added that when someone believes that the spirit of jazz is there, the “vestige is in your mind” and it affects how a musician can play.

The New Orleans-style band’s niche is inspired by 1920s Louis Armstrong recordings, in which Armstrong played backup for Joe “King” Oliver. Hart said Armstrong’s parts have a youthful exuberance to them and an experimentation that his later poppier songs do not.

The guitarist and vocalist isn’t saying that Armstrong’s more popular 1950s recordings weren’t anything but amazing, because he will be the first to acknowledge their stunning sound.

“He was brilliant through and through,” Hart said. “There has never been anything like it. There have been other things that were amazing, but nothing quite like it.”

However, the band chooses to focus on these early jazz pieces saying those cuts are usually left behind by other performers and appreciators, but they shouldn’t be. On long trips to gigs, Hart — along with Will Anderson on the clarinet and saxophone, Kelly Frisen on the big fiddle, Rich Levinson on the drums and washboard, Dion Tucker on the trampagne (a classy, or silly, name for a trombone, depending on who you talk to) and Simon Wettenhal on the trumpet, euphonium and fugelhorn — research these earlier sounds.

The 1920s jazz songs were typically heard live in dance halls not via a recording. That’s why more dance-inducing sound seeps into the early tracks. Additionally, since the industry focused on live performances, instead of recording studio sessions, technology had its limitations. Vinyls were only three minutes long; however, the Lucky Dogs doubt the playing stopped there, leaving a sense of mystery to these recordings.

Lastly, the early tracks convey a sense of intimacy. Each musician in the 1920s had to play into one funnel-type sound-capturing machine, as depicted in the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” which, because of the actual closeness of the musicians, creates a different sound than those records made now by people singing into high-tech mics often in different rooms or perhaps even different countries.

Besides this exploration of early jazz, audiences can expect horn solos typical to New Orleans brass-horn bands as well as lots of collective, spontaneous improvisation.

The hour-and-a-half-long show will include some New York swing standards, gospel classics and R&B-influenced songs. The length of the pieces and the tempo will depend on the audience, Hart said.

And this band knows how to switch up the speed. For swing shows the Lucky Dogs play faster, shorter songs, while in jazz clubs they can jam forever, he said.

“Swing songs are not too long so you don’t have to propose and get married by the end of the song. In listening rooms you can really stretch it out,” Hart said.

Hart and the drummer, Levinson, met in New Orleans. When they moved to New York City they connected with other musicians by playing on the streets and in the subways. They would talk to other guys about the 1920s Armstrong songs and the magic behind them.

Then they found their real match in trumpet player Wettenhal at “a fancy party on Long Island.” Wettenhal, a veteran musician who plays with Woody Allen’s band every Monday, is a scholar of Armstrong’s trumpet solos.

“We just dug each other,” Hart said.

They added in other like-minded musicians to round out the band of self-proclaimed drunken scallywags.

After all that’s how their name came about. Well, the name’s roots are twofold.

“When we put on our suits and have to be on our best behavior, we think of ourselves as lucky dogs,” Hart said.

Secondly, the name comes from the New Orleans-based novel “Confederacy of Dunces,” which mentions “Paradise Hot Dogs,” easily recognized as the city’s actual late-night staple, named Lucky Dogs.

“Whenever it gets late at night you end up down there, and in the morning you regret it more than whatever you drank the night before,” Hart said.

Hot Jazz/Cool Garden
featuring the Lucky Dogs

When: Aug. 18, 2 p.m.

Where: Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107 St., Corona

Tickets: $15; includes museum tour


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