Monthly Archives: February 2014

1992 Sparkles With Vocalists and Art

jazz logo  We led off in March with An evening with Rebecca Parris.”Not since 1983 had I presented Rebecca in a small setting. She was usually a headliner at the all-day summer festivals. I never asked her which type of setting she preferred, but I personally liked to hear her in a smaller room. The publication Jazziz had recently stated “This lady (Rebecca) has everything it takes to go to the very top of her profession.” I hired Paul Broadnax to accompany her as pianist/vocalist.

Parris and Broadnax

Paul Broadnax, Rebecca Parris, Peter Kontrimas behind on bass
photograph by Ruth Williams

This was only Paul’s second appearance for Highland Jazz but as time went on, he would become extremely popular with the audience – always giving his best at every performance.  Peter Kontrimas, who had a weekly gig with Paul, played bass that evening.

Donna Byrne

Donna Byrne
photograph by Ruth Williams

Fascinating Rhythm in April featured Donna Byrne and the music of George Gershwin.  You could probably schedule a concert to last for two to three days non-stop and still not have enough time to play all of Gershwin. He contributed hundreds of  tunes to the American Song Book that have become an integral part of the jazz repertoire. Accompanying Donna on piano was Alex Elin, one of those musicians who had mastered two diverse instruments- tenor sax and piano. At the time of the concert he had been a faculty member of the keyboard department at Berklee for 15 years. He was joined by bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Bob Gullotti.

“Jazz Guitar Night” with Gray Sargent and Jon Wheatley had been such a success the year before that I invited them back in May. They mesmerized the audience again. This time Marshall Wood was on bass and Jim Gwin on drums. Jim was a new addition to Highland Jazz but he, too, would become a familiar face in the future.

Since “Tenor Madness” had attracted a large audience every time we presented it, I suggested to Herb Pomeroy that he organize a “Trumpet Madness” for September. He thought it was a good idea and that three trumpeters would enjoy the challenge of playing with each other.

Hopkins

Herb Pomeroy listens to Greg Hopkins’ solo
photograph by Ruth Williams

He invited Greg Hopkins and Paul Fontaine to join him. Each had led  his own band, had a particular style and an impressive list of recordings. I wasn’t  sure how the three of them would gel but it turned out to be an exciting evening. And as usual Herb was right – I didn’t have to worry about a thing.

In October “Women in Jazz” came to Pine Manor in the form of a hot quintet named Bougainvillea. The members included Jeanette Muzima on vibes, Carolyn Castellano on drums, Julie Sussman on alto sax, Ruth Mendelson on electric bass, Janet Scriber on percussion and Molly Ruggles on piano, synthesizer and bells.

Bougainvillea had been voted best combo over 27 other groups from the U.S. and Brazil at the 5th Annual Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival. The ensemble was named for a vine with beautiful flowers that had the persistence and strength to tear down walls- a good name for an all-woman jazz band.

This event attracted quite a few gay couples. I assumed they came out in support of an all-woman band. I hoped they would return for another concert, once they had experienced a event in the intimate venue of the Founders Room. This didn’t happen and taught me something important. Many people will only come to hear a particular musician or group; they “follow” that musician or band no unlike “the followers” of certain rock bands. These same people won’t come to hear anybody else. Their allegiance is just that narrow. I, on the other hand, assumed that if someone enjoyed jazz he or she would be interested enough in the music to want to hear a variety of bands. It is true that Highland Jazz had a core loyal following that came to many concerts every year. My challenge was to enlarge that core in order to keep the organization afloat.

1992 ended with a reprieve of “Color Me Jazz.”   The Paul Broadnax Quartet opened the concert with Paul on piano and vocals, Peter Bodge on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and special guest, Lou Colombo, on trumpet.

woodcut

Peter Bodge wood cut. Left to right Peter Bodge, Lou Columbo, Marshall Wood, Paul Broadnax
photograph by Ruth Williams

Peter Bodge was another musician who was also a visual artist. He  used linoleum blocks to create black and white portraits of famous jazz musicians. At the time of the concert Peter was a long-time resident of Newburyport and had taught art at Pentucket Regional High School in West Newbury for 18 years.  His original images of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young were part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute.

