Long Weekend: The Armistice Ball, Buck and a Quarter Quartet, Bickford Theater Benefit, Rum House, Nighthawks at the Iguana

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Jazz Travels with Bill Hoffman

Since this is a nationwide newspaper, I normally don’t report on local jazz events unless it’s to draw your attention to a noteworthy individual or ensemble that I feel should be on your radar, either in the event said musicians are coming to a venue near you, or you happen to be in the greater (and I do mean “greater”) New York area and might like to make the time to see them. Indeed, the fact that I mention them is a de facto recommendation. In mid-November I took a mini-vacation to “greater New York,” and herewith is a wrap-up of what I saw and heard.

The Armistice Ball is held on November 11, or the Saturday closest to it, in Morristown, NJ. I had not been to this event before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But I knew all the musicians on the card, and that was incentive enough to go. This is a dance, not a concert. I believe I was the only non-dancer among the 50 or 60 attendees, nearly all of whom were dressed in World War I-era attire. I simply sat along the wall and watched and listened as the emcee called the dances.

The Metropolitan Club Orchestra was led by drummer Sue Fischer, who for almost the past two years has lived about 15 miles from me in Lancaster County (but that’s about to change due to a re-assignment in her day job). Dan Levinson was on clarinet and alto, Jim Fryer on trombone, Dalton Ridenhour on piano (keyboard), Mike Kuehn on banjo, Rob Adkins on bass, John Landry on violin, and special guest Colin Hancock on trumpet. Colin is the founder and leader of the Original Cornell Syncopators, who were highlighted in this paper about a year ago. Vocals were in the very able hands of Molly Ryan. As one might expect based on the event’s theme, most of the music played was from about 100 years ago, drawn from the repertory of the ODJB and other early dance bands.

The next afternoon, Sunday, November 12, was the Pennsylvania Jazz Society’s concert in Hellertown (just outside of Bethlehem), where the Buck and a Quarter Quartet entertained. I was aware of this NYC-based 5-piece mostly string group but had never heard them. On this occasion they were six pieces: John Gill was added on guitar, supplementing John Bianchi, (leader) reeds; John Landry, violin; Angus Loten, banjo; Ben Mealer, ukelele; and Brian Nalepka, bass and tuba. Most of them also played other instruments at times, and all except Angus contributed vocals. During the last set, two local trombonists, Bob Peruzzi and Peter Reichlin, along with PJS president Mike Kuehn on banjo, were invited to sit in for a few numbers. An impressive list of New York musicians have also played with the band; you can see their names on the band’s website www.buckandaquarterquartet.com.

What I enjoyed most about their performance was the number of obscure tunes they played. Other than the West End Jazz Band, which recorded both of these tunes, I have never heard any other band play “Frankfurter Sandwiches” and “By Special Permission of the Copyright Owner.” This is a fun group, and it’s a shame the PJS crowd was so small. I have them booked for the Tri-State Jazz Society late next year.

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The next evening was the annual benefit concert at the Bickford Theater in Morristown, always held in November. This concert is underwritten by sponsors, so all ticket revenue supports the theater. Dan Levinson always puts together and leads the ensemble, assuring a great show. The band’s size and instrumentation has varied over the years. On this year’s roster were Mike Davis, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Brian Nalepka, bass; Stephane Seva, washboard; and Molly Ryan, guitar and vocals. Stephane has recently relocated to New York from Bordeaux, so I’m looking forward to seeing him more often. He had been with Paris Washboard for the past few years. If you put this concert on your calendar for next year, buy your ticket(s) early, as the 312-seat hall often sells out.

I next ducked into Manhattan to catch the Monday night jam led by pianist Terry Waldo at the Rum House in the Edison Hotel. There are a few regulars who can be counted on to appear: Jim Fryer, Mike Davis, and often Peter Ecklund and Eddy Davis. Dan Levinson used to come, but he recently gave up this gig. On this night Ricky Alexander was on clarinet, and banjoist Nick Russo showed up later.

The Rum House, despite the high caliber of musicians holding forth, is not an ideal listening venue. The room is not large, and half the space, near the bar, is usually filled with people who come to do what people do at bars. That does not include listening to music. The other side, which measures no more than perhaps 600 square feet, has to house the upright piano, the half-dozen (or more) musicians, and cocktail tables and chairs. So it’s often hard to get a seat unless you come early.

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Terry is there by 9:30 but is usually alone until about 11, when the others start trickling in from earlier jobs. The music usually goes on until about 2, but after around 1 the bar patrons start departing, letting the serious listeners prevail. There is no cover charge, just the tip jar, and no minimum. The drinks are a little pricey, but hey, this is midtown Manhattan. There is a limited selection of nibbles at similarly lofty tariffs. Although I come here only once or twice a year, I invariably see fellow jazz fans whom I know by name or by sight. I’ve also met a few international visitors; this time, seated on either side of me at the bar were two young Australian women (totally coincidental—honest!), both of them jazz fans vacationing in New York.

My final event was on Tuesday evening—Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at Iguana. If I’m not already on a musical high when I go in, I am after the first few bars of the opening number. This band is the gold standard for ’20s and ’30s jazz. There are frequently guests on hand whom Vince invites to sit in for a few numbers. Most often these are vocalists, and among those I’ve heard on previous occasions were Banu Gibson, Molly Ryan, and Carole J. Bufford. This night’s guests were Kayre Morrison from Los Angeles and Tatiana Eva-Marie, singer with the New York-based Avalon Jazz Band. I was familiar with Tatiana but not with Kayre. She performs with Dean Mora’s band at L.A.’s Cicada Club, which could be the West Coast equivalent of Iguana. She has a very crisp yet smooth voice and an expressive delivery. I hope she comes back.

As a special treat for me, the band during its last set played Bennie Moten’s “Pass Out Lightly.” I had not requested it this time, but the first time I did, Vince did not have the chart among his 60,000 arrangements. He obtained it from Jim Dapogny, and the band played it sight unseen, masterfully. It’s now part of their book. And finally, I should not fail to mention that Vince, twice during the evening, held up the latest TST and announced he had copies to give out (while they lasted). As he often says, “What a night!” Indeed, it was, and always is.


Jazz Travels columnist Bill Hoffman is a retired management consultant and is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.


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