Tag Archives: Cynthia Sayer

“RHYTHM WAS HIS BUSINESS”: REMEMBERING KEN SALVO

Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.

He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.

Clarinetist JOE LICARI:

I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:

A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October.  The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening.  Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there.    On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car.  We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late.   The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement.  Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested.  Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more:  Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion.  He enjoyed playing there as well.  I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:

Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.

He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!

I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.

Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:

Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.

Photograph by Aidan Grant

Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:

As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.

Photograph by Bela Szaloky

Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, bandleader VINCE GIORDANO:

I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.

Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.

How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.

Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.

One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.

So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.

Photograph by Jenna Perlette

Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:

This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.

Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.

Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.

Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.

In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.

All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.

The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.

I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.

Photograph by Marcia Salter

Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:

We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.

Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.

P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.

May your happiness increase!

“GET HOT, CAMPERS!”: NEW YORK HOT JAZZ CAMP (May 15-21, 2017)

I’m writing this on March 14, 2017, which on the East Coast of the United States was supposed to be “the blizzard of the century,” and although the forecast was more than a little hyperbolic, when I look out of my window, I can see my car covered with snow below me.  It might lead anyone to dream of warmer weather and appropriate musical pleasures.

Imagine a Cozy Cole drum roll here, as I present to you . . .

Now, if the words “ADULT CAMP” summon up visions of skinny-dipping in the woods, I think you might have the wrong venue.  I’m sorry.  My guess is that the campers might be too busy working through the strains of WOLVERINE BLUES for such aerobics, but I could be wrong.  At least I can promise you that no one will get carsick on the bus.

Some details:

ADULTS –18 and up. All Skill levels. “A great participatory learning experience with some of New York’s most respected trad-jazz musicians, recording artists, and mentors.  Related guest lectures, master classes, and exclusive music & history field excursions.  Evening jams at notable historic jazz venues.
Informal, non-intimidating active small ensemble and improvisation work with a select, encouraging network of like-minded musicians.  Space and sectional openings limited: of course, first come, first served.  Visit here to sign up or to learn more.”

That’s from the press release.  This is from Michael: everyone on that list really knows how to play and sing; you can find them on this blog and in my videos. They are good-hearted people, so if you mess up the introduction to WEST END BLUES you won’t get snapped at.  I’m told that fifty percent of last year’s campers are returning this year, which is a good indication that people enjoyed themselves, learned a good deal, and thought it was worth the price.  Check it out while space remains.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE JAZZ BOROUGH: DENNIS LICHTMAN’S QUEENSBORO SIX, PART ONE (August 29, 2015)

Manhattnites think theirs is the jazz borough: Harlem, Fifty-Second Street, the Village.  Sorry, but no.  It’s Queens, home to Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bix Beiderbecke, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Clarence Williams, Count Basie, Milt Hinton . . .

QUEENS map

And the jazz glories of this borough aren’t only historical (read: dusty).  Dennis Lichtman proved that vividly in his concert — with his Queensboro Six — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (34-56 107th St, Corona, Queens, by the way) on August 29, 2015.  The band was Dennic, clarinet, compositions, arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Nathan Peck, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Rob Garcia, drums; Terry Wilson, vocal, with guest stars Ed Polcer, cornet; Tamar Korn, vocal.

And there were luminaries not on the bandstand: Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi (who does the introduction), Brynn White, Cynthia Sayer, Jerome Raim, among others.  Dennis, and we, thank the Queens Council on the Arts for their support that made this concert possible.

DENNIS LICHTMAN poster

Here’s the first half of the concert.  Dennis explains it all, so watch, listen, and savor.

CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME:

ROAD STREET PLACE COURT AVENUE DRIVE:

FOR BIX:

BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU (vocal Terry Wilson):

SQUEEZE ME (vocal Terry Wilson):

WALTZ FOR CAMILA (Dennis, Dalton, Nathan):

7 EXPRESS:

SWING THAT MUSIC (add Ed Polcer):

The second half will arrive (on the express track) shortly.

May your happiness increase!

COMING RIGHT UP! NEW YORK HOT JAZZ STAGE at NEW YORK WINTER JAZZFEST (Friday /Saturday, January 9 – 10, 2015)

I can’t be there.  But this is one sure way to combat post-holiday ennui and January chills: a compact yet intense hot jazz fiesta with some of the best contemporary traditional (that’s not an oxymoron) players and singers.

