Tag Archives: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

MARK IT DOWN! THE CENTRAL ILLINOIS JAZZ FESTIVAL (March 30, 2019: Decatur, Illinois)

Here’s something for the intellectual puzzle-solvers in the JAZZ LIVES audience.

One.

 

Two.

 

 

 

 

Three.

Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Connie Jones, Pee Wee Erwin, Doc Cheatham, Chuck Folds, George Masso, Don Goldie, Johnny Varro, Jon-Erik Kellso, Paul Keller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Higgins, Marty Grosz, Bill Allred, Bob Schulz, Bobby Rosengarden, Milt Hinton, Brian Torff, Johnny Frigo, Peter Ecklund, John Sheridan, Brian Holland, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Ken Peplowski, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Fat Babies, and more.

Figured it out?  The answers, although indirect, are below, and they relate to the Juvae Jazz Society and the Central Illinois Jazz Festival: the story of their inception is here.

I confess that Decatur, Illinois has really never loomed large in my vision of bucket-list places.  But I have been terribly myopic about this for the past quarter-century.  Consider the poster below, please:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Juvae Jazz Society is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and rather than expecting people to bring them silver plates and candelabra, they are throwing a one-day jazz party, which you might have understood from the poster above.  (The list of musicians is just some of the notables who have played and sung for them in the last quarter-century.)

Although I admire Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown immensely, I’ve never had a chance to hear Petra and the Recession Seven live.  The Chicago Cellar Boys are one of my favorite bands and would even be so if Dave Bock wore a more sedate bow tie.  Other surprises are possible as well.

Some groovy evidence for you:

and those Boys:

So I’m going to be there.  Care to join me?

May your happiness increase!

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CHUCK WILSON, ADMIRED, LOVED, MISSED

I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed.  Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice.  “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie.  I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.

The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.

A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.

I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well.  So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also.  I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic.  His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better.  His sound was lovely.  And he understood both his horn and the music.

Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so.  So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.

Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:

And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.

I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved.  And is.

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!

QUIETLY SPECTACULAR: “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”: MARK LOPEMAN’S DEBUT CD

If you’ve been following the New York City jazz scene, you’ll know Mark Lopeman — a master saxophonist who’s been an invaluable addition to many bands for the past few decades.  Mark has just released his first CD under his own name, and it’s wonderful.

You can skip the prose and go right to the heart of things here

But if you’ve never heard or heard of Mark Lopeman (which I could understand) a few words might be in order.  Mark is another one of those people who proved F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong — not only are there second acts in American lives, but the plays we write and act in go seamlessly on without intermissions or other arbitrary divisions.  Mark is now in his early fifties, but this is no middle-aged man’s self-indulgent effort.  Rather it is beautiful music throughout — no pretenses, nothing antiquarian or postmodernist.  It is lively and fresh (locally sourced and organic, too), yet not a familiar running-through-an-hour-of-tried-and-true.  Readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say it reminds me very happily of an imagined session for the Prestige-Swingville label, in better sound.  Mark and his colleagues know how to hit a variety of grooves, but the music never pokes a listener in the ribs and says, “Gee, look at how funky we are!”

Rather than retell Mark’s biography, I would direct you to his site — where the tale, involving the circus, a traffic ticket, Gerry Mulligan, and other notables, can be found here

I would offer my own narrow version of the Mark Lopeman saga.  When I first began to haunt New York jazz clubs, I heard Mark as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, someone who could work his way through the reeds without fear.  He swung hard, never missed a turn, and when it came to his feature number — a transcription of the 1939 Hawkins BODY AND SOUL — he played it with accuracy and fervor, but I could hear his personality peeking out through the transcribed notes.  Then I had the good fortune to hear him as a guest EarRegular at The Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  To use the ancient locution, I flipped.  He swung, he soared; he was lyrical, witty, and to the point.  Ruby Braff had originally wanted to play the tenor saxophone; had he gotten his wish, he would have sounded like Mark Lopeman: wearing his heart on his sleeve but never getting in anyone’s way.

Mark is also one of those players who has thoroughly absorbed the tradition but has managed to bob along on the waves, remaining true to himself.  So a tenor aficionado will hear affectionate side-glances of Charlie Rouse and Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson and Stan Getz, but Mark is not one of those Real Book / play-along creations who coast from one learned phrase to another.  He is himself, and what a good thing that is!

Back to our story.  When I meet an artist I admire, I am not subtle or restrained in saying so.  After the first EarRegulars experience, I think I buttonholed Mark and said, “Wow, you play beautifully!  Have you got a CD of your own?”  And he looked a bit shy and said he hadn’t.  Later on, either at Sofia’s or The Ear Inn, I met his wife, the artist Susan Manley, and said (once again subtly), “Damnit, he plays so well.  When the hell is he going to make a CD of his own?”  And she agreed with me.  I can’t take any credit for helping NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT see the light of day, but I would like to think that my nagging had a point: if there were enough annoying people hanging around the Lopemans making this pesky request, perhaps the CD emerged in some small part to get us to be quiet.  Maybe?

