1983 Summer is a Big Hit

Setting Up for the Concert

Setting Up for the Concert

By 7:00 p.m. on the night of the first concert the parking lot of the bakery had been transformed. Mario had brought in professional lighting, set up rows of chairs and filled tables with delicious refreshments. My son Benjamin was a great help–setting up the refreshments and ushering people to their seats. Mario had invited  his whole family to attend,  His mother and his elderly aunts and uncles sat proudly in the front row. They were often expressionless. Perhaps they weren’t jazz fans but had come nevertheless to support “the producer.”

Opening Night 1983

Opening Night 1983

Each concert attracted hundreds of people. Mario clearly loved being the center of attention. Often dressed in a white tux, he personally greeted everyone as they filed in, especially the women, repeating his favorite phrase– “Ciao, Bella.”

Summer program

Summer program 1983

Even the weather cooperated–cool breezes, moonlit nights, and no rain for all four concerts. When the music started, it was hard to remember that you were actually in a parking lot adjacent to the trolley line. The experience was quite magical. After each concert Mario invited the band members to his restaurant where he cooked a delicious meal for everyone. Then we spent hours huddled around the table, listening to the musicians exchange fascinating anecdotes about other gigs, playing on the road, or famous musicians whom they knew.

One of the musicians I hired was the guitarist Gray Sargent. I first heard him play during Trombone Week the previous winter. In the middle of lots of blaring brass I heard some beautiful lyrical lines played on guitar. I checked the program- the name Gray Sargent was unknown to me.  I started to search the newspaper looking for his name in the music listings. I went to several of his gigs and each time his playing stood out as something special.

When I started to line up bands for the summer series I thought it would be great to have Gray lead his own group. I tracked him down at the Stickey Wicket in Hopkinton, a place known  for Dixieland jazz. He was appearing with a band featuring Dave McKenna on piano. At intermission I mustered the courage to approach the bandstand and introduce myself. I told him about the series.

“How do you feel about playing in a parking lot?”

“Fine,” he answered.

It may have been one of his first gigs as a leader. He ws joined by his  good friend Marshall Wood on bass and “D” Sharpe on drums.  What a fabulous evening of music. Who would have guessed that two of the musicians in the Gray Sargent Trio (Gray and Marshall) would be invited to join Tony Bennett’s band many years later?

This first video features a duo with Tony and Gray (celsobe). The second  depicts Tony’s  appearance on the David Letterman Show (DominicanosHoyRD).  If you look carefully you can see Marshall Wood on bass and an occasional glimpse of Gray.

Here’s a list of some of the four bands from the first summer series.:

Bluesberry Jam with Harry Washburn on baritone sax; Gray Sargent Trio; Mel Bloom Quintet with Paul Fontaine on trumpet; and the Peter Koch Swing Band (with Peter on trumpet, Corey Eisenberg on piano, Alex Elin on tenor sax, Bob Pallala on drums  and Dave Hollender on bass.)

What happened to Mario’s idea of having  the audience vote for their favorite band at the end of the summer series? He abandoned that in favor of a much better alternative.  Each band member received an award for participation and a gift certificate for the restaurant, as well as $50 for playing.

highland jazz award

Highland Jazz Award


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