Here was a new idea for us: in January we held a children’s concert at the Jewish Community Center. Toni Ballard created Razzamatazz, a Jazz concert for children; she performed songs from”E.T.,” “Peter Pan,” “Disney’s Dumbo,” “the Wizard of Oz,” and “Sesame Street.” Her special guest was the 19 year-old alto sax player, Christopher Hollyday. We thought children would be intrigued by the teenage saxophonist. The concert would also present a lively introduction to jazz.
Christopher came back in March as leader of his own quartet. He was joined by John Medeski on keyboards, Nat Reeves on bass and Ron Savage on drums. Christopher had become the new hot jazz name on everybody’s list. He was studying in New York, had played at the Village Vanguard jazz club and was the youngest player ever to lead his own group there. He had been on the” Today Show” and in People Magazine. His latest album, entitled Reverence with Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins had received a 4-star review in Downbeat. He was an exciting young player to watch.
I hired tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford for the April concert. Although I had never met him in person he had an impressive resume. A Boston native he had studied with Gunther Schuller and Charles Mingus. He had eight albums to his credit and was artist-in-residence at Brandeis University. He had strong players with him that night: Jeff Keezer on piano, Bruno Destrez on bass and Ron Savage on drums.
However, I was disappointed with the concert on two counts. Except for two tunes, one by Fats Waller and the other by Gigi Gryce, everything Ricky played was an original composition. Our audience generally isn’t overly excited by new compositions- certainly not a whole evening of them. My feeling was that Ricky really wasn’t interested in connecting with the audience. He was going to play his original compositions in spite of what the audience might have liked to hear.
The second reason for my disappointment was a lot more serious. During intermission he called me backstage and in a rather menacing tone said he wasn’t getting enough money for the gig. The hall wasn’t overflowing and I wondered why he thought I might be making a lot of money. I was shocked and a little frightened by him. I told him that we had agreed on a price and that was all I could afford. In thinking about the incident later I was quite sure he would not behaved that way with a man. He never played for me again.
The final spring concert in May was a delight. It featured the Jazz Pops Ensemble with Mike Monaghan on reeds, Bob Winter on piano, Mark Henry on bass and drummer Fred Buda. All of them were members of the Boston Pops or the Esplanade Orchestras.
It was delightful fun concert. The group played tunes from the American songbook ranging from Leroy Anderson and Henry Mancini to Duke Ellington. It would be our last concert at the Countryside School. Now that Mario was no longer involved with Highland Jazz I was free to find another venue.
Where are they now?
The Jazz Pops Ensemble no longer exists. Fred Buda has retired from the Boston Pops after 35 plus years. However, he is still actively teaching and playing. He leads a group called “Two Bass Hit” with Marshall Wood, Dave Buda, Mike Monaghan and Ben Cook.
Mark Henry is a member of the performance faculty at Wellesley College.