On the cover North Coast Journal

March 31, 2005


Festival Time: Weekend of Jazz, Week of Films

On the cover: Saxophonist performing at Redwood Coast Jazz Festival 2004.
Lower left: Julia "Butterfly" Hill, featured in a film to be shown during the Humboldt International Short Film Festival
Festival Time: Weekend of Jazz, Week of Films

This week's Journal focuses on Humboldt County's cultural life. We offer a preview of Eureka's 15th annual Redwood Coast Jazz Festival, a weekend full of music (and not just jazz), alongside a look at another event with an even longer history. The 38th annual Humboldt International Short Film Festival takes place next week, bringing visiting filmmaker judges and dozens of films of all sorts (all of them short) to Arcata. Add in the monthly Arts Alive!, Saturday in Eureka, and you have a week full of art, music and movies.


All that jazz -- and more

As the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival heads into its 15th year, it is a far cry from the Dixieland festival of 1990. "I would say it's evolved to be more diverse musically," said Brenda Steinberg, executive director of Redwood Coast Music Festivals, the organization that runs the jazz fest and Blues by the Bay.

[couple dancing]Steinberg, who started out as a volunteer five years ago, explained that "it started out with mostly `trad' -- traditional jazz -- and we've tried to broaden the lineup, adding swing and zydeco, trying to do a blues night, that kind of thing."

The nonprofit officially marked the shift in the range of musical styles two years ago by dropping the word "Dixieland" from the name of the festival. Appealing to a wider demographic is basically mandatory since trad jazz aficionados tend to be older. Some of them, as Duke Ellington put it, "don't get around much anymore."

"We're trying to appeal to a broader audience," said Steinberg, "trying to have more that interests the locals. At the same time we're still focused on bringing people in from out of the area. There's a whole core of people who are trad jazz fans, and there's a circuit of jazz festivals so that they can travel from festival to festival, following the musicians that they like and having that experience. We're still drawing those people."

The acts booked in specific venues are arranged at least in part to accommodate the trad fans -- the music at North Coast Dance and the Red Lion Hotel generally sticks to hard-line Dixieland and ragtime.

"In the other venues we try to break it up a bit. We'll put the swing bands in the places with good dance floors like the Muni or the Adorni Center," Steinberg said.

The truth is, you'll find a little bit of Dixie at any of the festival's seven venues this weekend. You'll also find people dancing to swing music, western swing and Gypsy swing, along with Cajun tunes, bluegrass and plenty of music that strays far from jazz.

"It's music for people who love to dance," Steinberg concludes. "The festival really does give you three days of nonstop dancing."

The jazz fest kicks off tonight, Thursday, March 31, with the "Big Band Dance" at the Adorni Center featuring the swingin' sounds of Stompy Jones, a jump blues combo out of San Francisco formed in the late '90s when retro-swing was making waves with trendy youngsters. While it's not a free event, this is one of just a few events not requiring a festival pass.

[piano player]Another is the festival's free opening ceremony, previously held at the Bayshore Mall, which moves to the Eureka Theater this year. It gets under way at noon, Friday, April 1, with Dixieland music by the Virginia-based Buck Creek Jazz Band and a swing dance demonstration by Rhythmically Challenged.

Don't miss Buster Keaton's classic silent comedy, Sherlock Jr. with a live, jazzy score provided by our own Humboldt Ragtime Band. The film runs three times at the Eureka Theater: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. The local ragtimers also join Ivory & Gold, an outfit from Mystic, Conn., examining the pre-Dixieland "roots of jazz" starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel.

Those who love Cajun rhythms and zydeco might want to hit the official "Mardi Gras party" in the Simpson Tent (at Sixth and G streets in Eureka) Saturday night starting at 7 p.m. with longtime festival favorites Gator Beat, followed by fiddler Tom Rigney and Flambeau, and the Blue Street Jazz Band, all playing Mardi Gras sets. The excellent local Cajun band, Bayou Swamis, could well have been included, but they were not. You can catch them at the Adorni, Saturday at 1 p.m. (in between Gator Beat and Flambeau) or at the Muni on Saturday at 5:30 where they play just before the festival's "special guests," bluesy singer-songwriter Jackie Greene and headliner, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. (See story on Dan Hicks below.)

Jackie Greene is actually bringing his band to town, but Hicks would rather not follow an electric band, and since he included a clause in his contract to that effect, Greene will perform a solo set at the Muni.

Those who want to hear Jackie with his full band can catch his 4 p.m. concert at the Eureka Theater. You might want show up at the Eureka early to see the 1 p.m. Sherlock Jr. screening, then stick around for a set by the fine local Gypsy swing band, Cuckoo's Nest, just before Greene and company.

[trumpet player]The final day of the festival, Sunday, April 3, begins with morning hymnals in three locations: Blue Street Jazz Band and the Humboldt Harmonaires sing and play at the Muni for free. A festival pass is required for hymnals at the Simpson Tent with Night Blooming Jazzmen and at the Eureka Theater, where Igor's Jazz Cowboys join forces with the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir. All three performances begin at 9 a.m.

