It’s a special time for festival goers when they are introduced to a band they haven’t heard before that suddenly gets everyone excited, fills the venues to capacity, and becomes the topic of conversation for all in attendance.
Such was the case at two recent festivals as glowing reports reached me from Sun Valley concerning the Black Market Trust, and I saw first-hand the excitement We3 + 1 generated at the Arizona Classic Festival in Chandler.
A five-member jazz band based in Los Angeles, Black Market Trust features the Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy sound of acoustic instruments, and infuses classics from the Great American Songbook with intricate vocal harmonies inspired by The Beach Boys, and other artists influential to the group. Since the 2012 release of their all-instrumental debut album The Black Market Trust, the band has gone on to record two more albums, maintain a busy touring schedule, and have their music featured on TV shows like the ABC television series Happy Endings and the Hulu original program Casual.
A local favorite for the past decade, We3’s Nicole Pesce is the most exciting keyboardist that I’ve heard since being introduced to Rossano Sportiello. Suzanne Lansford, whose day job is as an electrical engineer for nuclear power and public infrastructure projects, plays a jazzy violin. Vocalist Renee Patrick is the daughter of a former member of one of the Ink Spots groups. Sheila Early, who was tutored by drumming legends Joe Morello and Jeff Hamilton, compliments the all-female group nicely.
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Oldtimers will remember Steve Yocum’s Black Dog Jazz Band, one of those bands that took the festival circuit by storm back in the late 1980s and 1990s. Composed of a group of young staff musicians who worked for Disney properties in Florida, the Dogs offered a radical departure from any other band at that time with their unique fusion of New Orleans Second Line, Swamp jazz, zydeco, and Jump Swing. In 1991-92, the Dogs appeared at 36 festivals, a killing pace that began to affect their personal lives and ultimately led to their disbanding in 1997.
Where are they now? Trombonist Yocum has been living in Holland and unfortunately is battling throat cancer. Davy Jones is the featured cornetist with the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra at Disney World. “Gentleman Jim” Buchmann is living in the Pacific Northwest, and David Poe, his successor on reeds, is in Las Vegas.
Pianist Tom Hook leads the Terrier Brothers and lectures on the history of the Mississippi River from his New Orleans base. Living in Florida and still working are drummer Ed Metz, who appears at some 15 festivals and jazz parties throughout the year and freelances with a number of other groups; Bob Leary, the former Banjo King on Main Street at Disney World frequently performs with his violinist wife; and multi-instrumentalist Randy Morris, who has been a Disney staff musician for 28 years. Dave Gannett, he of the pyrotechnic tuba, is semi-retired in Davenport, Iowa, but occasionally resurrects his Barehanded WolfChokers.
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Clarinetist Orange Kellin and multi-instrumentalist Lars Edegran, both of whom grew up in Sweden before migrating to New Orleans, and Lester Caliste, a local native who plays the trombone, were recently designated Master Practitioners by the Preservation Hall Foundation. The honor is for musicians who are at least 70 years old and who have made significant contributions to the New Orleans community and its jazz heritage. Interestingly, it comes with a monthly stipend and benefits that included lawn maintenance and French Quarter parking for performances.
Edegran and Kellin, who goes by “Orange” because Americans can’t pronounce his Swedish given name, Orjan, formed the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra that performed at the first Newport Jazz Festival. They also worked together in the Vaudevillian revue, One Mo’ Time, one of the longest-running off-Broadway shows that also had a long run in London’s West End. Caliste played in Harold Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band.
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Longtime leader of the Professor Plum Jazz Band, trumpeter Phil Kirk, has announced that he is retiring from active playing due to medical problems, stating, “It’s been an exciting ride for over 50 years. My thanks to our fans for their wonderful support.”
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Selma Heraldo lived in the little white house in Corona, Queens, next to the one in which Lucille and Louis Armstrong lived. When Selma died in 2011, she willed her two-story home to the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs has recently allocated $1.9 million to help renovate Selma’s House, which has begun to show its age. In a separate project, construction is currently underway to build an educational center and jazz club across the street from the Armstrong House.
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Trombonist Stan Vincent is the sole remaining, active charter member of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band that played its initial gig on a retired steamboat in Boston Harbor in 1971. Stellar reedman Billy Novick serves as the group’s musical director. Holding forth on the bandstand along with Stan and Billy at a recent engagement were cornetist Jeff Hughes, Herb Gardner on piano, drummer Bill Reynolds, bassist Jesse Williams, and Duke Robillard on guitar.
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A note attached to the flyer promoting the 2019 Jazzaffair stated: “We are sad to announce that the High Sierra Jazz Band will play its last set at 4 pm on April 14, 2019 at the Lions Arena in Three Rivers, California, at the close of the 46th annual Jazzaffair. The band will no longer exist with the present personnel. Come and see its ‘Swan Song.’”
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Pianist Mike Greensill sadly reports that Silo’s Restaurant in Napa, California, where he and his late wife, vocalist Wesla Whitfield, regularly performed for 12 years, will not be booking new acts for the beginning of 2019. The word from the owners was “The entertainment venue will be closed while discussions continue on revamping the space, and a new business plan is developed.”
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Effective January 1, 2019, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz will become the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. The decision was the result of a request from representatives of the Monk Estate regarding the continued use of Thelonious Monk’s name. Hancock has served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the past 15 years.
Looking to expand the Institute’s worldwide jazz education and humanitarian initiatives, Hancock stated, “We will continue teaching the history, traditions and importance of jazz along with exploring new directions and horizons for the future.” The Institute will still partner with UCLA’s graduate-level program at the Herb Alpert School of Music.
In another groundbreaking initiative underway, Math, Science, and Music uses music as a tool to teach math and science to young people, helping them to gain skills and acquire knowledge in STEM subjects (i.e., Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) while learning to think creatively.
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In the “false news” department, a report circulated that singer-songwriter Michael Buble intended to retire from performing because of the emotional impact that his three-year-old son Noah’s battle with liver cancer had on his family. But it didn’t take long for a denial to be forthcoming that the popular Canadian vocalist, who has won four Grammys and sold over 75 million records, would embark on a 27-city tour of the United States, beginning in February.
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Legend has it that baritone Whispering Jack Smith from the 1920s and ’30s developed his unique and intimate singing style as the result of bronchial injuries sustained during a gas attack on the battlefield in France during World War I. While he apparently survived such a harrowing experience, Smith was still able to project his voice as powerfully as any of his stage-performing peers. It was the introduction of the microphone in 1925 that enabled him to create the soft-spoken persona that was half-spoken, half-sung, which was radically different from his loud vaudevillian contemporaries. Smith’s biggest hits were “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” “Me and My Shadow,” and “Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya Huh?”
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Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble was once quoted as saying, “There’s only two kinds of music: The Star Spangled Banner and the Blues.”
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