I’ve been a fan of Vince and the Nighthawks for twenty years or more, and they are unique at what they do. And now, a weekly gig again!
Almost all of the shows are sold out, but tickets are still available for December 13 and January 3. The Birdland Theater is a compact space, so I suggest you get tickets without delay. Visit BirdlandJazz.com . . . .
You’ll notice that I don’t offer video evidence, although I often brought my camera to the Nighthawks’ gigs. They are too large, too splendid for a camera of my sort — and Birdland does not allow video-ing, so they have to be caught live, hot, in person. If you know them, you know, and if you don’t know, come and be uplifted.
The clarinetist / saxophonist / arranger Frank Teschemacher, a brilliant individualistic voice in Chicago jazz of the late Twenties, didn’t live to see his twenty-sixth birthday. Everyone who played alongside him spoke of him with awe. Even though the recorded evidence of his idiosyncratic personality amounts to less than ninety minutes, he shines and blazes through any ensemble.
In celebration of what would have been Tesch’s centenary, Marty Grosz put together a tribute at the September 2006 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. It wasn’t a series of note-for-note copies of his recordings (this would have horrified the Austin High Gang) but a sincere hot effort to capture Tesch’s musical world — with great success. I was there with a moderately-concealed digital recorder, and couldn’t bear that this set would only be a memory, so what follows is my audio recording.
Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, commentary; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; James Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass saxophone; Pete Siers, drums. (The voice you’ll hear discoursing with Marty is that of the late Joe Boughton, creator of this and many other festivals.)
PRINCE OF WAILS (Dapogny transcription / arrangement) / BULL FROG BLUES (JD arr) / WAILING BLUES (JD arr) / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN (possibly Marty’s arrangement) / TRYING TO STOP MY CRYING (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal, glee club) / SUGAR (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal) / COPENHAGEN (with Marty’s Indiana etymology / story of Boyce Brown getting fired for talking about reincarnation). Thanks to Chris Smith for his assistance.
This post is in honor of Missy Kyzer, who was fascinated by Tesch and his world a long time ago. See her work here and here.
Three I’s: IMPORTANT, IRREPLACEABLE, and INEXPENSIVE.
But I’ll let Dan Levinson explain it all to us.
In 1992, legendary record producer George Avakian produced an album in homage to the pioneers of 1920s Chicago Jazz, known as The Austin High Gang, who had been among his most powerful influences when his love for jazz was developing. Those pioneers included Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Sullivan, Gene Krupa, and others. Avakian’s 1992 recording featured two bands: one, directed by pianist Dick Hyman, which played Hyman’s note-for-note re-creations of the original recordings; and a second band, led by clarinetist Kenny Davern, which played its own interpretations of songs associated with the Chicago Jazz style, keeping the SPIRIT of the original artists close at hand. I was in the Teschemacher role in Hyman’s band, and had never been in a recording studio before.Avakian financed the whole project, but, sadly, was never able to find a label that was wiling to reimburse his cost and put the album out. The last time I went to visit George, in June of 2017, I asked him about the album again. Then 98 years old, he was clearly disappointed that it never came out, and he asked me to continue his search for a label and to “get it issued”. I exhausted my resources at the time, and wasn’t able to make it happen before George passed away several months later. Three years later, Bryan Wright, founder of Rivermont Records, rode in to save the day. And this month – thirty years after the original recording session took place – Avakian’s dream project is finally coming out on Bryan’s label as “One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and The Austin High Gang”. Bryan has – literally – spared no expense in assembling a beautiful package, which is actually a CD inside a booklet rather than a booklet inside a CD. I’ve written extensive liner notes detailing every aspect of the project, and there are also written contributions from author/record producer Hank O’Neal, guitarist Marty Grosz, and drummer Hal Smith, a specialist in Chicago Jazz style. I was able to track down the original photos from the recording session, and Bryan’s booklet includes a generous selection of them. I want to gratefully acknowledge the help of archivist Matt Snyder, cover artist Joe Busam (who designed the album cover based on Avakian’s 1940 78rpm album “Decca Presents an Album of Chicago Jazz”), the family of George Avakian, Hank O’Neal, Maggie Condon, and the New York Public Library, whose help in making this happen was invaluable.The album features a truly spectacular lineup of artists, including, in various combinations: Peter Ecklund, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dick Sudhalter, Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Dick Hyman, Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, Vince Giordano, Arnie Kinsella, and Tony DeNicola.
