Jazz Jottings August 2016

The documentary, Vince Giordano – There’s a Future in the Past had its premiere July 10 as part of the Jazz in July series at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. An on-line campaign raised $82,544 from 443 contributors to fund the project. As Bill Charlap, artistic director of the Series, commented, “The Nighthawks play with complete historical authenticity.” The Manchester (UK) International Film Festival had awarded the film a “Best Score” rating.

The sub-title of the film is The Man and the Band Who Make the Jazz Age Come Alive. The Nighthawks have been playing the music of the 20s and 30s for nearly 40 years. Giordano owns 60 vintage instruments and has 60,000 dance band orchestrations from the Jazz Age. The band performs every Monday and Tuesday at the Iguana Tex-Mex Restaurant upstairs lounge, 240 West 54th Street, just off of Times Square.

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The Nighthawks provided musical accompaniment at the showing of four silent films at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art on July 15, one of which was the long-lost 1927 comedy, Battle of the Century. staring Laurel and Hardy who partake in a spectacular custard pie fight. The band also appeared on one of Garrison Keillor’s last A Prairie Home Companion radio programs and can be seen in Woody Allen’s latest flick, Café Society. The veteran filmmaker states, “Vince always gives me the period sound I’m looking for.”

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Geoff Gallante, 15, a member of the Capital Focus Jazz Band directed by Dave Robinson, is one of 21 high school musicians named to the 2016 Next Generation Jazz Band that is currently on a two-week tour of Japan and scheduled to perform at the Jazz Legends Gala in Pebble Beach, CA and Monterey Jazz Festival in September.

A junior at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA, he started playing trumpet at four and has since appeared in 34 states as a soloist with concert, military and brass bands and pops orchestras in addition to performing national anthems at 16 professional MLB, NBA and NHL events. By the age of six, he had already appeared as a guest soloist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and was the youngest instrumentalist to perform at the White House and the Kennedy Center.

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The 2016 Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame inductees are saxophonists Ben Webster and Wayne Shorter and trombonist J.J. Johnson. Webster is known for his work in the orchestras of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and for his collaborations with such artists as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Coleman Hawkins.

One of the leading trombonists of the post-swing era, Johnson played in the Benny Carter and Count Basie bands and was co-leader of a popular quintet with Kai Winding. A prolific bandleader and composer, Shorter was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet.

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Rossano Sportiello performed for three nights at the oldest jazz club in Vienna, Austria in late June before heading off with Frank Roberscheuten and Martin Breinschmid for their summer tour of Europe as the Three Wise Men. Back in the States, Rossano was part of the 92nd Street Y “Jazz in July” series in New York City, celebrating the giants of stride piano – Eubie Blake, Willie “The Lion” Smith and Fats Waller – before his inaugural appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island on July 31.

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Executive director Yvonne Ervin reports that 35% of the ticket buyers for the 2016 Tucson Jazz Festival this past January were from out of town, as opposed to 28% the previous year. “The majority of those visitors stayed for more than five days,” she said. “The Downtown Jazz Fiesta was a tremendous success! The weather was just as glorious as last year, and every venue was standing room only. We had at least 8,000 people at our two main stages and at our indoor venues. People were dancing in the aisles and in front of the MLK Stage all day long.”

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Music historian James Wierzbicki has written an appropriately-titled book, Music in the Age of Anxiety, which makes numerous perceptive connections between music and cultural, social, and political activities of the 1950s. He discusses the coming of age of The Teenager, a new breed that had its own ideas, its own money, and its own music. Dick Clark imposed a dress code on American Bandstand to mollify parents and adults, but is quoted as saying: “Nobody dressed like that in real life.”

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Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen will be the guest of honor at the Roswell Jazz Festival, heading up an all-star lineup of 25 musicians. The 13th annual Festival begins Oct. 19 and runs through the weekend, with performances at several venues located within a few minutes’ drive from the center of Roswell, New Mexico.

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Over the past 10 years, I’ve probably interviewed 100 jazz musicians for my monthly series of personality profiles. As a non-musician, I am surprised on the rare occasion when a musician admits he does not read music well and essentially plays by ear or from memory.

Drawing from several sources, a partial list of non-sight readers includes Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, Dave Brubeck, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and Django Reinhardt before Stephane Grappelli taught him to read. Composer Irving Berlin could neither read nor write music and is said to have played the piano using only the black keys.

You could add blind musicians like George Shearing, Art Tatum, Ray Charles, Roland Kirk, and Stevie Wonder, unless they read a chart in braille and memorized it. But as pianist Errol Garner (who was a self-taught “ear player” and had full sight) is quoted as saying, “Nobody can hear you read.”

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Facebook devotees have been participating in a 50-word quiz to estimate the extent of one’s vocabulary. Heading the list of those musicians who divulged their scores were Bill Dendle (top 1%), Scott Anthony, Jon-Erik Kellso and Katie Cavera. Meschiya Lake, the Belle of the Bayou, scored over 22,000 words, saying “I know words and stuff.” One respondent justified a low score, saying, “You really only need about 10,000 words.” This writer’s score shall remain privileged information, lest my Editor decide to replace me with some loquacious sesquipedalian.

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PAST PREDICTION: Hindsight is an exact science.

Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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