Humboldt County's venerable Dixielanders, the Hall Street Honkers, are among the first to play Friday (3 p.m. at the Red Lion) and on Saturday (10 a.m. at Club West) and they will likely be the last to play Sunday, when they return to the Red Lion for their old 4 p.m. Sunday slot. The Honkers had a regular gig at the hotel for 12 years, but lost it a few months ago when, as banjo player Jim Piehl explained, "We were replaced -- by a big screen TV and a sports jersey -- they're a sports bar now." The sports bar becomes a jazz hangout once again this weekend and the Honkers invite all of their old friends to return for another evening of dancing -- and all that jazz.

For more information about the jazz festival call 445-3378 or go to www.redwoodjazz.org.

--Bob Doran

The return of the Hot Licks

W hile you would not necessarily call Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks a jazz band, Mr. Hicks is certainly a jazzy guy, and he has always instilled his catchy acoustic tunes with elements of jazz.

"I'm hard to categorize," said Hicks, 63, speaking by phone from his home in Marin County. "The categories don't cover me. We play all kinds of things. If you have a radio station that says, `Oh, yeah, we play everything,' then I get to be on that station."

Hicks began his musical life as a sixth-grader drumming in the school band in Santa Rosa where he was raised. "And I was in the high school marching band," he recalled. He also played big band tunes in the school dance band. "My high school band teacher helped me get into jazz. We'd do jam sessions at noontime: He played piano and we had a bass player. He was a good mentor."

[Dan Hicks with guitar]When he graduated from Montgomery High in 1959, rock `n' roll was going strong, but he says he preferred swing music. "I liked Benny Goodman better than I liked Ricky Nelson."

A few years later, as the '60s turned psychedelic, he found himself attending San Francisco State, living in the city. "By that time I was playing guitar, playing around the city, doing my folk thing; I'd go to hootenannies and stuff. I had a few actual gigs playing all kinds of different folk tunes, "San Francisco Bay Blues," a few of my own songs, but not a lot, maybe one or two. I was a folknik."

A short foray into rock came when he met the members of The Charlatans, a bluesy outfit in the Haight-Ashbury district that needed drummer.

Was he a hippie? "If I had to put a label on it, I go more for hipster. I guess I might have been in the hippie movement there: I had long hair. I was in a rock band, one of the bands that played the halls. I took LSD. I smoked a little bit of marijuana. I lived right on Haight and Ashbury. I don't know, maybe if it walks like a duck But hipster is more like it."

Playing drums with The Charlatans afforded him a few opportunities to present his own material and he still performed solo gigs. "I had my single act thing going with a guitar and eventually I expanded that. I added bass and violin, then added the girl singers, then another guitar. I thought of it as a folk act."

The band -- which included Halimah Collingwood, now of Arcata -- borrowed elements of Gypsy jazz, a la Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club of Paris, adding jazzy swing-style vocal parts to add color and body to original, often sardonic songs penned by Dan.

"I liked it better than The Charlatans," said Hicks. "I could sing lead, I was writing my own songs. I could hear the singing; it wasn't a loud thing. Ralph Gleason [music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle] wrote a good review at one point when I did kind of a debut in the city. So I decided to get out of The Charlatans and go with the Hot Licks thing."

The timing was good. Music fans of the day were open to new sounds. And it was a period when San Francisco rock was a hot commodity. "Big companies were coming in signing groups. It was the happening thing. Epic Records showed up with a couple of guys. They saw us perform and arrangements were made to be on that label."

The eponymous Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks was recorded in Los Angeles in 1969. More albums followed after a switch to the Blue Thumb label. The band was going strong, but Hicks was not happy.

"I was tired of being a band leader. Personalities started getting kind of bitchy. I felt like I'd created a monster, so I just said this thing is over with. `That gig we have in Sacramento next week, that'll be our last gig,' I said. That's what happened."

Hicks hit the club circuit again almost immediately, playing with a smaller all-male group that eventually took the name Dan Hicks and the Acoustic Warriors. "People always wanted to know `Where were the girls?' and all this stuff. It didn't stop [even though] I think I played a lot longer with the Acoustic Warriors than I did with the Hot Licks."

Then, around the turn of the century, he agreed to revive the Hot Licks. "I had a friend who knew this guy who had a record company. I guess he was a fan of the Hot Licks when he was a kid; now he owns a record company, the Surfdog label. He kind of talked me into using the girls again, using the name, Hot Licks, again. I balked at it at first. I'd kind of been there, done that. I thought the Hot Licks means a certain personnel, but not really -- it could be anyone. So I put it together slowly, tried a couple of girls for some local gigs. I always liked the full sound with the girls and that instrumentation. I guess I warmed to the idea -- and I kept going."

In 2001, the revitalized Hot Licks released Beatin' the Heat, a mix of old material and new with cameos by Bette Midler, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits and Brian Setzer. That was followed by a live disc and a DVD recorded on his 60th birthday with just about everybody he'd ever played with taking turns on stage. His most recent album, Selected Shorts, is a collection of new Hicks songs written with the same ironic attitude as his work from the '70s, this time with guests including Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett.