The CD and digital download are available on the Rivermont Records website here. A vinyl version – a two-record set, in fact – will be available later this month.
And here is Rivermont founder (and superb pianist) Bryan Wright’s story of ONE STEP TO CHICAGO.
“Dick Hyman and his Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band” (Ecklund, Sudhalter, Kellso, Barrett, Levinson, Peplowski, Hyman, Grosz, Haggart, Giordano, Kinsella) play / recreate classic Chicago recordings from the Golden Era of free-wheeling jazz: ONE STEP TO HEAVEN / SUGAR / I’VE FOUND A NEW BABY / CHINA BOY / LIZA (Condon, not Gershwin) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE: eighteen minutes in the most divine Hot Time Machine.
and “Kenny Davern and his Windy City Stompers” (Davern, Kellso, Barrett, Hyman, Alden, Hinton, DeNicola) going for themselves on THE DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / WABASH BLUES / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / THE JAZZ ME BLUES / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / INDIANA.
and — a bonus — a nearly nine-minute excursion on FAREWELL BLUES by the combined bands.
But I can hear someone saying, “Enough with the facts. How does it SOUND, Michael?” To which I respond without hesitation, “It sounds terrific. Finest kind. It delivers the goods — sonically, emotionally, and heatedly.”
I will give pride of place to the writers / scholars whose words and reminiscences fill the eighty-page booklet (complete with wonderful photographs) Dick Hyman, Hank O’Neal, Dan Levinson, Hal Smith, and Marty Grosz, explain and elucidate, as they do beautifully, the roles of George Avakian, Eddie Condon, Bix Beiderbecke, and two dozen other saints of Hot. That booklet is both perceptive and unabashed in its love for the people and the sounds, and it is more than worth the price of admission. Unlike much jazz writing about the hallowed past, it is also delightfully free of hyperbole and something I will politely call hooey.
The CD — aside from the booklet — has two wonderful selves. The first six performances are evocations of the original, classic, recordings, with musicians who know the originals by heart working from expert transcriptions by the Master, Dick Hyman. The business of “re-creation” is difficult, and I have gotten into trouble in the past when pointing out that in some cases it feels impossible. Great art comes hot from the toaster; it is innovative, imagined for the first time in those minutes in the recording studio. So re-creation requires both deep emotional understanding of the individuals involved, the aesthetic air they breathed, and expert sleight-of-hand to make a listener believe they are hearing the ghost of Tesch rather than someone dressed up as Tesch for Halloween.
But the re-creations on this disc are as satisfying as any I’ve heard, more than simply playing the dots on the page, but dramatically assuming the characters of the heroes we revere. They are passionate rather than stiff, and wonderfully translucent: when Ken Peplowski plays a Bud Freeman chorus, we hear both Bud and Ken trotting along in delightful parallel.
I confess that the second half of this disc makes my eyes bright and my tail wag: it isn’t “hell-for-leather” or “take no prisoners,” or whatever cliches you like to characterize the appearance of reckless abandon. What it presents is a group of sublime improvisers bringing all their knowledge and heart to the classics of the past, playing their personalities in the best ways. And each selection reminds us that however “hot” the Chicagoans prided themselves on being, lyricism was at the heart of their performances. I cherish INDIANA, performed at a rhythm-ballad tempo by Kenny Davern, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Tony DiNicola, and the other band selections are full of surprises, pleasing and reassuring both. The closing FAREWELL BLUES has all the joy of a Condon Town Hall concert, and that is no small accomplishment.
