The Joe Holt Trio and singer Beth McDonald put on a varied yet consistently enjoyable show at the Church Hill Theater in Church Hill, Maryland. As pianist Holt explained near the beginning of the night, he performs music billed as “Happiness Is A Thing Called Jazz.” There was a definite joy felt in each of the performances even though it did cover a wide range of music.
Joe Holt began the show with a medley of Fats Waller's best known songs: “Ain't Misbehavin'” (taken at a medium tempo) and a cooking “Honeysuckle Rose” which climaxed with some hot stride. After talking in an educational and informative manner about what jazz is, he played Scott Joplin's “The Entertainer” first as ragtime, and then as jazz in a witty manner.
Singer-songwriter Beth McDonald joined the pianist for a cheerful version of “The Glory Of Love.” Bassist Gary Cattley and drummer Mike McShane, regular members of the Joe Holt Trio, assisted the pianist on a rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” that swung like Oscar Peterson. Next up were three originals by Ms. McDonald. The first piece was originally a lullaby but in this version had the feel of reggae. An instrumental had Cattley switching to tuba, and the third number was a humorous story in which Beth sang about the “joys” of being pregnant.
The trio performed Chick Corea's “Spain” (which Holt called a bit of a curve ball), coming up with a creative version that did not sound at all like Corea. The first half of the show concluded with the singer introducing an original folk song while accompanied by Holt.
The good spirits and eclectic program continued throughout the second half. Holt first played a classical melody unaccompanied and then, when joined by Cattley and McShane, it became an uptempo romp. The trio performed a thoughtful “Christmas Time Is Here” and a hard-swinging “Linus And Lucy.”
A “Disney Medley” comprised of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah,” “The Bare Necessities” and “I Want To Be Like You” was a delight, featuring Beth McDonald and the tuba of Cattley. The singer was also heard at her best on “Somebody Loves Me” and a warm version of “Why Try To Change Me Now.” She concluded the show with a rockish original and an emotional duet with Holt on the spiritual standard “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Called back for an encore, an uptempo instrumental rendition of “When You're Smiling” segued into Ms. McDonald's touching vocal on Charlie Chaplin's “Smile.”
There were no slow moments throughout the show, the audience was rightfully enthusiastic, and Joe Holt and his musical friends succeeded in demonstrating that jazz can certainly be happy music.
Author of ten books including Swing, The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76