Woody Allen, the internationally renowned filmmaker who can lay claim to having produced a trove of oft-hilarious, nuanced and—despite the fact that his own whine-happy persona is more often than not the main attraction—disparately-themed movies, also leads an artistic double life. A staggeringly prolific force who cranks out the flicks with a relentlessly precise, non-stop hand, he has, like a jazz-bent Clark Kent, transformed himself from actor-director into a clarinet-blowing Dixieland adventurer every Monday night in a New York City hotel, cafe or pub for the past quarter century. Able to maintain that double life through his fetishistic use of New York as the near exclusive setting for his pictures (excepting his two recent Brit-lensed flicks, Scoop and Match Point), Allen takes his chair on the bandstand as part of the frighteningly capable septet known to the world as Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band, and plunges into an almost arcane musical idiom—Dixieland—that seems on the surface completely out of step with the glittering sophistication of Manhattan.
Even though many may consider it cornball on a scale comparable to the barbershop quartet, Dixieland jazz is one of American music’s most crucial artistic launching points. A roiling, rowdy mixture of primitivism and polish, ensemble cohesion and improvisatory liberation, the New Orleans-born sound reaches back to an early 20th century melding of boozy Storyville ragtime, Congo Square rhythms, the hypnotic power of the blues, brass marching band aggression and Tin Pan Alley hot-cha-cha that, most importantly, invited its proponents to an intuitively cerebral realm of personal expression that had never before been entered. It was a distinct, irresistible sound that not only laid the foundation for high-flying swing and raw-knuckled hard bop, it rose to become a unique institution in and of itself, one that still thrives amongst an army of acolytes who can be found in night clubs scattered across the globe.
While Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band rarely stray from their current sit-down job at the fabled Cafe Carlyle (an achingly ritzy spot so memorably featured in his Hannah and Her Sisters), this out-West safari should more than adequately spotlight their obsessive explorations of the form, serving up equal parts old-school jive, steam-heated communicative soloing, and the indefinable mysterioso spirit that’s kept Dixieland alive for the better part of the last hundred years. Mix in the allure of witnessing the fish-out-of-water neurotic discomfort sure to infect Allen the moment his lungs fill with Coachella Valley desert air (the man just can’t deal outside NYC, as captured in the 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues, where he can be seen sniveling about wanting duck won-ton in Moscow), and perhaps the chance to catch a glimpse of former-daughter-turned-concubine-turned-spouse Soon-Yi Previn—not to mention a load of Allen’s clarinet, put across in a style that owes more to New Orleans genius Sidney Bechet than it does Benny Goodman—and the prospect is an oddball, unlikely and all-American dose of star power.
Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band at the McCallum Theatre, 73-000 Fred Waring Dr., Palm Desert, (760) 340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $75-$175.