And I can’t leave this without noting how lovely the recorded sound is — applause for David Baker, Malcolm Addey, and Peter Karl. I’ve heard more than two-thirds of these performers live, often at very close range, and this disc captures their sounds, their subtleties so marvelously.
This disc is a treasure-box of sounds and homages, with lively music from present company. I predict it will spread joy, and my only encouragement would be for people to for once shun the download, because they won’t get the book. It’s the Library of Alexandria transported to 35th and Calumet.
And here are some sound samples so no one need feel that they are purchasing on faith, although faith in these musicians and these producers would be wholly warranted.
This band rocked the church. Seismically, I mean. Christopher Street will never be the same.
I’ve shared several segments from this concert, and here’s the last dynamic offering. From the back, the New York Classic Seven are Colin Hancock, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Vince Giordano, banjo; Andy Schumm, piano; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone; Sam Chess, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal.
(For new visitors to this site: if you click on the post’s title, the still photographs below — if they are what you see — will open to reveal video-performances.)
For Bix, of course. THERE’S A CRADLE IN CAROLINE:
Hot needs sweet in the perfectly balanced cosmos, so here’s Romantic Mike Davis, pleading GUILTY. We pardon him:
And the gloriously futuristic BONEYARD SHUFFLE:
Here’s Andy Schumm’s Gershwin-inspired composition, LET’S DO THINGS:
A beautiful mini-Whiteman consideration of MY BLUE HEAVEN:
Don’t be afraid of the title. Colin and Mike aren’t truly ANGRY:
And the extravagantly “primitive” JUNGLE CRAWL by Tiny Parham:
What would a program of Twenties jazz and pop be without a song saying how much better everything is in the American South? Here’s a stellar example, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:
This was the second — wonderful — US appearance by this band. If you want to hear them again, tell festival organizers and club-owners, tell your wealthy friends. They’re raring to go and play, as you can see and hear. And we need this kind of musical uplift.
Thanks again to Janet Sora Chung and St. John’s Lutheran Church (Christopher Street, New York City) for making this aesthetic gift-box possible, and for permitting me to video-record and share it.
And thanks to Red, Bix, Miff, Fud, Pee Wee, JD and TD, McDonough, Eddie, Challis, Artie, Vic, Adrian, and three dozen other luminaries for their inspiration.
I could write a long introduction about the music and scene that follows, but I will say only that it was thrilling in the moment and it is even more thrilling now. This was a Saturday afternoon session at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, during the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend created by Joe Boughton for his own pleasure and ours.
It seems a blessing to have been there and even more of one to have been allowed to video-record the music, especially since in June 2022, some of the participants have moved to other neighborhoods and others seem to have chosen more relaxing ways of passing the time. I will only say that a few nights ago I was speaking to a person I’d not met before — she and her husband live in Ann Arbor — of how much I miss Jim Dapogny and I had to turn away to control myself.
The heroes are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums, and the song is the venerable BEALE STREET BLUES, with Marty’s three vocal choruses deeply rooted in Jack Teagarden, which is a lovely thing.
Chris Smith calls this “a joyous and soulful happy blues.” I hope you delight in it as I do:
Yes, these moments of collective ecstasy — and I don’t exaggerate — happen now. I’ve been there and witnessed them. But this assemblage of dear intent artists is not coming our way again, so these minutes are precious. And I would think so even if someone else had held the camera. Bless these fellows all.
Fortunately, the wooden benches were sturdy and solidly attached.
Here is the second (glorious) US appearance of the (glorious) hot orchestra, the New York Classic Seven, on May 18, 2022, at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street (thanks to Janet Sora Chung). They are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal, co-leader; Colin Hancock, drums, vocal, co-leader; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Sam Chess, trombone; Andy Schumm, piano; Vince Giordano, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone.
Hot enough for you?
