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An evening of artful exuberance

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In the right hands, Dixieland jazz is more of a feeling than a specific repertoire. It’s not what you play, so much as how you play it. Bob Leary’s sextet closed out the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2016-17 concert season exploring a wide array of vintage material that had toes a-tapping.

The band mined quite a few trad jazz classics and early pop hits along with a variety of New Orleans jazz staples at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte on Monday, April 10. The band included Leary on rhythm banjo and guitar, and occasional vocals, cornetist Davey Jones, clarinetist Jim Snyder, trombonist Pat Gullotta, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Steve Bagniuk.

The evening featured exuberant solos and strong ensemble work by the three horn players. Each added swinging, whimsical accents throughout the evening, particularly from Gullotta’s trombone and occasions when Jones and Gullotta went head-to-head with plunger-mutes on their horns.

Each band member received generous spotlights during the evening. They included Jones’ trumpet artistry on “When It’s Sleepytime Down South” and the Bix Beiderbecke hit “Singin’ the Blues.” Snyder’s clarinet artistry was featured was on “Linger Awhile,” a ballad first recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1923.

The night also included “That Da-Da Strain,” “Up a Lazy River,” Sweet Georgia Brown,” the Louis Armstrong late-career hit “What a Wonderful World” and “Mama Inez,” which was performed in a Cajun zydeco-style without either accordion or washboard.

Leary sang “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” in addition to two staples from his collection of nonsense tunes.The latter included “Huggin’ and Chalkin’,” a 1945 song by Clancy Hayes and Kermit Goell that was a hit for both Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. Leary described it as “one of the worst songs ever written.” That comment makes one wonder why he keeps singing it. Simple: it gets laughs.

The other zany inclusion was his falsetto take on “I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," accompanied by just Mopsick on bass. The song was an early 1940s hit for both Horace Heidt and The Ink Spots. Mopsick was featured on bass and vocals on another nonsense lyric hit rarely heard today, Slim and Slam’s “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)."

The evening’s other New Orleans-rooted material included “Bourbon Street,” “Royal Garden Blues,” Kid Ory’s “Muskrat Ramble” and the rousing concert closer, “South Rampart Street Parade.”This was Leary's second Port Charlotte appearance as a bandleader. His group was last here in March 2013. Toes were tapping then, too.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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