As in the first “Color Me Jazz” event we projected Peter’s work on a screen during the first set.

The second set featured the Alex Elin Quintet with Alex on tenor, and special guest, Herb Pomeroy, on trumpet. The rhythm section consisted of guitarist Gray Sargent, drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist Marshall Wood.  During this set we projected more than 35 of Alex’s landscapes and seascapes. This photo shows Alex looking up one of his paintings during Herb’s solo. I even showed a few of my own watercolors during intermission.

painting

Left to right Joe Hunt, Herb Pomeroy, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood, Alex Elin
photograph by Ruth Williams

Alimansky intermission

Nancy Alimansky and watercolor sketch at intermission
photograph by Ruth Williams

Eric Jackson from WGBH-FM was the MC for the evening.  The jazz quiz that evening had questions about art, music and tunes with colors in the title.

Quiz

“Color Me Jazz” quiz

Since Pine Manor is located in Brookline I had applied for and received a grant from the Brookline Arts Lottery Council to help defray the costs of renting the large hall at the college.

Where are they now?

Here is the most recent information I could find about the leader of Bougainvillea, Jeanette Muzima.

Peter Bodge is still active in music and also in art. His web site describes him as jazz artist, musician and historian and details his current activities.

Highland Jazz Cabaret Continues with Jazz Guitar Night in the Spring of 1991.

jazz logo  Following the huge success of Jazz in Black and White we presented a Jazz Guitar Night featuring Grey Sargent and Jon Wheatley. They were joined by Alan Dawson on drums and Charlie La Chapelle on bass. Gray and Jon have different playing styles on the guitar. But both are virtuoso players whose music is full of warmth and soul. Both also have quiet personalities. I think Jon is a little more reserved than Gray, who can be tempted to relate some interesting anecdotes about other jazzers if he is in the right mood.

John Wheatley

Jon Wheatley
watercolor sketch by Nancy Alimansky

Jon Wheatley came to Boston in 1974 to study at Berklee. Since then he divided his time between performing and teaching. He had been an instructor at the University of Lowell since 1984 and at the time of Jazz Guitar Night was in charge of the jazz guitar curriculum.

Gray Sargent

Gray Sargent
watercolor sketch by Nancy Alimansky

Gray, a true Boston native, grew up in Weston, MA. Like Jon he had studied at Berklee and began playing gigs at an early age. He was the favored accompanist for many international artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Ruby Braff, Illinois Jacquet, Roy Eldredge, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Scott Hamilton and Dave McKenna. By 1991 he had recorded two albums, Strings can really hang you up the most– a duo album with Marshall Wood – and More Ouzo for Puzo with Dave McKenna. He was also featured on several Highland Jazz cassettes.

As expected the music was outstanding. Of course having the strong rhythm section of Charlie LaChapelle and Alan Dawson made everything flow seamlessly.

Tenor Madness returned in May with Bill Pierce, Alex Elin and George Garzone. The sax men were accompanied by a star-studded rhythm section: Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums.

mili bermejo dan greenspan We presented a Latin American Fiesta in May with the duo Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan. They called their group Duo + 1 because it featured a very special collaboration with guitarist Mick Goodrick. Mick was a veteran of groups led by Gary Burton and Jack DeJohnette. At the time of the concert he was with Charlie Hayden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Salute to the American Songbook in July featured tunes by some of America’s

Reed Man

Reed Man
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

most beloved composers: Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagey Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart and more. Many of the songs had become an integral part of the jazz repertoire. This special salute featured Ray Santisi performing both solo piano and as part of the Alex Elin Quartet with Alex on tenor, Charlie LaChapelle on bass, and Bob Gullotti on drums.

Standard Deviation

Standard Deviation
photograph by Ruth Williams

Opening for Ray was the Standard Deviation, a big band led by alto saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo. The band had debuted in Boston the previous fall and had received critical acclaim.