The Gershwins’ DO DO DO (vocal, Mike Davis):
Sweetly durable: MY MELANCHOLY BABY:
A rousing ALABAMMY BOUND — another of the memorable songs about going South (Andy Schumm, arrangement):
THE WHISPER SONG (getting pastoral, with Mike Davis, vocal and vocal effects; Colin Hancock, whistling):
BUDDY’S HABITS (fashioned after the Red Nichols version):
Appropriately joyous, Mr. Morton’s MILENBERG JOYS:
In honor of the Sunshine Boys, Joe and Dan Mooney, here are Mike Davis and Ricky Alexander negotiating their way through WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, which Sam Chess bowing low to Tommy Dorsey:
And finally, for this post — Cave canem — a growly low MEAN DOG BLUES, courtesy of Red Nichols and friends:
“What fun!” as Liadain O’Donovan says. More goodness on the way.
Jazz doesn’t often end up in church (or similar religious institutions) which is a pity, because its creativity shouts hosannas to the universe, and in secular terms, it praises the great glory of being alive in this cosmos. A great solo or ensemble or beautifully-turned phrase is not “like” a prayer; it is a prayer. And the most rewarding improvisations are authentic and thus to be revered. So it was so rich an experience when a great jazz orchestra romped, shouted, whispered, and exulted in a lovely New York City church (built in 1821) last night.
Here’s one side of the septet:
and the other:
and a much better shot by my friend since 1972, the esteemed Rob Rothberg:
It was the second (glorious) US appearance of the (glorious) hot orchestra, the New York Classic Seven, on May 18, 2022, at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street (thanks to Janet Sora Chung). They are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal, co-leader; Colin Hancock, drums, vocal, co-leader; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Sam Chess, trombone; Andy Schumm, piano; Vince Giordano, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone.
And they rocked the room. Here are their first half-dozen selections.
I NEED LOVIN’ (vocal by Mike):
CORNFED (for Red and Miff):
ARE YOU SORRY? (you know the answer is NO):
Fats’ MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS (vocal by Mike):
and HONOLULU BLUES:
There will be three more blogposts delineating the joys of this evening. Fervent thanks go to Janet Sora Chung and to the gentlemen of the ensemble.
I know this group would like opportunities to play for the widest variety of audiences, and their book is huge (and, as you can hear, varied). Promoters, producers, club-owners, concert organizers out there?
Look at those faces: three happy creative people, making music, spreading joy for a crowd enjoying their eggs and mimosas to an inspired soundtrack. That’s Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats on a Sunday brunch-afternoon, and the three swing Muses are Arnt Arntzen, banjo, voice, and occasional comedy; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, voice. They’re that wondrous thing, a working band. Arnt calls them ARNIE AND HIS RHYTHM, but I think they need a more exalted name, like SPLENDID MEMBERS OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROMULGATION OF JOY, although that’s too long to fit on a gig announcement. DELEGATES OF PLEASURE is also in the running. But I digress.
Here’s some joy.
When I walked into Giovanni’s last Sunday, this trio was concluding their first song, a hot number. I said hello, was taken to a seat, and began to set up my camera while hearing Arnt say to Danny and Vince, “Do you know THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU”? — that very heartfelt Ray Noble ballad that “bands” don’t always play. I was very excited and managed to begin filming about one-quarter through this very tender offering:
Romance of a different sort (“I have bought / the home and ring / and everything!”) as Vince sings and plays MARGIE:
Something very sweet — SUGAR by Arnie — “She’s vaccinated!”:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE, so often smudged, here with all its different strains treated with hot reverence:
And finally (for this set) my national anthem, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, rendered with love, not caricature:
What a glorious group: harmony not only of notes, but of spirit.
But wait! There’s more!
Arnt has just announced a Thursday-night residency for this trio and other versions of it, at Barbes in Brooklyn: on December 30, 10 PM to midnight, he and brother Evan will play together; on January 6, the trio above, from 7 to 9:30; on January 13, the multi-talented Colin Hancock and Tal Ronen will join Arnt; and more to come. I’m looking forward to this and hope some JAZZ LIVES readers will join me. Without being too didactic, venues with music but without audiences soon drop the music: as you know.
