Tag Archives: Vince Giordano

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

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!

MUSIC FOR THE TUESDAY AFTER LABOR DAY (September 8, 2015)

alarm clock

For all those people lamenting the end of the long weekend, who will be complaining when the alarm goes off and they have to resume their lives as adults, here is a more cheerful ditty — circa 1933, words and music by Herman Hupfeld, performed here by Marty Grosz and the Hot Winds in 2009 (Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia) for Arbors Records:

I confess that my favorite recording of this optimistic ditty is the one featuring Red McKenzie with Adrian Rollini’s Orchestra . . . and that I pestered Marty to record his own version, since he and I share an obsession with Mr. McKenzie. But the Rollini version is not on YouTube, although it is on a beautiful Jazz Oracle double-CD set devoted to Adrian.

Here is the source — an excerpt from a 1933 film, MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS (two of my favorite things) with a good deal of Busby-Berkley-esque waving of attractive bodies and body parts [choreography by William Miller], then a positively stimulating rendition of “Are You Makin’ Any Money?” by Lillian Miles.  That second question is directly relevant to the going-to-work scenario I’ve chosen to describe:

For more about MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS, visit this entrancing site devoted to pre-Code films, also the source for the film poster:

MoonlightandPretzelsPoster

I hope that all of you who want jobs have them, that you are treated nicely, that the work suits you — that even after you shut off that obscene noise in the darkness, you are OK with going to a place where they give you some money for doing some thing.

May your happiness increase!

WE CELEBRATE MISTER MORGENSTERN!

Dan Morgenstern turns 85 on Friday, October 24.  But we celebrate him every day.  I know I have learned so much from reading his quiet, straightforward prose (I can recite passages from his Louis liner notes, his Hot Lips Page ones, and a hundred more), his magazine articles and Mosaic notes, his voice coming through the radio (“Jazz From the Archives” on WBGO-FM), and in person. He’s been generous to me and thousands of other researchers in his time at Rutgers, and his generosity didn’t stop when he retired.

He is a model of perception, and his range is never limited.  If it’s good, you’ll find him in the audience.  Yes, he is a link to the past (ask about naby hallowed musicians from 1947 onwards and he saw them and sometimes spoke with them) but he is also very much living in the present, someone who is excited about the gig he went to last night — not an elder who thinks all the glories are gone.

You will have two special opportunities to celebrate Dan, and to celebrate with Dan, this week.

On Wednesday, David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band (that Birdland perennial) will be celebrating Dan with one of their special late-afternoon / early evening gigs. The musicians David has lined up for this celebration include Bjorn Ingelstam, Adrian Cunningham, Marion Felder, and Vince Giordano — but I’m sure that other notables will be in the house and on the stand to celebrate Dan.

Morgenstern Birdland

On Thursday, Will Friedwald is hosting one of his inimitable CLIP JOINT presentations of video performances that Dan has picked out himself as well as a few surprises . . .

Morgenstern clip

To reserve your seat, RSVP to Levis4402@yahoo.com — it’s $10 to join in.

I know both of these events will sell out, so make your reservations early so you aren’t left on the sidewalk.  And if you can’t make either one, a simple, “Mister Morgenstern, happy birthday and thanks so much!” will do when you encounter Dan at a gig.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE FROM DANNY HEP-CAT (1947)

I can’t remember how I first learned of a children’s record, SYLVESTER THE SEAL, which featured Bobby Hackett and other jazz players. (It is not in any discography I know.) But I was terribly excited to find a copy of the two-disc set (two 10″ 78s in a paper sleeve) at an estate sale this summer.  I think it is not only an endearing story but a musically satisfying experience.

SEAL

Charles Grean gets credit for the music (several short blues excerpts, variations on YANKEE DOODLE and AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL); Irving Townsend the story — in part an introduction to jazz, but also a fable with an encouraging moral.

The narrator, Eddie Mayehoff, was a radio star and comic actor; I presume that one of his routines involved speaking in his version of a seal’s voice, which sounds rather like a person talking with his face half-submerged in the bathroom sink. If any seals read JAZZ LIVES, they can write in and comment on his authenticity.

Through the research efforts of Hackett discographers Bert Whyatt (now deceased), George Hulme, and Derek Coller, I found out the personnel of the seriously impressive band.  (Thanks to Derek for sharing the facts; the original data was uncovered by Vince Giordano.)

EDDIE MAYEHOFF with All-Star Orchestra (Eddie Mayehoff, narration; Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Peanuts Hucko, tenor saxophone; Sanford Gold, piano; Bob Haggart, bass; Cozy Cole, drums). New York, New York: Monday, December 29, 1947.

(It is intriguing — or odd? — that they recorded Parts 2, 3, 4, and 1 in that order.) I note that Hackett, Hucko, Haggart, and Cole had worked and recorded with Louis Armstrong that year; in addition, SYLVESTER was completed just before the second Petrillo recording ban of 1948.

The records start off inauspiciously, with a stiffly formal trumpet that bears no resemblance to Hackett’s beautiful arabesques, but the atmosphere warms as we hear more from the band.  The fourth side is especially rewarding.

