Jazz Jottings January 2018

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NYC Hot Jazz Camp founders Molly Ryan (left) and Bria Skonberg in the spotlight on Harry Connick, Jr.’s TV program. (video image by David Rosen)

Even from an early age, Nicole Pesce took to the piano like the proverbial duck takes to water:
♫ Beginning at the age of 7, she was classically trained by her late father (who worked with artists ranging from Liberace to Lennie Tristano).
♫ It wasn’t long before she broadened her repertoire to include jazz, blues, country, Latin and Broadway show tunes while learning 100 songs.
♫ At 10, she had memorized 500 tunes and won the Discovery National Television Competition. Shortly after, she landed a steady gig at the prestigious Phoenician Resort, becoming the youngest pianist ever hired to play for “high tea.”
♫ She began composing at age 11 and has since written 300 songs, including being commissioned to write the title track for a CD and documentary produced by the Susan Koman Breast Cancer Foundation. Her Symphony in D Major is a favorite, although Nicole is seldom completely satisfied with her work, calling it “in a perpetual state of evolution.”
♫ Sixty million television viewers saw her on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon when she was 12, which led to an extensive tour of the United States with the legendary comedian and a 16-piece orchestra.
♫ At 13, she had a year-long residency in Las Vegas where she performed on stage with stars like Debbie Reynolds, Rich Little, Buddy Greco, Pat Boone, and Lew King. She has performed for two presidents of the United States as well as the Moscow Ballet.
♫ Her “Happy Birthday Variations” video has had nearly three million views on YouTube and over seven million “shares” on Facebook.

Back in her Hometown

Returning to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, she was soon working six nights a week at various venues. She built up a cult following for seven years at a local café and held forth for 15 years for afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. She’s adept at emulating famed pianists, be it Billy Joel, Dave Brubeck, or Meade Lux Lewis. She will on occasion play three keyboards when performing: a Yamaha Disklavier with a small electric keyboard atop it, plus a full-size synthesizer behind her bench.

Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and George Shearing are among her jazz role models, while she also gives kudos to contemporary classical masters like Olga Kern of Russia and Lang Lang of China. “I consider Oscar Peterson to be my most treasured and prominent influence. He will always be my idol, but I constantly listen to and pull ideas from virtually every genre and instrument, hoping to bring a new twist to old favorites.”

Always looking to improve, she is taking on-line courses on composing, arranging and theory from the Berklee College of Music, saying “a song has to have some kind of harmonic structure to work on the piano.” She briefly taught piano, keyboard organ, and accordion, has degrees in computer science and information systems, and is certified as a web designer.

She will invite her audience to suggest tune titles and will then play a non-stop medley of seven or eight songs ranging from a Beatles favorite to a Rachmaninoff masterpiece to Rodgers & Hart. Drawing on the inventory of the 12,000 songs she has memorized, she bounces easily from jazz to pop to classical, be it Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” to Slim & Slam’s 1938 hit, “Flat Foot Floogie,” prompting one publication to refer to her as “the human iPod.”

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The City Council of Kansas City has passed an ordinance that will provide funding for the ongoing operations of the American Jazz Museum and also initiate an organizational assessment regarding future management of the Museum and other facilities. The Museum, which has been run by a non-profit organization, has been dealing with financial issues and has incurred deficits from previous events.

Effective May 1, 2018, the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department will take over control and management of the Museum, the Blue Room (a fully-functioning jazz club), the Horace Peterson 18th & Vine Visitor Center, the Gem Theater (a venue across the street from the Museum that hosts large jazz events), and the tenant space for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

According to a statement from the City Council, “By taking the time to complete this organizational assessment, we will be preparing for the strategic and business planning that is to come. We will engage strategically with nationally-known museum professionals who can lead us in a process that will honor the real history of 18th & Vine by engaging artists, musicians, historians, and cultural planners.”

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Medical Report: On December 7, Katie Cavera’s radiation doctor informed her that her tumor had shrunk 60-70%. “The chemo and radiation for the cancer did exactly what it was supposed to do.” She is scheduled for surgery this month, after which she will need six weeks for recovery.

Kristy Reed Cocuzzi reports she and husband John had quite an adventure on their East Coast tour in November. While performing and making new friends on the trip, she revealed, “I even left a body part in North Carolina—emergency gallbladder removal surgery on Black Friday after a night in the hospital—Happy Thanksgiving!—then a gig the next day. Am healing nicely.”

High Sierra’s super sousaphonist Earl McKee is back at home in Three Rivers, California after rehabilitating from recent surgeries and hospitalization.

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Highlights in Jazz, New York City’s longest-running jazz series has announced its 46th season with concerts scheduled for February 22, March 22, May 10 and June 21 at the Tribeca Arts Center. Among the performing artists will be Dick Hyman, Jimmy Heath, Bucky Pizarelli, Ken Peplowski, Russell Malone, Houston Person, Wycliffe Gordon, Chuck Redd, and Peter and Will Anderson.

According to producer Jack Kleinsinger, “All-star jams are my stock-in-trade—bringing musicians together to play with people that don’t play with every night of the week. The audience gets to hear something different from what they’ll hear in the clubs. I especially like to include a variety of younger artists and veterans.”

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A highlight at the recent Arizona Classic Jazz Festival was the rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” by a trio of top-notch clarinetists: Pieter Meijers, Noel Kaletsky, and Dave Bennett. There’s a 13-minute video on YouTube produced by Franklin Clay Films.

According to Wikipedia, Ellington first recorded the song in 1927 and was issued a copyright for it as composer the following year. However, the main melody appears earlier in the Joe “King” Oliver composition, “Camp Meeting Blues,” which Oliver recorded with his Creole Jazz Band in 1923.

Apparently, Ellington saxophonist Rudy Jackson had presented the melody to Duke, claiming it was his own composition. After Ellington’s recording came out, Joe Oliver attempted to sue for payment of royalties and composer credit. The lawsuit failed due to problems with Oliver’s original paperwork, resulting in Oliver not holding a valid copyright. Ellington fired Jackson over the incident, bringing in Barney Bigard as his replacement.

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The Newport Jazz Festival Assembly has funded a performance series that brought music to elementary schools throughout Rhode Island with minimal or no music programs. The 35-40 minute assemblies introduced students to the music presented at the Newport Jazz Festival, and consisted of oral presentations, question-answer sessions, and musical segments that spanned the timeline of jazz history from Dixieland to Modal Jazz.

“Music is a language that brings people together and takes individuals to a place that words sometimes can’t reach,” said Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein. “I can still remember the music assemblies at my grammar school. They changed my life and helped build the foundation for my career in music. It is important to introduce young people to music in their early years, and we hope these concerts make life-long impressions on their future listening experiences.”

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Molly Ryan and Bria Skonberg had a great time at Harry Connick, Jr.’s nationally-televised talk show on December 1. They were there to celebrate Bria’s birthday, and Molly was selected as one of four members of the audience to ask a question of Harry. The question had to do with husband Dan Levinson getting rid of his prodigious record collection. Harry’s advice was “not so fast,” but Dan opted to donate 2,000 LPs to a university and is now “Digital Dan.”

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From the Only In New York City Department: Vintage Train Swing Dance Party was held in the new 2nd Avenue subway station. Did the dancers “Take the A Train” to get there?


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