Three lyrical cats making great music al fresco in Brooklyn, New York: Arnt Arntzen, banjo, vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, lowboy cymbal, vocal. Those venerable pop classics feel fresh yet familiar in their hands.
As the weather gets colder, the trio has moved inside. And the food is good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An easy rendition of a classic — popular as well as jazz — LAZY RIVER, by Sidney Arodin and Hoagy Carmichael . . . performed on a lazy Sunday afternoon by Arnt Arntzen, banjo and vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, lowboy cymbal:
Want melodic lyricism with your eggs Benedict? These fellows know just how to provide it.
And a side-note about Arnt’s singing: I caught him between sets and said how much I liked his sweet, unadorned, open-hearted approach. He smiled and said, “That’s the only approach I have,” which is both charming and true.
I promise more video evidence from this delightful trio. But better yet — if you can, get yourself there to savor these brunch joys in person. Restorative as all get-out. And this gig happens on a Sunday. Monday and Tuesday nights, Vince and Arnt can be found at Bond 45, making merry with the full Nighthawks’ aggregation. If you’ve allowed yourself to forget how happy live music can make us, it is time to shake the dust from your shoes and remember, in person.
Last Sunday was my second visit to Giovanni’s — reachable from the F train — and I had a wonderful time. I know the three luminaries above, and so I was encouraged to set up my camera and I was able, through decades of experience, to eat and film at the same time without my camera descending into the soup or pasta. (By the way, the food is excellent, and I am fussy.)
The band played three sets from noon to 3, with jazz classics, Berlin, Carmichael, Waller, Shelton Brooks, and more: a hugely entertaining trio. Passers-by danced on the sidewalk; people applauded, and money was placed in the tip jar, which all combined to suggest that Western civilization is not moving into the abyss in fourth gear.
I have only one performance to share with you at the moment, but there will be more.
It was the first tune of the afternoon, and I was slightly unready, so the camera sniffs around before it finds the best spot, but I am so charmed by this rendition of Irving Berlin’s ALWAYS that I wouldn’t want a second take.
Arnt is a very discerning banjoist — no flash and smash for him — a “one-man rhythm gang,” and a sweet candid elegant singer. If you don’t know the excellence of Vince Giordano, on display in so many ways for a number of years, I have to ask (in the words of Cole Porter) “Where have you been?” with the emphasis on the second word. He drives any band with his gleaming aluminum string bass; he is Rollini-eloquent on the bass saxophone, and a fine swinging singer. (Incidentally, the Nighthawks have been performing for several Monday and Tuesday nights at Bond 45, so you now have a place to go to for Vince’s full orchestra, which has been greatly missed.) Danny is a brassman other trumpet players praise for his direct melodic lyricism: quite a band!
ALWAYS. And here, children, comes the lesson. Establishments like Giovanni’s employ live musicians because they know (and hope) that music played by human beings will attract people to come and dine and spend money, thus allowing the restaurant to continue, to pay its bills, its staff, its vendors. Business, and nothing shameful about it. (I commend them: it would be so much easier to NOT employ human beings who make music.) In doing so, however, they send joy into the air. Even the people at the next table who seemed to pay no attention to the music knew in some visceral way that their eggs Benedict tasted better because of the genuine soundtrack. And they give the musicians we love funding and employment.
I trust you can see where this is heading. I write to the people who live near someplace where live music is played, who can spend money for their morning coffee, their croissant, or the like.
I think, perhaps immodestly, that in creating and posting these videos I am doing a service to the music and the musicians. (I also put money in the tip jar and I buy food and drink at any establishment I frequent.) Your watching the video is spiritually lovely; you receive the good spiritual vibrations the musicians create and transmit.
But merely watching the videos at home and never actively supporting the establishments that feature live music does little for the economic realities of the situation described above.
I do not call for moral self-flagellation if you can’t get out of the house or you can’t afford to pay for a jazz brunch: some dear friends fall into this category. But I see so few self-defined “jazz fans” actively supporting the music by their presence on a regular basis.