And although amateur brass players know that it is impossible to sound like Bobby Hackett in the space of fourteen minutes, that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.  I wish more people would take up this challenge, whether or not a job with Benny Bunny and his Broadway Band was at stake:

Here, thanks to a site called “The technicolor Dreams of Perri Prinz – Furry Jazz,” I offer the inside covers with four of the eight charming illustrations from the RCA Victor issue for listeners who wish to follow along:

SEAL inside 1

and

SEAL inside 2

Thanks, “Furry Jazz,” which can be explored here.

That moral?  Anything is possible for those who are fervently committed to their goal, who are truly willing to work for it, who will “put the time in,” which is never this easy. But I hope this story encouraged some young listeners on their own paths. It also helps to have wise, kind friends, willing to share what they know.

“You could, if you tried,” says Danny Hep-Cat — help we all could use.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEPING TRADITIONAL JAZZ ALIVE”: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 10-11-12, 2014)

As an antidote to the recurring journalistic “Jazz is dead,” “Jazz is irrelevant,” “Jazz no longer has an audience,” I offer cheering evidence to the contrary: Jeff and Joel’s House Party (October 10-12, Guilford, Connecticut).

I’ve been to two of the House Parties thrown by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone in Connecticut and they were wonderful weekends: friendly, full of fun, with easy opportunities to hear an abundance of hot music in cozy surroundings. Rather than hearing music at a distance while sitting in a hotel ballroom, people who attend the House Party actually have it at close range, and find themselves surrounded by friends who are there because they, too, enjoy the sounds.

Most of us aren’t actually going to throw a rent party — hire a dozen or more professional musicians and have them play long sets over a weekend — so this is as close as we will get to that experience.  And when you look at the listing of musicians, stars of the traditional jazz scene in the Northeast, you know that “professional” is both accurate and an understatement here.

Only eighty seats are available for each session over this weekend, so I encourage you to investigate soon: previous House Parties have sold out. (I checked the site today, and more than half of the seating is already taken.)

My friend Eric Devine — a brilliant jazz cinematographer — has been on hand to capture some of the highlights of past House Parties for us all.  (His YouTube channel is CineDevine and he takes his camera to surprising places.) Here are a few samples of the wonderful music to be experienced there. From April 2013, John Gill singing SALOON:

Jeff Barnhart tenderly singing and playing Fats Waller’s THERE’S A GAL IN MY LIFE in October 2013:

I’ve chosen more restrained examples of the hot music offered at the House Party, but there’s plenty of AVALON and THAT’S A PLENTY. Here’s one such seismic expression from October 2012, AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

This year, there will be a special Friday night (October 10) concert featuring Dan Levinson and Molly Ryan: 7-9 PM, tickets $30 / person. And the three sessions to follow (Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon) will feature Jeff Barnhart, Joel Schiavone, Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Herb Gardner, Lew Green, Tom Palinko, Fred Vigorito, Genevieve Rose, Bill Reynolds, Bob Ferguson, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, Herb Roselle — everything from solo piano, duos and trios, to full-ensemble traditional jazz and banjo-led sing-alongs. You can purchase tickets for individual sessions or for all three, plus Friday’s concert: the tickets for the weekend sessions include food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Find out more at the event’s Facebook page, or at the Jeff and Joel’s House Party page. Or call Maureen Cunningham at (203)208-1481 — Maureen will return your call in the evening.

May your happiness increase!

LOOKING AND LISTENING CLOSELY: “IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ,” by ANDREW SAMMUT

One of the pleasures of the last few years has been that I have met a whole host of jazz people younger than myself — sometimes seriously younger.

The musicians I cherish and celebrate you all know, and I dare not start the list because a) it would be very long, and b) I surely would leave someone out and hurt her / his feelings.  I’m talking about people who write about this music.

I’ve recently reminded people of the fine heartfelt work Ricky Riccardi is doing — in print, in person, online, on the media — and he is someone I admire and trust, when he speaks about Louis Armstrong and about jazz in general.

You may not know the other young man I am about to celebrate, because he doesn’t have the ebullient public profile of our Mr. R.

But you should know him and his work.  He’s Andrew Jon Sammut, and he thinks deeply but not ponderously about a variety of “early musics,” Vivaldi as well as The Georgians, Locatelli and Larry Binyon. He admires Louis and Bix and the Masters whose names we all know, but he also writes intelligently and with feeling (with research, too) about the people who sometimes get ignored.

His blog is called THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY — Andrew is witty — and the most recent posting is wise and thoughtful, an investigation into that not-well-studied music that draws from ragtime and early ensemble jazz, dubbed later “rag-a-jazz.”  He’s done some serious homework here — in a modern vein — talking with jazz scholar-players Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano, Chris Tyle, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Sager, Hal Smith, and others.

I hope you can read Andrew’s piece: IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ. He asks good questions, and invites others to add what they know: the hallmarks of an honest and humane scholar.  I read the piece with pleasure when it came out, and I am proud that he and I can discuss shared passions and questions.  (“What would Don Murray have been like at a dinner party?”  “Is this an important question?” and more.)

May your happiness increase!