The Galvanized Jazz Band, organized for April 27, 2018, Trinity-Pawling School concert by Art Hovey. From left: Charlie Freeman, piano; Cynthia Sayer, banjo; Jim Fryer, trombone; Alex Owen, cornet; Molly Sayles, drums; John Clark, clarinet; and Hovey (not visible), string bass. (photo by Antonia Shoumatoff; courtesy www.themillbrookindependent.com)
(What you sow, so shall you reap)
While still a high school tuba player I discovered that I could play along with Elvis Presley records without the distraction of sheet music. While in college a friend let me borrow some Firehouse Five and Turk Murphy records, and I learned a lot from them. Finding some other guys who could play, I formed a band, and started getting gigs. I managed to keep it up while becoming a high school physics teacher in the 1960s. Occasionally some of my students found out about my hobby and asked if they could bring in their instruments after school for informal jam sessions, which I enjoyed as much as they did.
Fast-forward to 1971 when I found myself onstage with Woody Allen at the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. How the nascent Galvanized Jazz Band stumbled into that gig is another story, but backstage before the show we met Danny Barker. He told us about trying to find instruments for a youth band that he was starting at the Fairview Baptist Church. Back home in Connecticut I went to some garage sales and bought a couple of trombones for something like five bucks apiece, and sent them to Mr. Barker.
A short time later I was on a gig with some older musicians. One of them was talking about retiring from music and disposing of his instruments. When I suggested sending them to Danny Barker he disparagingly remarked that “those kids will never learn to play real jazz.” Since then I have seen photos of that Fairview Baptist Church youth band, and I have been told that one of the kids in them is a very young Wynton Marsalis, another is Dr. Michael White, and another is LeRoy Jones.
Fast-forward another ten or fifteen years: By then I was working regularly on bass and tuba with the Galvanized Jazz Band. Some of my former high school physics students back home from colleges for the summer asked me about having jam sessions at my house. Those sessions continued for three or four summers. We called it my “Backyard Band.” Lew Green gave me photocopies of some Lu Watters charts, which were a big help. By then some primitive notation software was available and I started using it to flesh out some of those charts and make them more legible. My older son, still in high school, played second cornet. Jeff Barnhart sometimes helped out on piano, and Jeff ’s sister Jen played trombone and sang. (She could improvise a vocal harmony when the trumpet player tried to sing lead, and she made him sound good!) We started going out to places where local adult bands were working and asking if we could do a few tunes during the breaks.
When David Greenberg heard the Backyard Band on one of those occasions in Essex (CT) he invited us to do a few sets at his new “Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival.” Our clarinet player couldn’t make it, but Jeff Barnhart recommended a college buddy of his named John Clark to fill in. If I remember correctly, John was then a senior at Connecticut College and Jeff had just graduated. John performed with the Backyard Band at two or three of those summer festivals.
Eventually the Backyard Band members had to go their separate ways. By then my younger son was ready to play trombone in a band, so we started a new one. For a few summers our “New Black Raspberry Jazz Band” performed in the Great CT festival. On more than one of those occasions Ed Metz kindly sat in on piano, sight-reading my primitive charts and making us sound good. At one of those festivals the kids were asked to sit in with a Michigan band led by Dave Tatrow which eventually became known as “Wally’s Warehouse Waifs.” I urged the kids to scoot up onto the stage quickly when called upon, but they plodded up so slowly that Tatrow’s band began playing “Pomp & Circumstance” in time with their steps as they climbed the stairs. It was a priceless moment.
After I retired from high school teaching there were a few years when my lack of recruiting skill meant that I had no youth bands, but the Galvanized Jazz Band (GJB) was still working regularly in Connecticut and at occasional jazz festivals.
