Jazz Jottings: Spotlight on Herb Gardner

Music has been the driving force in Herb Gardner’s life and has carried over to his entire family. Growing up in Massachusetts, Herb took piano lessons at an early age, but gave up playing for a period. His interest was rekindled when he heard a rendition of a boogie woogie tune while he was in high school and decided that was something he would like to be able to do.

Such was the start of a career as a free-lance, classic jazz musician that to date has spanned 66 years. Today, at the age of 84, Herb is still playing with local bands in the Greater Boston area (including the New Black Eagle Jazz Band) along with doing a weekly live online show on Facebook (FB/LiveJazzLunch) with his daughter Sarah, who gives children’s music classes and parties.

Herb attended Harvard College where he was a member of the Harvard Band, Bach Society Orchestra, and the Royal Garden 6. Following two years in the Army, he faced that inevitable career decision and knew he wanted to be a professional musician. Believing that “if I don’t go now, I’ll never go,” he headed off to the Big Apple for a career that had him playing with all the jazz greats of that era.

Big Break with Wild Bill

“My first big break in New York was with Wild Bill Davison. I first heard Bill when I was about 12 years old when a friend of my uncle took me to hear him, and I immediately feel in love with his brash combination of jazz and humor. Valve trombonist Marshall Brown, who also came from Massachusetts and was a pioneer in bringing jazz education to high school students, had heard me sitting in on trombone at Jimmy Ryan’s and when he couldn’t make a trip to Toronto for a week with Bill, he sent me as his sub. Returning to New York we played a week at the Metropole, and I was IN! It was a great opportunity and a dream come true.Herb Gardner

“In 1964, I was in Eddie Condon’s band, scheduled to play for a TV broadcast opening the Louisiana Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Flushing, NY. We started to play James P. Johnson’s 1928 tune, “Louisiana.” Bill wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what was going on, and when it came time for his solo, he grabbed his horn and played the unmistakable strain of “I’ll Take Manhattan.” (Well, it does have some of the same notes.) There never was a dull gig when Bill was in the band, and he inspired everyone.”

Multiple Accomplishments

For many years, he served as co-leader of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, playing the inauguration of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton’s victory party, and countless society affairs. In 1967, he conducted the Big Broadcasters for the opening concert of the JVC Jazz Festival. Through his association with the Smith Street Society Jazz Band and Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins, he wrote the music and words to many specialty songs heard regularly on New York radio stations, including “Jazzbeaux Time of Night” and theme songs for many other radio personalities.

For over 30 years, he taught instrumental music to emotionally disturbed children at the Mt. Pleasant Cottage School in Pleasantville, NY. He wrote a book, Jazz Band Ball, about his time playing with all the jazz immortals in New York City. “It’s a collection of autobiographies, but what makes the book special is the photographs taken at the gigs by my wife Kathy, a professional photographer who spent many years working for newspapers. With typical Herb Gardner humor, he calls his Gunshots & Sirens CD, a collection of original songs, “head-scratching enjoyment for everyone.”

Promotion for the Gardners’ other daughter, Abbie describe her as “a fiery dobro player with an infectious smile. Whether performing solo or with Americana harmony trio Red Molly, her acclaimed tales of love and loss, both gritty and sweet, are propelled by her impeccable lap style slide guitar playing. Solo performances feature the dobro as a solo instrument, bouncing between a solid rhythmic backbone and ripping lead lines, all in support of her voice and songs.”

Led by the family patriarch, the Herb Gardner family has done much to keep classic jazz alive and exciting for all these years, proving that “if we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.”

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In early July, noted jazz historian-critic-author Ted Gioia initiated an online petition drive urging the Pulitzer Board to award the Pulitzer Prize for Music which had been denied to Duke Ellington in 1965. Within two weeks, 55,000 individuals had signed the petition, including a dozen former Pulitizer winners, but Gioia had not received a response from the Board, as of this writing.

As Gioia wrote, “The story behind the missing award has long been a source of disappointment and frustration to jazz fans, and a genuine disgrace in the history of the Pulitzer. The jury that judged the entrants that year recommended giving the honor to Ellington for the ‘vitality and originality of his total productivity’ over the course of more than 40 years. It would have been the first time a jazz musician or an African-American received the honor.”

Disregarded Jury’s Choice

“The Pulitzer Board refused to honor the decision of the jury and decided it would be better to give no award, rather than honor Duke Ellington. Two members of the three-person judging panel resigned in the aftermath. As it turned out, no jazz musician would be so honored until Wynton Marsalis received the honor in 1997. Since that time, jazz has been occasionally recognized, and even Ellington got a special citation in 1999—one of a number of posthumous awards that the Pulitizer started giving out, largely as a rearguard action to deflect criticism of past omissions.”

A comment in The New York Times Op-Ed page stated, “The snub was so egregious that it needs to be undone more directly.”

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Colorado’s Durango Cool Jazz is fortunate in booking bassist-vocalist Nicki Parrott for her lone appearance in the United States since her move to her native Australia this past May. Nicki will be coming off a sold-out jazz cruise before heading back to her current home Down Under. The event will be held January 20 and 21, 2023, at the Lift at Cascade on Highway 550, with two cabaret-style dinner seatings at 5 and 8 pm.

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Legendary Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, whom Louis Armstrong dubbed “the man with four hands,” is featured on a new run of $1 coins to be released by the Royal Canadian Mint. The first Canadian musician to appear on a circulation coin, Peterson made more than 400 recordings in his 60-year career, won eight Grammy Awards, and was inducted into Canada’s Music Hall of Fame in 1978. Peterson was born in Montreal in 1925 and died in 2007 at the age of 82.

The coin was put in circulation on August 15, Peterson’s birthday. It will be limited to a mintage of three million coins, of which two million will feature a purple accent, Peterson’s favorite color.

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Jazz Fans responded in unprecedented numbers to Frank Vignola’s appeal to donate to a gofundme campaign to assist Ken Peplowski in his battle with multiple myeloma cancer. Kicked off on July 8, the goal initially was $50,000 and later was extended to $70,000. After five weeks, more than 800 people had contributed just over $88,000, with an average gift of just over $100.

After weeks of intense chemo, self-administered shots every morning, and daily blood tests, Ken continues to fulfill as many engagements as possible, saying “playing is the best therapy possible.” He acknowledges “the incredible outpouring of generosity, the constant support and encouraging words,” saying, “You are literally and figuratively keeping me going, and I’m so grateful to all of you.”

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Randy Morris and Don Vappie are among five 2022 inductees into the American Banjo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. The other three are Sonny Osborne and Alan Munde of Bluegrass fame, and The Banjo Kings, known for playing popular songs and rags from the 1920s and before. The induction will take place during the Bricktown Banjo Bash the weekend of September 22-24.

A native of Los Angeles, Randy Morris has been a professional musician since high school. He joined the Walt Disney Company while a teenager and has worked at Disney theme parks as a musician, arranger, show director and bandleader. He led the band at Rosie O’Grady’s in Orlando, played the part of Bix Beiderbecke in the traveling stage musical, Satchmo: America’s Musical Legend, and been a member of Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band. In addition to the banjo, Randy plays the piano, mandolin, trumpet, and accordion.

Don Vappie has received numerous awards for his contributions to the preservation of New Orleans Creole culture through music and film. He has produced seven albums, co-produced and starred in a PBS documentary, performed as a featured artist on movie and television soundtracks, and at concerts and festivals around the world. Vappie is highly regarded for his unique and original tenor banjo style. His Creole Jazz Serenaders have been a staple on the New Orleans music scene for over 20 years.

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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