The final concert in 1991 Reminiscin’ In Tempo featured the Herb Pomeroy Quartet. This marked the first of what would be a long list of appearances by Herb as headliner. Through the years I came to rely on him for suggesting interesting programming.  Equally important was Herb’s professionalism and his usual comment to me – “Don’t worry, Nancy. I’ll take care of it.” All I had to do was make one phone call to Herb and he did everything else- created an innovative program, organized the rest of band, made sure everyone turned up on time and gave the audience a superb evening of music.

Herb was a Gloucester native and, believe it or not, a one-time Harvard dentistry student!  He was a trumpeter/composer/arranger/ and educator extraordinaire. He had been a resident faculty member at Berklee since 1955 and a director ofjJazz ensembles at M.I.T. The Jazz Report did an up-close interview with him that will appear in another chapter. Herb was recognized as a interpreter of the music of Duke Ellington and his alter/ego/protégé Billie Strayhorn.

Herb Pomeroy Quartet

Herb Pomeroy Quartet
left to right Herb Pomeroy, Paul Schmeling, John Rapucci and Gray Sargent                           photograph by Ruth Williams

Reminiscin’ in Tempo explored the legacy of Ellington and Strayhorn as interpreted by Herb’s Quartet. Joining him was Gray Sargent on guitar, Paul Schmeling (then head of Berklee’s keyboard department) on piano and bassist John Rapucci, also on the Berklee faculty.

Where are They Now?

Jon Wheatley is now an associate professor at Berklee  in the guitar department.

Gray Sargent has been touring with Tony Bennett for many years. This video features Tony and Gray as a duo playing “The way you look tonight.”  After the first chorus the rest of the band chimes in. Had I known that Gray would no longer be performing locally on a regular basis, I would have asked Ed Williams to record every note he ever played at the concerts I produced.

Mick Goodrick is in the guitar department at Berklee.  In this interesting video he plays Jobim’s Meditation with Pat Metheny at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2005.

Charlie LaChapelle

Charlie LaChapelle
photograph by Ruth Williams

Charlie LaChapelle died Oct. 29, 1996, at age 52. Music was the most important thing in his life, surpassing financial success and even his own health. I used to joke that he lived in a phone booth because there were so many phone numbers listed after his name in my address book. He certainly didn’t lead a stable lifestyle. After his death I attended a benefit concert for his daughter, Monica, at the Willow Jazz Club in Somerville. Many friends and fellow musicians were there reflecting on the loss of a soulful and dear man.

After spending five years in Boston Andrew D’Angelo now lives in New York where he has become quite active within the downtown avant-garde community. He has key roles in bands like Human Feel, the Matt Wilson Quartet and Tyft.

Jazz in Black and White- Highland Jazz’s Most Memorable Concert

jazz logo  What makes one concert stand out from all the others, especially in a group of more than 175 events? First, the music must be first rate played by exceptional musicians. We had that for Jazz in Black and White.”World-renown bassist Milt Hinton came from New York to join forces with two of Boston’s most outstanding players: Ray Santisi on piano and Alan Dawson on drums. Tony Cennamo, of WBUR-FM served as host for the event.

Milt was 80 years old at the time of the concert. In the words of Boston Globe critic Bob Blumenthal “Milt was a bass player and photographer extraordinaire, who has literally played with, and shot, everyone from Art Tatum to Branford Marsalis.”

Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton
photograph by Ruth Williams

Milt, alias “The Judge” had been active as a musician for nearly six decades and had performed and recorded with such legendary artists as Erskine Tate, Art Tatum, Jabbo Smith, Red Norvo, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Hackett, Bob Wilber, Pearl Bailey, Zoot Sims, Buck Clayton and Erroll Garner. He had played several times at the White House.  He helped organize an oral project for the National Endowment for the Arts that recorded the memories of dozens of jazz pioneers.

He was also an outstanding photographer. His book Bass Line contains 200 of the more than 37, 000 photographs he recorded during his long career in jazz. According to well-known photographer Herb Snitzer “Milt is very direct, very honest. He doesn’t try to be arty, he tries to be human….Milt is a visual historian with a clear sense of what is happening around him and who he is and he’s documented it.”

Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson at Gasson Hall
photograph by Ruth Williams

Second, there had to be an interesting program. We had that. Milt had agreed to have a conversation with Herb about jazz and black culture in America.  As part of the discussion Milt planned to show some of his famous photographs with comments, analysis and sidelights. He showed dozens of photos and talked about the racism he had endured while traveling on the road in the South. He also shared remembrances about some of the famous musicians he knew such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. He revealed that Louis Armstrong kept a valet with him to operate tape players during the night because he couldn’t sleep without music. His Billie Holiday photo shows her near tears as she listened to the playback during her final recording session. It was a fascinating presentation.

Milton Hinton

left to right Ray Santisi, Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Third, to qualify as a memorable concert there had to be some drama. We had that. When I arrived at Gasson Hall at Boston College where the concert was scheduled to take place, the custodian met me in the hall. In spite of several previous conversations, no chairs were set up. ”Not a problem,” he assured me; “there was plenty of time to do that.” However, I suddenly realized that the grand piano was locked solid. The custodian’s face was blank; he didn’t know the combination. He called one of the Jesuit priests who rushed over but could only apologize. Someone called the head of the music department but there was no answer. A security cop came by with a gun in his holster. “Well, why don’t you just shoot it off!” I cried. People were starting to arrive. I was becoming desperate. Paul Broadnax offered to bring in his electronic piano from the car. By some miracle someone arrived from the music department to attend the concert. She provided the home phone number of the department secretary who read me the combination of the lock. Lesson learned – any concert is one stop away from disaster.

Fourth, there had to be a personal component to make a concert stand out as the most memorable. We had that. I picked up Milt and his wife Mona at the airport. I had arranged for a Berklee student to follow me in his car to bring Milt’s large bass. Milt invited us both up to his hotel room, sent out for room service, and spent several hours with us sharing anecdotes about his years on the road. It was a fascinating afternoon.

Fifth, there had to be an emotional component. We had that. At the end of the concert I handed Milt a check for the evening. He refused to take it. He said I was working so hard to keep jazz alive that he wanted to donate his fee to Highland Jazz. We argued about it and finally I agreed to write him a smaller check. But I had a plan. I wrote to Mona and asked her to send me a picture of their home in Queens. He had talked a lot about his house when we chatted at the hotel and it was obvious that his home meant a lot to him. I used the photograph to do a watercolor painting. Mona said he loved it and hung it over the mantel in their living room. I had been able to thank him in a special way.

For all these reasons Jazz in Black and White stands out as the most memorable concert I ever produced.

Where are they now?

Milt Hinton died in 2000. There is an excellent web site about him that was created by David Berger and Holly Maxson. David worked on film and book projects with Milt.

Here are two excellent videos of Milt. In the first Milt plays “Old Man Time,” a favorite tune of his and the final tune at the Jazz in Black and White concert.

The second video is from the “Tonight Show” with Doc Severinsen featuring Milt’s  signature slapping technique during the tune “Indiana.”

The Fall of 1990 Brings More New Faces to Highland Jazz.

jazz logo  First and foremost was a concert featuring the nationally known guitarist John Abercrombie. He and Alex Elin had played together during their student days at Berklee. John agreed to return to Boston for a reunion concert with Elin and another friend, bassist Al Reed. Completing the quartet was drummer Bob Gullotti.  We recorded the concert and later issued a cassette called Just Friends.

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie
photo by Jonnie Miles

Abercrombie had a distinctive style which varied from bop to free-jazz. He was a frequent winner of the Downbeat critics’ and readers’ polls and was known around the globe both as leader of his own group and as a much sought after sideman. He had toured extensively with Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham, Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans and Jack DeJohnette.

Since I couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel room for John, I offered to put him up at my home. He spent most of his time visiting other musicians in town; I can’t say I got to know him at all. My memory is that he was reserved and quiet. He was very amused by the Jazz IQ quiz we used the night of the concert. Marshall Wood had suggested the questions; they all related to guitarists. Here’s a copy. It was one of Marshall’s most challenging quizzes, to say the least.

quiz

Jazz IQ Quiz

In October we presented Donna Byrne as the head of her own quartet. She was joined by her regular trio of Gray Sargent on guitar, Jim Gwin on drums and her husband Marshall Wood on bass. By this time Donna had quite a following and the room was packed.

