Tag Archives: Sam Huang

“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!

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A DANCE: FOUR SEMI-FORMAL SCENES from the COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SWING DANCE (December 9, 2011)

In my ideal re-envisioning of myself, I am both a hot cornetist — modeling myself on Little Bobby Hacksaw — and a stylish swing dancer.  Both of these goals have so far eluded me, but I was delighted to be invited to the Columbia University Swing Dance Society Semi-Formal Friday night.  And I took my camera.  More about that in sixteen bars.

What could be nicer, more promising?  The Grand Street Stompers would play hot and sweet jazz — always original — for an audience of limber swing fans who were in constant motion.  The GSS is one of my favorite bands: Gordon Au on trumpet, gentle leadership, compositions and arrangements; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Matt Musselman on trombone; Nick Russo on banjo and guitar; Rob Adkins on string bass; Kevin Dorn (just back from the West Coast) on drums; Tamar Korn on voice.

The Beloved came in and enjoyed the scene; I got to talk with some friends: Lucy Weinman, Veronica Lynn Day, Sam Huang, Michelle deCastro, and Lynn Redmile — and to watch the dancers, who made me think sadly of college opportunities missed.  I told Veronica that when I went to college swing dancing was not quite in fashion (probably I was too busy reading), but that had I been in the right place and the right time, I would have been entranced — both by the live music and by the lively young women.  I would have had a fine time and probably flunked all my classes.  Worth the trade?  No doubt, to quote Mr. Morton.

But back to the semi-formal scenes.  I stationed myself at the rear of the room to capture what you might have seen and heard had you been there . . . the videos are slightly more jumpy than I would have preferred, but I thought a tripod would not have gone with my semi-formal garb.

For Bix, for Hoagy, and for swing — RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Miss Korn (resplendent in mauve or is it Valpoicella?) tells us EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Are skies cloudy and gray?  They’re only gray for a day, remember.  WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Gordon’s own rocking love song, CRAZY EYES:

Wonderful scenes!  And how fortunate we are that such things are flourishing in this century — not only for those people who live near 117th Street and Broadway.  Get rhythm in your feet!  On with the dance!

SWING / DANCE! — JAKE SANDERS QUINTET (May 18, 2011)

Professor Jim Fryer tells his students, “Dancing is what music looks like; music is what dancing sounds like.”  A swinging mantra if ever there was one, and the videos below prove his points.

I’ve been admiring the swinging banjo / mandolin playing of Jake Sanders for some time now — but it didn’t prepare me for the groovy jazz he and his Quintet offered a room full of dancers on May 18, 2011. 

The occasion was a swing dance extravaganza, “White Heat,” sponsored by Dance Manhattan on a perilously rainy night.  But the music dried my clothing and lifted my spirits in four bars.  You’ll see and hear what I mean.

Jake’s colleagues were bassist Ian Riggs (whom I’d met at Teddy’s), guitarist Michael Gomez (new to me, but a wizard), Will Anderson (a young swinger who’s seen all over town), Gordon Au (one of my heroes, here on cornet).  They were tucked away in the corner of a small gymnasium-like room (with pillars) where a small number of intrepid dancers swirled around. 

The fine photographer Lynn Redmile was herself one of the dancers, and she tells me that the other twirlers and dippers included Caroline Ruda, Eli Charne, Sam Huang, Eve Polich, Tina Micic, Pauline Pechin, Kathy Stokes, Steve Rekhler, Richard Kurtzer, Neal Groothuis, Charles Herold, Nina Galilcheva, Marty Visconti, Sallie Stutz.  (If you were there and haven’t been included in this list, do let me know.)

Here’s I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, a Twenties tune (known more widely because Django and Stephane took it up in the late Thirties).  The lyrics tell us that a dancing fool who could do the Charleston took the singer’s Baby away, and the singer is both morose and homicidal (“I’d like to kill the man who made the Charleston,” which I hope wasn’t meant for the sainted James P. Johnson) while the music has a Charleston-interlude at regular intervals – – – an early postmodern episode in Twenties pop:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:  what other jazz classic brings together the 1940-1 Goodman Sextet, Bix, Louis, Basie, Eddie Condon, and is still being swung in 2011?  Jake’s tempo is in the groove: they’re solid senders!

A straight-ahead reading of BRAZIL, which rocks:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL (with or without the apostrophe) is one of those songs that’s usually played too fast — perhaps as homage to dancing off both (y)our shoes.  Here it’s “very groovy, very mellow,” to quote Mr. Gaillard:

Want to see and hear more?  I’ve posted seven other videos at my YouTube channel — http://www.youtube.com/user/swingyoucats — which (as the old record jackets used to proclaim), “You’re sure to enjoy.”  I hope so!