idely viewed as the premier singer of the traditional jazz repertoire from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, Banu Gibson is also a noted bandleader of the group, The New Orleans Hot Jazz, she founded in 1981.
Since then, they have played at jazz festivals and concerts all over the world and on radio, Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and American Public Radio’s “Riverwalk, Live from the Landing,” and on Public Television’s “Jazz from New Orleans.”
They have also performed more than 60 concerts with symphony orchestras including the Boston Pops and a three-night performance locally with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
Gibson is noted for her fresh approach to standards and jazz classics by George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller and Cole Porter. Her wide range and versatility bring new vitality to the music.
Clarinetist Dan Levinson said he first heard Gibson’s band at Disneyland in 1985, about two years after he became interested in traditional jazz.
“I had just started playing clarinet, and I was impressed, not only by the sound of her band, but by her affable demeanor onstage. She had a great rapport with the audience and a quick wit. Her jokes seemed neither written out nor awkward to the point of making the audience feel uncomfortable.”
A performer who is relaxed and in control onstage makes the audience feel comfortable. You don’t worry about something going wrong, he added.
It was through listening to her band that Levinson developed an appreciation for jazz arrangements that he still has today. Most or all of her arrangements at that time were done by her pianist and musical director, David Boeddinghaus. “He is a first-rate pianist who has a comprehensive knowledge of all piano styles of the ’20s and ’30s, from early jazz to swing to boogie woogie,” Levinson said.
“It became a dream of mine to perform with Banu’s band, but I never thought the day would come,” Levinson said. “I had been sitting in with her band in New Orleans and at festivals for years before I finally had the opportunity, in November 2002, to be the one and only reed player in her band.”
Levinson said he has the utmost respect for all the band members, and he has played with some world-class musicians.
“Trombonist David Sager also has a great comic sense and works well with Banu onstage,” Levinson said. “He has a rare understanding of early jazz styles, and because of that, is also the trombonist in my Roof Garden Jass Band and my brand new band, the Canary Cottage Dance Orchestra.”
Gibson’s trumpet player, Randy Reinhart, also has Levinson’s complete respect. “He’s one of my favorite living musicians and also a great friend He has a keen melodic sense and a beautiful tone on the trumpet and cornet,” Levinson said. “He’s also a kind and gentle human being, which comes through in his playing. He’s one of those rare musicians that makes everybody else in the band sound better, a real team player.”
It’s that spirit of community and respect for the music that makes Gibson and her New Orleans Hot Jazz one of the most popular attractions at jazz festivals worldwide.
Banu Gibson and The New Orleans Hot Jazz will appear at 8 p.m., Jan. 28, at the Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University. Tickets can be obtained by calling 310.506.4522.