MISHA

It will take place at the Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, New York City, which has “excellent acoustics and uninterrupted hardwood floors” for dancing, which is encouraged. Here are the details:

“Note that passes are available only for the entire festival, which gives each “marathon” ticketholder access to all the acts throughout the neighborhood, if you care to venue-hop. Or stay with us and enjoy 5 hot jazz bands per night, from roughly 6 PM – midnight. (Detailed schedule below.) $35 per night, or $55 for the full weekend.

Friday, Jan 9:

6:15 – Cynthia Sayer’s Joyride Band
7:30 – Jon Weber – ragtime and stride piano
8:45 – Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo with Jason Anick
10:00 – Gordon Webster Sextet with Brianna Thomas

Note: at 12:45am, Bria Skonberg Quintet will be at Zinc Bar, 82 West 3rd St., and this set is included in your pass.

Saturday, Jan. 10:

6:15 – The Ladybugs
7:30 – Dan Levinson’s Gotham SophistiCats w/ Molly Ryan & Blind Boy Paxton
8:45 – Stephane Wrembel
10:00 – Catherine Russell
11:05 – David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band

Ticket options and general info here.

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY:

*This is a general admission, standing- (and dancing-) room event.

*Tickets are NOT available solely for the NY Hot Jazz Stage. There are only full-festival passes for the day/weekend/combo Winter Jazzfest. A festival pass grants admission to all Jazzfest venues. Each venue is subject to space limitations and admittance is granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

*The festival check-in is at Judson Church, which is several blocks away from Greenwich House Music School.”

For more information, you may also visit and browse here.

I understand that some enthusiasts’ budgets might be strained with holiday expenses.  But $35 for one night or $55 for two will seem less daunting when one considers — simple math — that if you wanted to see / hear any of these artists perform live for sixty to seventy-five minutes, it would cost more than the prices here (about six dollars a set for one night, less than five dollars a set for the whole package).  It’s cheaper than a new winter coat, and the glow should take you all the way to spring.

May your happiness increase!

 

CYNTHIA SAYER TAKES A “JOYRIDE” — or FOUR STRINGS, NO WAITING

Cynthia Sayer, ebullient banjoist, singer, composer, has a new CD out — called JOYRIDE.  In my childhood parlance, a joyride was when you stole someone’s car, drove it like mad, and left it somewhere else.  But I think Cynthia’s criminal record is clean, so listeners need not fear.

JOYRIDEJOYRIDE is another stop on the journey Cynthia has been on for years — bringing her beloved instrument into the musical mainstream and rescuing it from jokes about its limitations.

For the CD, she offers ancient pop tunes, show music, Thirties swing classics, Hank Williams, Walt Disney, tangos, and a few originals.  (Warning, though: two of the songs here — one an original and one a Malneck-Mercer classic — are aimed at people who have just had a relationship explode.  Starry-eyed romantics may find them a little vinegary.)

Cynthia is aided and abetted by Charlie Giordano, accordion; Mauro Battisti, string bass; Larry Eagle, percussion; Sara Caswell, violin; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Jon Herington, electric guitar; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone / taragoto [hear him light up the sky on HONEY, playing Joe Muranyi’s beloved horn]; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Mike Weatherly, string bass / backup vocals.  JOYRIDE is part of Cynthia’s efforts to introduce to a wider audience the 4-string jazz banjo and the music associated with it.  Her CD will be issued on January 22, and the celebration of its release will take place at Joe’s Pub in New York City a week later (425 Lafayette Street NY, NY 10003: phone (212) 539-8778) at 7:30.  Tickets can be purchased  hereHer show will focus on “hot swing,” but also original compositions, tangos, and other surprises.  Hear I LOVE PARIS — a track from the new CD here.  And to learn more about Cynthia and her continuing musical adventures, click here.

May your happiness increase.

ZELDA: THE MAGAZINE OF THE VINTAGE NOUVEAU

This post is about a charming magazine you ought to know — ZELDA: THE MAGAZINE OF THE VINTAGE NOUVEAU — whose fifth issue has just appeared.

If you are instantly taken by that cover, you may skip what follows and leap into http://www.zeldamag.com — why waste time with descriptions when you could become a subscriber right away?  ZELDA is published twice a year, and its issues are not the kind of thing you would want to throw out.