Would you like to hear some of the music?  I thought so.  Here are a whole raft of thirty-second snippets, enough to give you a sense of the CD’s candor and variety.  Click here

You can read all about the genesis of the music in Bill Kirschner’s perceptive, concise liner notes, but I would add a few things.  Mark is joined in his lyrical efforts by a splendid rhythm section of Ted Rosenthal, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Tim Horner, drums.  He plays not only tenor saxophone but soprano and clarinet, and about half of the CD is illuminated by the presence of Brandon Lee on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Noah Bless on trombone — both players who know their stuff without cliche.  The repertoire is deliciously varied — from a trotting I’M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS that begins and ends with a hilariously swinging Rosenthal-plays-Chopin, to the title tune, with hints of Charlie Rouse and Monk, a hip-swinging MY KIND OF GIRL (several selections have their roots in Mr. Sinatra’s repertoire), and two very intriguing Lopeman originals, WORLD ECONOMY BLUES (a collaboration with saxophonist Chris Byars) and INTENTIONS — which also feature fascinating scoring by their composer.  My absolute favorites on this disc are two Lopeman – Rosenthal duets, EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (which keeps its yearning quality without any of the self-conscious pathos this song often encourages) and the heartbreaking I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU.  (Jonathan Schwartz would love them: I hope he gets his own copy.)

I worry that JAZZ LIVES readers will think I am always tugging at their collective sleeves (and credit cards) saying “Buy this!  Buy this!”  But this CD is quietly spectacular.  Nice work indeed, Mark — and how lucky we are that we can indeed get it.

P.S.  The cover portrait is a family affair — a watercolor done with wit and affection by Rosie Lopeman . . . another artist in the house!

REMEMBERING FRANK DRIGGS — WITH MUSIC (Oct. 18, 2011)

What better way to remember and celebrate the jazz historian and archivist Frank Driggs, who died last month at 81, than with the hot music of Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks? 

A lively “memorial service” in honor of Mr. Driggs will take place on October 18, 2011, at Sofia’s Ristorante, downstairs in the Edison Hotel (211 West 46th Street) from 8-11 PM.  Doors open at 7 PM. 

This setting and the nature of the celebration are more than appropriate, because Vince nd the Nighthawks play the music that Mr. Driggs both loved dearly and documented.  In fact, I first met Mr. Driggs and his companion, the writer Joan Peyser (she died in April 2011) at Sofia’s and saw the two of them there, enjoying the music, many times. 

I think that every musician in the Nighthawks could point to a beloved recording first issued on a compilation (record or CD) supervised by Frank Driggs or one which he annotated.  We all owe him a great deal, and I expect to be at Sofia’s to join in the celebration of a life devoted to the music we love.

If you know only a little about Frank Driggs, here is his obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/arts/music/frank-driggs-jazz-age-historian-and-photo-collector-dies-at-81.html?_r=1

And here is a link to eleven photographs Mr. Driggs had acquired — out of the one hundred thousand photographs and pieces of jazz arcana:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/09/25/arts/music/DRIGGS.html

Make your reservations early!  Details below:

HAPPY 123, MR. BERLIN!

For Irving Berlin, who would be 123 today . . . the overlooked master of humor, sentiment, and deep feelings expressed in simple but unforgettable words and melodies:

And some music to go with the cake, of course.

Here are Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks playing a Berlin waltz medley in December 2009:

And Tamar Korn and The EarRegulars essaying THE SONG IS ENDED:

The songs are never going to be ended as long as we remember Mr. Berlin.

THE NIGHTHAWKS, ELI GOODHOE, AND “THE MOOCHE”

Here (as promised) is the debut performance of sixteen-year old Eli Goodhoe, on banjo, with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — playing Ellington’s THE MOOCHE on February 15, 2011 at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison (211 West 46th Street).

Vince is enthusiastic, and with good reason, about the jazz orchestra that trumpeter Kevin Blancq shepherds at LaGuardia High School — an orchestra that is full of budding talent like Eli’s.  In future, I hope to bring you more from Kevin, his young musicians, and the LaGuardia jazz orchestra.

Right now, listen to THE MOOCHE — a piece reaching back to 1927 — and consider that it is also the seedbed for a new generation of inventive hot jazz players who will, with luck, carry on the grand tradition for decades to come.

The other members of the Nighthawks are Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, Dan Levinson, Peter Anderson, Mark Lopeman, Alan Grubner, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo (stepping aside for Eli on this number), Vince, and Arnie Kinsella.  

Where the past and the present meet and make room for the future!

HONOR THE LIVING MUSICIANS: CLICK HERE! 

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