Tag Archives: Cynthia Sayer

“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.