Lou Colombo

Lou Colombo
photo by Ed O’Neill

Another new face came in November. Lou Colombo was a long-time resident of Cape Cod and had his own band. Dizzy Gillespie often described him as “my favorite natural trumpet player.” Lou had played extensively with Dick Johnson and Dave McKenna. He enjoyed playing Dixieland tunes as well as other jazz standards. With him that night was Jon Wheatley on guitar, Frank Shea on drums and Marshall Wood on bass.

Jphn Wheatley

Jon Wheatley                                          photograph by Ruth Williams

Lou appeared in many subsequent Highland Jazz concerts. He was a delightful man to work with- full of humor but also very humble.

Where are they now?

To learn more about John Abercrombie’s current activities, visit his web site.  For a video I found a full-length recording of a concert featuring his quartet from 2011.

Lou Colombo passed away on March 3 in 2012 in Fort Myers, FL, as the result of a car accident. He was 84. A memorial concert was held for Lou at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis on Father’s Day that year.  A New Orleans style procession led the way down Hyannis Main Street to the Melody tent. The Barnstable Patriot published this article about Lou after his death. This video of Lou shows him playing while holding the trumpet only in his right hand.

“Color Me Jazz” Combines Music and Art; “Jazz West” Kicks Off at the Sheraton Needham Hotel

jazz logo  As one newspaper commented “not all jazz is blue.” This year’s annual jazz festival, Color Me Jazz combined an evening of mainstream jazz with an art slide show. The venue was Ellsworth Hall at Pine Manor College- a large, air-conditioned auditorium equipped with the technology to project paintings on a screen at the back of the stage.

The lineup was impressive: the Jay Brandford Septet with Jay on alto, Chris Cheek on tenor, Kenny Wenzel on trombone, Dan Trudell on piano, Ron McWhorter on bass and John Ramsay on drums. Next came the duo of husband and wife, Meredith d’Ambrosio and Eddie Higgins. This was Meredith’s first appearance at a Highland Jazz event. Her husky, sultry voice seemed to magically transport the audience to a small club on the left bank of Paris.

The final group featured Alex Elin on tenor, Eddie Higgins on piano, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Alan Dawson on drums.

Both Meredith and Alex were accomplished watercolor painters and had won numerous awards.  We projected their paintings on a screen while they played.

I negotiated with the Sheraton-Needham Hotel to host a summer series of four free concerts. I modeled the series after one at the Bedford Stouffer’s Inn which had been running successfully for years. Through this free series I hoped to increase the audience for upcoming events at Pine Manor.

The first concert featured Rebecca Parris and attracted more than 300 people to the hotel ballroom. The event received rave reviews from the local Needham press.  According to Jules Becker of the Chronicle “Parris scats with the ease of Ella Fitzgerald, amuses with the sassiness of the late Sarah Vaughan and phrases with the sharpness of Nancy Wilson and Carmen McRae.”

The other three concerts in the series featured the Jay Brandford Septet, guitarist Gray Sargent and his trio and Alex Elin and his quartet.

watercolor

Kansas City Blues
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

The summer ended with a program back at the Founders Room entitled In Search of  My Heart featuring Semenya McCord on vocals, Dianthe Myers Spencer on keyboards, Herbie King on drums and Bruno Destrez on bass.

Since 1982 Semenya had been artistic director of Hemisphere Associates, a collaboration of New England performing artists. She and Herbie knew about my financial concerns and agreed to have Hemisphere Associates partially sponsor her appearance at Pine Manor.

Where are they now?

Meredith d’Ambrosio’s  web site includes some beautiful examples of her artwork and information about her music and writing (www.meredithdambrosio.com/).  Globe critic Bob Blumenthal wrote that Beware of Spring, (1995) was her best recording up to that date. Here is a clip of “No One Knows” from that album (maurrizio).