YouTube and Spotify do nothing for the artists. And, for better or worse, buying a CD or paying for a digital download of your departed hero does nothing for living artists who are trying to stay solvent. When some “fans” ask mournfully, “How come there’s no live jazz at X’s anymore?” the answer will be found by looking in the medicine-chest mirror. I understand “I hope to get to New York City sometime soon,” as a reality, but it doesn’t help any musician pay her rent. As Greely Walton always used to say, “You can’t drive the car if you don’t fill the tank.”
I know, I get carried away, but ask any musician if this is true. You may go now.
Do consider. What could be better than an unpublished Fats Waller composition arranged twice for all-star hot jazz band — the arrangers being Marty Grosz and James Dapogny — with the arrangements (different moods, tempi, and keys) played in sequence? I know my question is rhetorical, but you will have the evidence to delight in: a jewel of an extended performance from 2007.
CAUGHT is an almost-unknown Fats Waller composition (first recorded by James Dapogny) presented in two versions, one after the other, at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua, first Marty Grosz’s ominous music-for-strippers, then Dapogny’s romp. One can imagine the many possible circumstances that might have led to this title . . . perhaps unpaid alimony, or other mischief?
The alchemists here are James Dapogny, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo and explanations; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass, bass saxophone; Arnie Kinsella, drums.
Note to meticulous consumers of sounds: this track begins with immense extraneous noise, and Arnie’s accents explode in the listeners’ ears. The perils of criminality: I had a digital recorder in my jacket pocket, so if and when I moved, the sound of clothing is intrusive. I apologize for imperfections, but I am proud of my wickedness; otherwise you wouldn’t have this to complain about:
I have been captivated by this performance for years — the simple line, so developed and lifted to the skies by the performers, the arrangements: the generous music given unstintingly to us. You might say I’ve been CAUGHT.
A wonderful evening! Marty, guitar, vocal, badinage, repartee, stories, insults; Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb alto horn, Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jim Gicking, trombone; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; tuba; string bass; Jim Lawlor, drums.
Let the impatient consumers of pure music be warned: I’ve retained large chunks of Marty’s introductory screeds. Yes, you can scroll forward . . . but in some decades, should we all be around, hearing Marty’s voice and comedy will seem a great gift. (Wouldn’t you like to hear Omer Simeon introducing the next number? I certainly would.) Thanks to Barry Wahrhaftig for making all this happen.
BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?
Later in the evening . . . the light had changed, but the hot-jazz spirits were still in attendance, for this cheerfully homemade performance — not the perfection of recording studio, but full of life.
My adolescent self demands that I point out that Benny Hill used to announce this song as EVERY BABY LOVES MY BODY, which for some, might be true. However, most know it as EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:
There’s more to come from this concert, blessedly. Marty would say mockingly, “Isn’t that interesting?” but this music rises above mockery.
From 2004 until its end in 2017, under a new name, the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend jazz party provided some of the best happy musical moments of my life. I didn’t always have a video camera, nor was I always allowed or encouraged to record the musical proceedings. (Joe Boughton was always kind to me, but stories of his fierce response to disobedience had preceded him.) But I did have a pocket, and in it I hid a Sony digital recorder, which captured some uplifting moments. If you shut your eyes and imagine being there, transcendent hot sounds will transform the next twenty minutes, recorded during the informal Thursday-night session. You’ll hear some rustling (the penalty of sub rosa recording) and the splendid drum accents explode, but shouldn’t they?
The joys are created by Bob Barnard, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jim Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums: OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH:
I do hope Carl saved a piece of cake for Marty. These three performances are like a whole bakery to me, and they haven’t become stale after fifteen years.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal.
I’ve already posted MILENBERG JOYS, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN, CLARINET MARMALADE, WHISPERING, EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT, and YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT — one pleasure for each day of the week.
