Bird makes two appearances in 1994

jazz logo  The winter of 1993 was one of the worst in recent memory. To celebrate its end Paul Broadnax put together a concert entitled “Spring is Here.” His quartet included Peter Bodge on drums, Dave Trefethen on guitar and Peter Kontrimas on bass. Here’s the jazz quiz from that night.

Jazz quiz

Jazz IQ Quiz about spring

“Trumpet Madness,” which debuted in 1992, returned in April, once again under the leadership of Herb Pomeroy. Everyone enjoyed the informal rivalry of the trumpet men: Herb, Paul Fontaine and Greg Hopkins.

Trumpet Madness

left to right- Joe Hunt, Greg Hopkins, Charlie LaChapelle, Paul Fontaine, Alex Elin and Herb Pomeroy
photograph by Ruth Williams

Trumpet Madness

“Trumpet Madness”
photograph by Ruth Williams

“Bird Lives” brought the music of Charlie Parker for the first time to Highland Jazz. This was a programming leap of faith. It is true that Charlie Parker is considered the creator of bebop- a musical style which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. At first a revolutionary music, bebop is now classic jazz. Bird, once the outsider, is now the old master. The challenge was finding musicians who could handle the type of vigorous solos Parker’s bands played. Historically the true bebop band was a quintet with alto sax, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. For our Bird evening I deviated a little from history and asked Bill Pierce to take the Bird role on tenor, feeling confident that he could do justice to Bird’s intricate and complicated harmonies. With him were Paul Fontaine on trumpet, Alex Elin on piano, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Joe Hunt on drums.  It is interesting to reflect that the music of the 1950s and 60s, considered so revolutionary then, was now quite familiar to the audience of 1994.

One of the techniques I used to draw in an audience was to create an intriguing title for the evening. Instead of just announcing that the xyz band would perform I tried to develop a theme. Some musicians were not enthusiastic about the idea. I would sometimes hear the following comments: “Why can’t I just play or sing what I want?” or “I would rather perform my tunes.”

Unless the performers were well-known and had a strong following I was concerned about attracting an audience large enough to cover costs.  Using a theme gave the audience an idea about what to expect and provided some sort of a comfort zone, often a reason to buy a ticket.

This approach, however, didn’t always work out. One example was the June concert in 1994, entitled “All the Things you are,” featuring the music of Jerome Kern. Vocalist Jim Porcella made his debut with Highland Jazz that night.  He had a good resume: he was the featured male vocalist with Dick Johnson’s Swing Shift. According to Ron Della Chiesa of WGBH-FM “Jim sings with feeling, warmth and emotion.”

Jim and I discussed the program at length and he suggested an evening of Jerome Kern’s music.  However, the night of the concert he sang only one Kern tune and for the rest of the evening he performed songs that were part of his usual repertoire. Quite of few members of the audience expressed their disappointment by asking me what happened to Jerome Kern? They had come expecting to hear songs like “Ole Man River,” “The way you look tonight,” ” Smoke gets in your eyes” etc. I apologized; I was dumbfounded myself. Why did Jim accept the gig and suggest the theme if he did not intend to keep to the agreement? I never discovered the answer.

October brought the return of the Meredith d’Ambrosio-Eddie Higgins Duo. They had met on Cape Cod in July of 1987. Meredith was playing a gig and as one news article commented: “She played. He stayed. And, at the night’s end they were side by side at the piano bench, performing piano/vocal duets.”  They married a year later.

Higgins and d'Ambrosio

Eddie Higgins and Meredith d’Ambrosio
photograph by Ruth Williams

I have always felt that they were the perfect duo to perform in the Founders Room- Meredith’s husky and sultry voice and Eddie’s relaxed and delicate playing. They really had a way of captivating the audience- their musical chemistry was mesmerizing.

Quite a change of pace arrived in October with “Satchmo’s got it! A tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong” by the Dave Whitney Quartet.

Dave Whitney Quartet

left to right-Peter Kontrimas, Dave Whitney and Jon Wheatley
photograph by Ruth Williams

Trumpeter/vocalist Dave Whitney had been leading his own band since 1971 and was well respected for his interpretation of traditional jazz. He has an upbeat personality and enjoyed sharing lots of Armstrong stories with the audience. According to Ron Della Chiesa “the golden trumpet of Dave Whitney is unsurpassed…the reincarnation of Bix Beiderbecke.” Accompanying Dave were Jon Wheatley on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Chuck Laire on drums. We also presented a slide show featuring the photography of Ruth Williams and used the photos to test the audience’s jazz IQ about the musicians on the screen.

Paul Broadnax returned in November this time with a tribute to the fall, entitled “Tis Autumn.” People were surprised at the number of tunes inspired by falling leaves and crisp cool days.  His quartet included Paul on piano and vocals, Peter Bodge on drums, Marshall Wood on bass and a newcomer- Fred Haas on reeds.

Fred Haas

Fred Haas

“Live Bird” was a one-man play about Charlie “Bird” Parker, written, directed and performed by saxophone player Jeff Robinson.  In the play Jeff combined music and monologues to portray the life of Charlie Parker. The story begins in 1947 when Bird was 27 years old, at the peak of his creative powers.

Live Bird

Jeff Robinson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Martha Glinski

Martha Glinski and her oil painting of “Bird”
photograph by Ruth Williams

In the first floor living room we also featured the oil paintings of Martha Glinski who did paintings of Bird and many of his contemporaries

During the performance Robinson played both tenor and alto sax.  According to saxophonist Frank Morgan “this is one of the best plays about Bird that I’ve ever experienced.” Jeff had presented the play once or twice before coming to Pine Manor and considered it a work in process. He wanted to use the Pine Manor performance as another dress rehearsal and asked the audience for feedback at the end.  In retrospect I wished the play had already been fine tuned.

Where are they now?

When Meredith d’Ambrosio’s newest album “By Myself” was released,  Jazz Wax did a two-part interview with her. Here is part one.

This web site entitled “Live Bird” has a lot of interesting information about both Charlie Parker and Jeff Robinson. There is also a link to a sneak preview of the play itself.

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