 

Semenya McCord’s web site is full of information about her current activities (www.semenyamccord.com/index.html).. Unfortunately she has moved to Illinois, but still returns occasionally to the Boston area to perform.

The Highland Jazz Cabaret Comes To Town

jazz logo  The spring of 1990 heralded the debut of the Highland Jazz Cabaret. My goal had also been to create a relaxed and informal setting for concerts. The Founders Room seemed an ideal setting to transform into a cabaret. We set up tables around the room and also offered individual seating for those who preferred that arrangement.

Gray Sargent Trio

Grey Sargent Trio
photograph by Ruth Williams

In March we featured the Alex Elin Piano Trio followed in April by the Gray Sargent Trio with Marshall Wood on bass and Jim Gwin on drums.

Gray Sargent

Gray Sargent
photograph by Ruth Williams

Ed Williams made a live recording of this concert for an upcoming cassette. This was an opportunity for the audience to hear Gray in a small group setting where his playing could really shine.

In May we introduced a new musician – saxophonist and composer Cercie Miller. Formally a member of the group, “Girl’s Night Out,” Cercie now led her own quartet.  Accompanying her were James Brough on piano and synthesizer, Joe Fitzgerald on bass and Bob Savine on drums.

Cercie Miller

Cercie Miller
photograph by Ruth Williams

 

Cercie Miller was the first female saxophonist to play for the Highland Jazz series. She’s a small woman with a large sound, both rich and energetic. Critic Bob Blumenthal of the Boston Globe had described Cercie’s playing as “torrid and scorching.” He was right -it was an exciting evening of music.

Where are they now?

Over the years Cercie has played in numerous Highland Jazz concerts. She is currently on the performance faculty at Wellesley College and director of the student group “Wellesley BlueJazz.” In this video from the 2013 Provincetown Jazz Festival she plays an original composition “Blue Parrot.”

Summer Free Concerts 1988- a Feast for Mosquitos

jazz logo  Another venue change, but this time we had no choice. The tenants in the building which faced the bakery parking lot had complained about the music. Evidently some of them had office hours at night and found the music too loud and disturbing. This came as a serious disappointment to Mario who sponsored the concerts in part to bring attention to the three businesses he owned in the Newton Highlands square.

Where to go? We got permission to use the Hyde School playground less than two blocks away. It was far from ideal. Unlike the bakery parking lot, where the buildings provided an informal stage for the musicians, here they had to play in an open field. The sound quickly dispersed; it was difficult to set up the lighting and worst of all the mosquitos were fierce. The atmosphere was altogether lacking in charm.

On the plus side the audience had the chance to hear some new players. Mili Bermejo returned, this time accompanied by Tim Ray on piano and Jim Gwin on drums. Both Tim and Jim would appear in numerous future concerts.  In fact Tim Ray became one of the audience’s favorite piano players.

Cecilia smith

Cecilia Smith
photograph by Ruth Williams

The third concert featured Cecilia Smith on vibes, Anthony Peterson on guitar, Ron Savage on drums and Ron McWhorter on bass. I am sure this was the first time that the audience heard a woman play the vibraphone and she was excellent as this short video shows.

Henrietta Robinson

Henrietta Robinson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Vocalist Henrietta Robinson was also a new face. She too would return many times, including as the leader/organizer of a Women in Jazz program. Accompanying her in the summer were Carolyn Ritt on keyboards, Herbie King on drums, John Voigt on bass and Ken Wenzel on trombone and flute.

For the very first time it rained on the night of a concert and we had to postpone Henrietta’s performance until the following night.

This was the first time in five years that we had to cancel a summer concert. I was really disappointed as were the musicians.  The next night the weather was still not great and we had the band set up in front of the bakery under the protection of the awning. The audience sat in front at tables and seemed to be perfectly delighted to hear the music. It just wasn’t a very large crowd for Henrietta’s first Highland Jazz appearance.

Where are they now?

After graduating from Berklee Cecilia Smith taught there for four years. She then moved to New York where she is actively playing in both a large band format and in small ensembles.