Here are two Twenties classics, glorious hot music, the last evidence of what was a stunning evening.
and FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE:
Now. This concert ended (for those who were there) and the nine performances I’ve posted are also, in their own way, glorious yet finite. Suppose you thirst for more of the hot music Colin and friends create? If you live in New York City or nearby, you can visit him on various gigs . . . but you might also want to have a little shiny plastic hour of superb joys for your very own. Hence, I urge you to investigate his new CD on the Rivermont Records label, COLLEGIATE.
and here’s what I had to say about it just a few days ago:
Here’s the music I’ve already posted from this fine funny festive evening:
Perhaps after ST. LOUIS BLUES, I GOT RHYTHM, and STARDUST, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE is the most famous song (or famous set of chord changes) in jazz. Tom Lord’s online jazz discography lists 1561 recorded versions beginning in 1929. This one won’t be listed there, but we can enjoy it anyway.
There’s more to come from this summery evening where friends gathered to celebrate Marty, singing and playing, of course with Dispatch and Vigor at his side.
Marty Grosz has long had an affinity for the music of Fats Waller, which is only right. Here, at his June 23 concert, he offers two Waller classics for our pleasure and enlightenment, with an autobiographical interlude in between. The Members of the Ensemble, who so nobly support Martin Oliver Grosz on his Quest for Swing, are Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb alto horn, Jack Saint Clair, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jim Gicking, trombone; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba; Jim Lawlor, drums, vocal.
KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
“I HAVE TO TELL YOU A LITTLE HISTORY”:
HOW CAN YOU FACE ME?:
Once again, immense thanks to Barry Wahrhaftig for making this evening’s festivities happen. There are more treats to come . . .
I am very pleased to be able to report that the Second Marty Party happened, that I attended same, and that I can share delightful video evidence with those of you who didn’t get to sit under the tent in the blissful night air. Immense thanks are due Barry Wahrhaftig for his inspired persistence and devotion to the art.
The band — dubbed “Marty Grosz and the Self-Preservation Orchestra,” is Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, badinage; Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb alto horn, Jack Saint Clair, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jim Gicking, trombone; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba; Jim Lawlor, drums, vocal. Here they perform LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, which bows to Bing Crosby, Eddie Condon, Milt Gabler, and Pee Wee Russell. Shades of Fifty-Second Street under the tent, among the trees:
Music like this nourishes the soul, so it’s not surprising that many jazz classics are — actually or metaphorically — connected to food. Here are three stirring examples. Dig in!
HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN, in honor of Freddie Keppard:
Albanie Falletta and Arnt Arntzen have fun with BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, thinking of Louis and May Alix:
And Colin’s second foray into that new technology: CLARINET MARMALADE, two ways:
Those are the basic food groups: ingest these portions of joy and you’ll have your hot nourishment for today. And in case you missed the previous spiritual sustenance from that evening, here it is:
and even more:
And — this just in, from Colin, whom I am honored to say is a pal — news of a Father’s Day gig: “It’s myself on cornet and reeds, Ricky Alexander on more reeds, Josh Dunn on guitar (and maybe banjo), and Julian Johnson on drums and washboard. Gonna be doing some hot Jimmie Noone style stuff as well as just a bunch of good old good ones! 1-3 at Freehold in the Park, on the North side of Union Square.” That’s Greenwich Village, New York. Details (and reservations) here.
Here is some more of the uplifting music performed on June 10 at the Morris Museum by my hero-friends, purveyors of joy: Colin Hancock, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal.
WHISPERING, with a perfectly idiomatic and swinging vocal by Mike Davis:
Good advice about monogamous high-fidelity: YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT (OR YOU CAN’T SEE MAMA AT ALL):
And Bennie Moten’s EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT, which does:
In case you missed it the first time around, here’s MILENBERG JOYS — live, then on “the wonder of the age,” the new-fangled phonograph:
Above is my ecstatic review of the whole concert, and there’s still more to come. “What a night!” as we say.
It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.
They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.
Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.
I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.
A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.
I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”
Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!
The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.
“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”
Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.
And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.