ZELDA (named for the brilliantly creative and underacknowledged bride of F. Scott Fitzgerald) was the creation of the very talented Diane Naegel — who died far too young after battling breast cancer.  Her fiance Don Spiro and the people who love her and her vision have kept ZELDA afloat — feeling, I think, that to do anything else out of grief would be the wrong thing entirely.  I learned about the magazine from Lynn Redmile, who has a fine eye for detail — current and vintage.

For three years, Diane and Don (a fine photographer) have also produced a series of monthly evenings (held in a former Manhattan speakeasy) called “Wit’s End,” Jazz Age-themed evenings “with Prohibition-era cocktails and a dress code.”  At these events, friends of Don and Diane played hot jazz — including Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Baby Soda, The Red Hook Ramblers, Cynthia Sayer, Gelber and Manning, and others.*

Not irrelevantly, the first Wit’s End party of 2012 is coming up in a few days — and it features the music of the Big Tent Jazz Band (where you can hear Lucy Weinman swing out) in a tribute to Texas Guinan.  Here’s the Facebook link.

But back to ZELDA itself.  It is not a museum catalogue of ancient clothing that one might look at but never put on.  Rather it is a vivid tribute to all things “vintage,” a term that includes the music.

In the best way, ZELDA celebrates living artistically in a style which continues to be strikingly fashionable if one understands it.  “Vintage” here is not just a kind of antique Halloween getup to be applied when the time is right, but an entire way of being — something that Oscar Wilde would have approved of: creating oneself as a living work of art.

But it’s not all about black-and-white shoes.

Well-written features in past issues have included a recalled interview with Ginger Rogers, current interviews with actress Marsha Hunt (then 92), Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Ziegfeld showgirl Doris Eaton Travis, profiles of Janet Klein, Jesse Gelber and Kate Manning, features on vintage cocktails, neckties, fingerwaving, pincurling, profiles of various cities for their vintage appeal, advertisements from shops and online sellers of everything from rare records to vintage jewels, an advice column . . . and more!

The newest issue contains articles and features on Fanny Brice, cosmetics, the Sweet Hollywallians, KING KONG, and more.  It’s beautifully laid out and a pleasure to read . . . and you’ll find yourself returning to older issues for witty, arcane yet pertinent information.  For myself, I will never be a vintage fashion icon — but I take great pleasure in learning about the art and its practitioners.

*For more information about the Wit’s End gatherings, visit    http://clubwitsend.com/

But these events are serious about vintage attire, so be forewarned: “ABSOLUTELY NO ENTRY WILL BE PERMITTED TO THOSE WEARING JEANS, ATHLETIC SHOES, ZIP-UP JACKETS, OR CASUAL ATTIRE.”  Elegance asks only that we leave our sneakers at home for one night — to recall a time and place where one dressed differently for, say, gardening, and going to an evening dance.

THE SPARKS WILL FLY (November 21, 2010)

Tri-State Jazz Society presents Cynthia Sayer and the Sparks Fly Quintet, Sunday November 21, from  2 – 5 pm.

Cynthia’s quintet features herself on banjo, vocals, and irrepressible enthusiasm; Charlie Caranicas on trumpet and eloquence; Scott Robinson on many saxophones and gratifying surprises; Mike Weatherly on string bass, vocals, and rocking swing; Larry Eagle on percussive propulsion (also called his trap kit).  Having seen and admired Cynthia in many performance settings, I can assure readers that they will be enlightened, entertained, and never bored — her musical and emotional range is wide and deep.

This concert will be held at the Brooklawn American Legion Post at 11 Railroad Ave, Brooklawn NJ 08030. Half-price admission is $10 available for first-time attendees and members.  High school and college students with IDs and children accompanied by a paying adult are free.  Pay at the door; there are no advance sales or reservations. The American Legion hall is approximately 10 minutes from the Walt Whitman Bridge. For information call (856) 720-0232 or visit www.tristatejazz.org.

 Cynthia has accumulated numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Banjo Hall of Fame. Her most recent CD release, “Attractions,” which includes legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, received two 2009 award nominations. She is also a subject of a PBS documentary about the banjo, expected to be aired in 2011. Please visit www.cynthiasayer.com for more about Cynthia, the band, their concert performances and samples of music and video recordings.