In 2006 the Great CT festival was under new management and the board decided to sponsor a new youth band composed of outstanding junior high school kids. They lined up a place for six weekly rehearsals, somehow found a bunch of kids who could play, and put me in charge. I dusted off some of my old charts and went to work. Because of parental support the kids all showed up. Among them were Molly and Emma Sayles, twin sisters in 6th grade, on drums and trombone. I gave them an early recording of the Galvanized Jazz Band with Tommy Benford on drums and Louis Nelson on trombone, and by the next week they understood our kind of music. I managed to keep that “Sugarfoot Jazz Band” going for seven years, bringing in new members whenever we could find them. In addition to the Connecticut festivals we performed for churches, arts alliances, retirement homes, etc. and sometimes during breaks at adult bands’ regular gigs.
Eventually it became too difficult to find new members because by then no youngster believed that he or she could possibly perform at the level which the band had reached. Most of the band members had graduated from college and moved away, and the Connecticut festivals were gradually fading into the sunset. At the Sugarfoot band’s last performance I still had Molly and Emma along with Robert Young on piano and Julie Blum on saxophone. But I had to hunt around for a trumpet player. John Clark was then teaching at Connecticut College; he suggested one of his students named Alex Owen. We did the gig without rehearsal. Alex sight-read all of the trumpet parts, and Julie sight-read Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” flawlessly. (She and Robert knew the rest of our repertoire by heart.)
Since then I have been giving tuba lessons and coaching jazz bands for kids and senior citizens at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, and continuing to work regularly with the GJB and any other band or orchestra that will have me. Fred Vigorito usually handles the GJB bookings and leadership chores, and is still a powerful and polished performer on cornet. For almost 50 years we have avoided stagnation by bringing in guest artists; usually trombonists, but others whenever needed.
It Comes Back Around
This spring (2018) the GJB was asked to fill in for a famous Zydeco band which had canceled a two-day engagement at a prep school in upstate New York. The money was good. Meals and accommodations would be provided. But for various reasons I was the only regular member of the band who was available. So as Morton’s old song says, “I had to look around, and you should see just what I found!” Since part of this gig would be workshops for the students, I felt it was important to have musicians who are into jazz education.
Jim Fryer, now a regular member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and one of our favorite trombonists, said yes. Clarinetist John Clark, now the leader of Boston’s Wolverine Jazz Band, also said yes. Charlie Freeman, the piano man from the Bearcats Jazz Band and a frequent GJB guest, also said yes. Molly Sayles, now working as a music educator in CT and drumming better than ever, said yes. So far my jazz education score was 100%. Jim Fryer mentioned that Cynthia Sayer, the NY banjo and vocal artist is also very interested in jazz education. He put me in touch with her, and she said yes. Several trumpet players who would have been perfect for the job were interested but not available. Then I remembered that Alex Owen is doing a lot of cornet playing in New Orleans but still has family in Manhattan. When he said yes the all-substitute GJB was complete.
Since I am just a bass & tuba player accustomed to following directions, I thought it best to delegate the leadership chores as much as possible. To avoid wasting time onstage we settled on a bunch of familiar tunes by email. I suggested that a different band member could introduce each tune by saying a little about themselves, about their role in the band, and about what we were going to play next. Everyone graciously agreed to do so, and that worked well. John Clark has a lot of experience leading his own Wolverine Jazz Band, so I asked him to do the “ringmaster” chores of pointing to the next soloist, signaling key changes, etc. (It’s hard to give hand signals when you are playing bass.) That also worked well.
Our only rehearsal was a brief sound check. The rest was completely improvised and beyond my wildest hopes in terms of excitement and cohesiveness. We gave four different “workshops” for the students and a big final concert for the public. Regrettably, the only photo from the gig is a poorly-lit one from a reporter’s cell phone. But she did write a nice review of the concert for the local paper.
My point is that “what you sow, so shall you reap!” We had three generations of musicians on the stage who all knew what to do and how to do it.
Art Hovey plays bass and tuba with the Galvanized Jazz Band. For more please visit galvanizedjazz.com.
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