By Scott Hayes
MERIDEN, Conn. — This central Connecticut city’s suburban east side was filled with the vibrant sounds of Dixieland jazz when The Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival set up camp for a three-day stay.
The 24th annual jazz festival that originated in Essex and had short stays in Moodus and at an outing facility in Wallingford most recently, shifted this year to the comfort of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel with three indoor, air-conditioned venues and two outdoor stages under tents.
With plenty of sunshine and weather in the mid-80’s from opening night July 31 through Sunday afternoon, August 1, the event approached record attendance by its second day. Fourteen bands shared five stages on a rotating basis, playing one-hour sets. Music ranged from the origins of jazz in New Orleans to ragtime and swing, documenting an era in which the tuba or bass, banjo and drums formed the rhythm section and clarinet, trombone and trumpet combined on lead.
The experience was a music appreciation crash course in the history of traditional jazz. The performers routinely dug into the genre’s rich heritage to play a Jelly Roll Morton composition, an obscure Louis Armstrong song, a number with a French title from Sidney Bechet’s venture in the 1920’s to introduce jazz to Paris, or a Scott Joplin ragtime tune.
One of the youngest performers, 23-year-old Stephanie Trick, a stride pianist from St. Louis, delighted crowds with her pristine playing. She performed the music of jazz founders such as James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Morton, and Joplin. Stride developed from ragtime, Trick told her audience, but “it’s faster, more virtuosic with more emphasis on the movement of the left hand across the keys” to provide a bass beat.
Trick opened her Friday night set with “The Viper’s Drag,” a composition by Waller, a 1930’s stride pianist and followed with “Echoes of Spring” by one of Waller‘s peers, Willie “The Lion” Smith. She displayed her virtuosity on another Waller song, “The Minor Drag,” then performed “Tango Seville” by a contemporary of hers, French stride pianist Louis Mazetier.
By the time Trick finished her 55-minute set that included Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”, Waller’s “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Eubie Blake’s “Troublesome Ivories”, James P. Johnson’s “The Mule Lock”, a 30’s boogie woogie tune, “Shout for Joy”, “Champs des Elysees, Louis Armstrong’s “Just A Gigolo,” and Morton’s “The Fingerbreaker, the audience had been given a jazz history lesson.