Tag Archives: Tina Micic

“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!

LET ME OFF UPTOWN FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Part Two): “CHRISTMAS STOMP” with GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

It bears repeating.

Saturday, December 1, 2012, was a wonderful day (they all are, if you have the right approach to them) but the evening was even better . . . I was fortunate enough to be uptown for the CD release party held at Columbia University.  The party was honoring the Grand Street Stompers on the occasion of their new CD, CHRISTMAS STOMP.  And STOMP they did.  (Learn more about that very pleasing CD here.)

GSS cover

For those of you who couldn’t take the A train (thank you, Billy Strayhorn) or drive uptown, here are some highlights of this most swinging, mobile evening. The participants: Gordon Au on trumpet / arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Davy Mooney, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Rich Levinson, drums; Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, vocals — with guest appearances from the amazing dancer Andrew J. Nemr, clarinetist Dan Levinson, saxophonist Adam Lee, singer Margi Gianquinto, and more.

Before we start,a caveat (nicely browned for the holiday season).  The music is wonderful; my videos are somewhat below-par for reasons that anyone who has been in a large hall filled with wonderfully graceful dancers will recognize.  An event such as this (thank you, Lucy!) is organized for the comfort and pleasure of the people who not only know what the Peabody is but are able to do . . . the world is not my sound stage.  Knowing this, I took up a position at the rear of the hall — a happy observer — and recorded what I saw.  In situations such as this, I think, “This is what it was like at the edge of the Savoy Ballroom,” and any discontent vanishes.  Perhaps next year someone will lend me a crane or at least a stepladder and a longer tripod.  Or not.  Here are the remaining marvelous swirling delights I saw and heard on December 1.

It wasn’t wintry outdoors, but Tamar feels it’s always a pleasure to sing I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

Moving along in the “I’ve got” cardfile, she beautifully delivers Fats’ I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

Molly comes back for IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS:

O HOLY NIGHT is not the vehicle one associates with high-energy jazz, nor with elegantly forceful tap dancing, but when Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers meet the wizard Andrew J. Nemr, magic happens.  I only wish I had been at a better angle to focus on those airborne feet.  Next time:

Molly, typically well-behaved, tells of holiday adulteries in I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let us avert our eyes from this potentially lascivious scene — when the Grand Street Stompers play, we get the presents:

The Three Graces — Molly, Tamar, and Margi — give out with a very sweet WHITE CHRISTMAS:

Victor Herbert never knew his MARCH OF THE TOYS could look and sound like this:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN is a way to welcome Adam Lee, Lucy Weinman, and Dan Levinson to the holiday stomp:

For the finale, everyone throws caution to the wind — at least metaphysically — for LET YOURSELF GO:

If you’ve enjoyed these experiments in Cinema Very Tea, you’re sure to enjoy the real thing: learn more about the actual CD (a winner no matter what the calendar says) here.

May your happiness increase.

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!