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME

Two scenes from contemporary life in and around jazz, April 9 and 10, 2010:

Last night I made a pilgrimage to the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place in New York City to hear the remarkable banjoist / singer Cynthia Sayer and the noble pianist Mark Shane.  The two large rooms that house the Knickerbocker were crowded, although I found a table near the piano. 

Cynthia and Mark played beautifully — mostly up-tempo romps: LINGER AWHILE, WOLVERINE BLUES, YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME, and a sweet stroll through APRIL SHOWERS and a funky boogie-inflected YELLOW DOG BLUES.  Cynthia’s single notes hit like gunshots; she slid up and down the fingerboard in chordal glissandos; she kept the rhythm going.  Mark, a peerless accompanist and soloist, evoked Wilson and Waller and Flanagan and Hines, all splendidly woven together into Shane. 

The volume of conversation was so high that I had to strain to hear the music.  At the end of the set, Cynthia said to me, “Gee, I had a hard time hearing myself!” and Mark noted, “The noise level in this room is worse for your ears than gunfire.”  People walked so close to Cynthia while she was playing that she had to bend the neck of her banjo back to avoid getting knocked over.  Someone accosted her while she was soloing to request a tune; she kept playing and spoke to the inquirer politely. 

But it was apparent that almost no one was listening.  Perhaps eight people applauded.  Perhaps ninety-five percent of the diners didn’t keep quiet, didn’t know that there were live musicians (people!) creating music in front of them, or didn’t care.

I applaud the courage of Cynthia and Mark and their colleagues who keep creating in the face of indifference and noise.  I couldn’t do it — when I’m teaching, I ask my students to stop talking and to pay attention.  Jazz musicians, cast as “entertainers” at best or an odd version of a large iPod at worst, rarely say, “Would you all have the decency to keep it down a bit?” and I admire their heroism and restraint.  I don’t expect a restaurant to become a concert hall, and I do think that people have a right to eat their dinner and talk to their friends.  But I wonder who won or lost during that hour of combat between art versus loud self-absorbed talk at the Knickerbocker. 

On a more personal note: a writer’s voice is much like his or her speaking voice — individualistic, perhaps idiosyncratic.  I saw today’s batch of Google Alerts — one of them for Jo Jones — and began to read a memorial essay on Jake Hanna published on someone else’s blog (call it JAZZ IS FOREVER, not its name).  I saw that someone I don’t know had “written” a piece on Jake Hanna, most of which was one I had written, word for word without credit. 

I commented on this post politely, pointing out to the blog’s creator that it was not good manners to take someone else’s prose without crediting the writer.  I appealed to his courtesy while being courteous; I signed my name, appended my blog information and email address.  About eight hours later I returned to my computer and, out of curiosity, clicked on this site.  Had the gentleman printed my comment?  Had he ignored the whole thing?  Had he credited me?  None of the above: he had removed my words silently.  

Did I win a victory for intellectual property, against online plagiarism, or did I lose the opportunity to have my thoughts on Jake Hanna spread to even more readers — without my name, which frankly means less than honoring Jake?

I know that it matters not if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.  But Cynthia, Mark, and I are trying to play by the rules.  It’s not always easy. We keep trying.

CYNTHIA SAYER at the KNICKERBOCKER! (June 12-13, 2009)

Cynthia SayerCynthia Sayer, the banjo virtuoso, engaging singer and pianist, has been busy of late working on a variety of projects.  And that busy-ness has meant that she hasn’t taken as many gigs in New York City as she might . . . but that is about to be rectified in a most swinging way. 

Cynthia and the delightful pianist Mark Shane — justly celebrated in this blog — will be performing on June 12 and 13 (Friday and Saturday) at the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill, 33 University Place at Ninth Street.  (212.228.8490, or www.knickerbockerbarandgrill.com., you choose.)  The practical details?  The cover charge is modest (the last time Cynthia performed there, it was $5.)  The music will begin at 9:45. 

Cynthia says:

“Surprise guest players” have often stopped by to sit in for some tunes in the past.  Anything is possible!  