It's hard to say whether or not he is glad to be playing with a reborn Hot Licks band. His dry humor is hard to read over the phone. "People associated me with the Hot Licks name all the time, so I didn't really have too much trouble going back to the name," he said. "It's my name anyway. I'm doing some of the old songs, of course. And I'm doing new stuff too, that's for sure. They're good songs, so why not?"

--Bob Doran

FILM FEST hits the Minor

Now in its 38th year, the Humboldt International Short Film Festival is the oldest student-run festival in the world. Each spring Humboldt State and the Minor Theatre become an underground cinema enclave, from unconventional workshops with renowned independent filmmakers to the Best of Festival night, where developing filmmakers from around the world -- many of them students -- show avant-garde short films on the "big screen" and vie for festival awards.

Eccentric, provocative and sometimes just plain strange short independent animations, experimentals, narratives and documentaries will be shown nightly at the Minor next week, April 4-9, culminating with the judges' favorite film submissions on Saturday night.

Mark F. Tattenbaum, a New Yorker who grabbed HISFF honors in 2002 for his film Views from a Gas Mask, is back this year with a short experimental called The Minotaur. Following his win three years ago, Tattenbaum, 51, went on to earn master's degrees in theater and media studies from State University of New York at Buffalo. He said that his win in Humboldt played a big role in his acceptance to grad school.

"I have very strong feelings about the importance of this festival and how it has positively influenced my life," Tattenbaum said. Presently, he is working on a Ph.D. in American Studies.

In all, 167 short films were submitted this semester. HSU film students whittled the entries down to the 70 best films, or 15 hours of footage. Early next week, three festival judges will choose award winners and narrow the field further, selecting the best four hours to be screened for Best of Festival night on Saturday, April 9. Two hours' worth of student favorites that were not selected by the judges will screen on Friday, April 8, for People's Choice night.

Local festival entrant Bowen Comings is hoping for Best of Festival honors on Saturday. His digitally animated short about shelter and nature called Building a City was among the top tier of student picks this year.

Comings, an HSU graduate, created his 3-minute film on a home computer, adding a soundtrack that he played on guitar. As for future aspirations, the 24-year-old Arcata resident said that he is torn between following a career in filmmaking or music.

"I really like animating, but it's very hard work, very tedious work. Playing music in front of people is instantly rewarding," Comings said.

The judges

[Doug Wolens in long crushed velvet coat, standing in front of view of river]Considering his two most recent documentaries are about tree-sitting and marijuana, San Francisco's Doug Wolens [photo at left], is likely to have a captive audience in Arcata. His 1996 film Weed examined the superfluous praise American tourists had for the cannabis culture in Amsterdam during a pot contest there. In Butterfly, which screens Thursday night at the Minor, Wolens follows Julia "Butterfly" Hill's stint aloft a Palco-owned redwood. Wolens, 45, conducted interviews with Hill from the branches of Luna, and back on the ground with other, more conservative-minded Humboldt County folks including "Climber" Dan Collings. "I don't tell people what to think with this film. People who love [Hill] leave the theater saying, `That's why I love her.' People who hate her leave saying, `That's why I hate her,'" Wolens said.

- o -

The fact that her experimental documentaries do not screen to mass audiences does not bother Naomi Uman. [photo below right] In fact, she prefers it that way. "I am not an entertainer, I have nothing to sell," Uman said in a phone call from her home in Mexico City. In fact, her most recent work, which she described as a video diary, is so intense that she will only show it to four people at a time. "Rather than the number, I am interested in having people who will invest time and effort into the viewing. It is not a passive experience," she said. Uman, 42, will screen five of her films at the Minor on Tuesday, including Removed, a soft-core porn film from the 1970s that she found while working as a projectionist in New York. To manipulate the meaning as well as the look of the film, Uman literally removed the image of the female actress using nail polish on the film emulsion. In Leche, Uman documented the life of a close-knit Mexican family on a dairy farm. The follow-up to Leche is Mala Leche, in which the members of the same family relocate to California's Central Valley. Uman's Hand Eye Coordination and Private Movie will also screen at the Minor.

- o -

[Craig Baldwin]"Found" footage is not hard to come by, according to Craig Baldwin; [photo at left] you just have to know where to look. Sometimes that means a dumpster, a thrift shop, or a library. Baldwin, 53, pieces together various bits of old 16mm found footage, often educational in nature, to make a cohesive political statement. He calls the end product a collage essay. "What I do celebrates a richness of visual culture, but within those parameters I express my opinion and commentary on the issues of the day," he said. On Wednesday Baldwin will screen Spectres of the Spectrum, a film made of sci-fi footage from the 1930s-'70s that is something he calls a compilation narrative. The concept is unique, perhaps unmatched. Baldwin has woven together a series of different characters and scenes from found footage to represent one main character and one central narrative. "It's about articulating ideas with the materials at hand, not the width of your screen or the number of pixels," he said.

See "Calendar" for listings of festival workshops and film screenings.

--Helen Sanderson




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