Knickerbocker gigs offer me the very rare opportunity to play duos with pianists.  I know that the whole banjo/piano duo concept is an old cliche so maybe it seems sort of funny how unusual it is for me, but it’s true. (Please visit my January 2009 YouTube clips from Smalls to get an idea of a typical line-up for me.)  I’m enjoying the change, not to mention working with various wonderful pianists.  My repertoire will include popular ’20s – ’40s tunes and some lesser known gems that I like, plus of course some features from Mark.  Some tunes I like are, of course,  “Them There Eyes,” “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” “Over The Rainbow,” “What’ll I Do,”  “Doin’ The New Low Down,” “The Glory Of Love,, “There Aint No Sweet Man (That’s Worth the Salt Of My Tears),”  “El  Choclo,” “Shakin’ The Blues Away,”  and “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Love.”

I don’t see why anyone should need more information before marking their calendars, but if anyone does, why not visit Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiasayer.com.  (Incidentally, the portrait comes from the cover of her newest CD, ATTRACTIONS, which lives up to its name.)  This gig is something to look forward to!

FEELING THE SPIRIT

People danced in the aisles at The Ear Inn last night.

In the movies, when a scene takes place in a jazz club, inevitably, the music is transcendent, the audience transported. Experienced listeners know that this doesn’t happen often. And sometimes it happens for the wrong reasons, showmanship or Scotch-induced euphoria. When the musicians play wondrously and the audience understands what they are hearing, that’s rare and thrilling.

Last night at The Ear Inn was one of those splendid times when everything coalesced, lifting the already fine players to a higher plane, uplifting all of us, too. The music was quietly spectacular, the audience attentive and enthusiastic.

The Ear Regulars who came together on April 20 were old friends: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Scott Robinson on reeds, James Chirillo on guitar, and Greg Cohen on bass. Each of these players is special, someone able to lift up a group of musicians by himself. Scott deserves a special note about his instruments. I imagine his studio as wall-to-wall instruments, each more rare and strange than the next. To list all his usual reed and brass instruments would be exhausting. Last night, he brought his tenor, but also two reeds, surpassing strange — a tenor Rothaphone, resembling a tenor sax seen through the wrong end of the binoculars, thicker than a fountain pen but not much. Its adenoidal sound suggests that there was a naughty interlude with a bassoon in its past. But Scott played it with his characteristic easy splendor. Aside from his tenor sax, his other horn was a taragato, apparently a Hungarian version of a straight soprano, with a sweeter sound and a wooden barrel. Give Scott a pencil sharpener and stand back — lovely music will come out.

I’ve praised Kellso elsewhere in this blog as the Prince of Growl, someone whose ascents and descents get to the deep heart of jazz. He said to me that this band brought together Don Cherry (Ornette Coleman’s early colleague) and Dixieland, and he was right. Chirillo and Cohen had a solid rhythmic wave going — no mere matter of metronomic precision. Flexibility was the key, as this quartet listened to each other and reacted in nanoseconds. Many times, listening, I was reminded of why we say jazz musicians play — jubilant experimentation was in the air. The music started out simply — melody plus variations over a swinging pulse, but it went to the Edge, gave the Edge a friendly hug, and then explored uncharted territories, scaring no one in the process.

The band kicked off with “Sunday,” an early Jule Styne song — the Regulars had been playing for almost a year of Sundays, but hadn’t called this song, which seemed perfectly on target. Taken at a slightly slower tempo than its usual bounce, it felt like a ballad with a Basie heart: Jon began his solo with cries that suggested someone calling out to see if there were any other hikers in the woods. With whimsical logic, he called “From Monday On” next. Chirillo had fun laying The Third Man theme over whatever chords were moving along. Scott’s momentum took him seamlessly from one chorus to the next, and Greg, in high spirits, stayed on one good note for some time, enjoying it, prompting Scott to launch into a witty rendition of “One Note Samba,” a great jazz witticism.

After some not-too-serious discussion about what songs could follow — Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were vetoed — Scott launched into a solo rubato introduction to “The More I See You.” Aside from brief solos by Jon and James, the latter tinkering with the line to make it more of a blues, it was all Scott, reaching into the upper register with the utmost delicacy. A little comedy took over when the lovely ballad had ended, perhaps as a release from the tension of creating great beauty — Scott paraphrased the melody as a slap-tongue interlude. For a moment, I thought Chuck Jones had come to 326 Spring Street.

A fast “Whispering” came next, reminiscent of the glory days of the Braff-Barnes quartet. Scott stretched the expected chords in his solo, Greg, happily floating on the rhythm wave, bobbed his head. The Ear Regulars have returned often to “Some of These Days,” an old-time classic with a built-in swing, but this time, it was “Samba These Days,” with twangy abstract dissonances from James, upward slides from Jon, a joyous momentum.

Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of the Blues” followed — a walking slow blues introduced by Greg and James, with the horns taking their time, earnest and sad against a slow-motion boogie woogie background. Chirillo did his own version of an Earl Hines tremolo in a solo that sounded as if he was sitting on a Mississippi porch at dusk. With each chorus, the song became a grieving lullaby, as slow as possible but with a fierce pulse underneath. I couldn’t imagine what could follow that, but Jon pulled something else out of his substantial memory, a stomping “Farewell Blues,” lifted up by Greg’s slapped bass and propulsive one-note riffs that backed Louis on his early Thirties records. Scott took out his Rothaphone and wailed away on it.

That’s when it happened.

At a table in front of me, a slender woman had been gyrating, holding on to the shoulders of the man seated in front of her. Without a word, the two of them, lithe and graceful, started to jitterbug ferociously in the smallest possible space, moving in tiny but energetic arcs, dancing on a dime — with hip-wiggling, dips, and spins that would have wowed them at the Savoy Ballroom. It was brilliant, funny, heartwarming. Whoever you are, O dancing couple, blessings on your nimble selves!

I was grateful for the break — I didn’t think my nervous system could absorb much more delightful stimulation — and it gave me a chance to talk to Doug Pomeroy, veteran recording engineer and wise listener. And, during the first set, a half-dozen extraordinary musicians had come in — trombonists Harvey Tibbs and Jim Fryer; the young trumpet sensation Bria Skonberg; reedmen Dan Block and Mark Phaneuf, singers Tamar Korn and Gina Sicilia, guitarist Dave Gross, banjoist Cynthia Sayer.

The quartet reassembled for a breezy, affectionate “The Lady’s in Love With You,” and then Jon invited Bria Skonberg to sit in. Bria, from Vancouver, is a Louis-and-Roy-inspired hot trumpeter. She has a big sound, impressive technique, a thoughtful way of constructing phrases, a fervent vibrato (used judiciously) and a throaty growl. All of this was on display in a jogging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with the two trumpeters graciously trading places — one playing embellished melody, the other improvising around the lead or offering echoing harmony parts.

Then it happened again, as if one piece of jubilant choreography wasn’t enough. A solidly-built woman in a navy-blue dress, her hair cropped short, decided that the narrow aisle of the Ear’s main room, was a New Orleans street parade, and began, with a paper napkin waving flirtatiously from her mobile right hand, to sashay up and down the room. The grins that were already there — on the bandstand and in the audience — grew wider, and I heard more than one voice say approvingly, “Second line!” which is the name given to the dancing bystanders in the Crescent City. Thank you, ma’am, for sharing your good times with us.

A new quintet of Bria, Harvey, Scott, James, and Greg turned to a heart-on-sleeve “Out of Nowhere,” before the singer Tamar Korn (of the new band, The Cangelosi Cards) was invited to sing, Scott turning to his taragato for an Ellington-shaded version of “Dinah,” at a fervently slow tempo. Korn, tiny and emotive, showed off a nearly operatic voice with deep jazz roots. I heard Adelaide Hall and Lee Morse in her scat exchanges with Jon. She is her own woman, someone to search out. She was invited to stay on for a brisk “After You’ve Gone” which gave all the sitters-in space in the best Thirties manner of two compact choruses apiece. Gina Sicilia took over from Tamar for a dark, smoky “Fine and Mellow,” and Cynthia Sayer joined the congregation — making for a string section of electric and acoustic guitars and banjo, each individualistic yet meshing. It was well past eleven, but no one wanted to go home, so Jon called for a closing “You’re Driving Me Crazy” which gave the trombones room to trade solos.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier group — not artificial enthusiasm whipped up by drum solos and high notes, by volume and showmanship, but by the energy and joy the musicians (and dancers) so generously shared with us. Everything possible in jazz had happened here, and more. Inspired solos, of course, but jammed counterpoint, stop-time backgrounds, riffs and organ-note backgrounds, sotto voce hums, four and eight-bar trades, key changes, spontaneous head arrangements.

I walked to the subway, so dreamily happy that I walked right past the entrance, thinking what a privilege it had been to be there. I’ve had a great deal of aesthetic levitation at The Ear Inn, and I expect to have a good deal more, but I won’t ever forget last night.