Money continued to be an issue every year, even though Highland Jazz consistently received a grant from the Newton Cultural Council. To ensure some stability I decided to offer a yearly membership; this was not a new concept but one I borrowed from the Hartford Jazz Society. Dues were either $10 for a single person or $18 for a couple. With membership came a $1.00 discount on tickets for all concerts. It was in fact a tax-deductible contribution with the benefit of a discount.
“You’re The Top,” the first concert of 1993, featured Donna Byrne singing the music of Cole Porter. She planned to include many well-known standards such as “Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick out of you,” “Begin the Beguine” and “All of Me.” With her were guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Marshall Wood. Donna was receiving a lot of recognition by this time. She had just completed a Hawaiian tour in which she performed jazz standards from the 40s. She was preparing a recording with Dave McKenna, Herb Pomeroy, Gray and Marshall; the anticipated release date was the fall of ’93.
The weather forecast, always a concern for me, was heavy rain. Nevertheless, we had a full house. Suddenly in the middle of the first set we heard crashes of thunder and the lights went out. There must have been a lightning strike nearby. A few emergency lights came on but it was difficult to see. I rushed out to locate the custodian, but he had no suggestions.
In desperation I decided to drive home to bring back as many candles as I could find; at least they would provide additional light. On my way I was forced to take numerous detours; a lot of the streets in my neighborhood were flooded. What should have taken me about 15 minutes turned into over an hour. I missed most of the concert and by the time I returned the lights were back on. I never did find out how Grey and Marshall played without any electricity for the guitar or the bass amp. One note of interest- nobody in the audience asked for a refund!
In April the Alex Elin Trio presented “Round Midnight,” a tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk. Alex was joined by George Garzone on sax, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Joe Hunt on drums. George had the reputation of being an outstanding improviser and was a good choice to interpret Monk’s unique style.
The Swing Legacy played in May- quite a change from the previous month. The group specialized in swing music- the sounds of Ellington, Glenn Miller, Basie, Goodman etc. In addition to Henry “Thins” Francis on piano there was a trumpet, two saxophones, a bass and drums. We even rolled back the Oriental rug to encourage people to get up and dance. Very few did, although I think many were tempted.
More Ellington in June with “The King and the Duke,” featuring the music of Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington. Both Cole and Ellington were piano players, band leaders and composers/arrangers. Most people think of Nat King Cole only as a vocalist but he started out playing piano in a trio format. His trio recordings are classics. Some people think he turned to vocals because that would be more lucrative.
Paul Broadnax organized a quintet for the evening with Ted Casher on reeds, Peter Bodge on drums, Dave Trefethen on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Paul on piano.
Vocalist Henrietta Robinson brought a trio of Frank Wilkins on piano, Ron Savage on drums and Bruce Gertz on bass for the September concert, entitled “My Jazz to you.”
Julia Boynton had come to several Highland Jazz concerts. I knew she was a fan of jazz; what I didn’t know was that she was a tap dancer. She drew me aside one night to ask if I would consider producing a jazz tap show as part of the Highland Jazz series. I knew very little about tap myself, having given up after my second lesson when I was in elementary school.
I did know that tap had been making a comeback due in part to the popularity of the actor/dancer Gregory Hines. There were numerous tap dance studios scattered around Boston and the suburbs and Julia was confident that a tap evening would be a sell-out. She said she would be willing to contact the other dancers for me and to hire the piano player and bass player who usually accompanied them.
She invited three other dancers to join her, each with an impressive resume. Josh Hilberman had been called “a tap dancer ready to step into Gregory Hines’ shoes…” Drika Overton had produced numerous tap events in New Hampshire and had been awarded an individual artist fellowship from the New Hampshire Arts Council; Dianne Walker, known as “Lady Di” for her delicate bell-like tones, was one of the few internationally recognized women in the field. She had appeared on Broadway and in films. She had also served on the board of several tap organizations, and had been a board member of the Massachusetts Cultural Council for ten years . Dianne’s grant awards included The National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Jacobs Pillow, and the New England Foundation for the Arts.
At the time of the concert Julia Boynton was dancing with Brian Jones and had toured New England for five years in his All-Tap Revue.
Julia suggested the title of “Four on the Floor,” which I really liked. Although Julia had promised a good turnout I had not anticipated the size of the crowd that November. We had rented the large auditorium at Pine Manor which held about 400 people. It was a madhouse at the ticket counter; it seemed that every dancer between the ages of 5 and 12 was there. As we tried to accommodate the rush I noticed an older man glide in with an entourage. He went up to one of the volunteers at the ticket counter and announced himself as “…., the Director of the Dance Umbrella.” He told the volunteer that he expected to be “comped,” that is to have complimentary tickets for himself and his entourage. The confused volunteer didn’t know what to do. We actually didn’t have any extra tickets. She sought me out and asked for my help.
I was shocked at the audacity of the man. I had never met him and couldn’t understand why he expected to get free tickets. He had not tried to call before the concert nor leave a message on our answering machine. He was quite rude and condescending to me. I was close to calling the campus police to have him ejected. Finally one of the dancers arrived and asked if I could somehow give him a seat. I let him in alone, without his entourage just to keep the peace. It was the kind of behavior that I would never have expected from another promoter.
The music that night was organized by Paul Arslanian on piano. He was the regular accompanist at jazz tap performances. He brought Steve Neil to play bass. I hired George Garzone on tenor saxophone and Alan Dawson on drums. I felt that George had a good sense of humor and the improvisational skills to work in this context. He looked bemused throughout the performance but did an excellent job. As for Alan I felt that whatever rhythms were required he was the man to lay them down.
Julia was right- it was a very successful evening and helped to provide a financial cushion for upcoming events.
Where are they now?
In this video Henry Thins Francis plays “Sophisticated Lady.” At the beginning you can catch sight of Ed Williams recording the session. The Swing Legacy is still an active band as is evident from their web site.
Julia Boynton is on the dance faculty at the Boston conservatory.
Drika Overton is still dancing and teaching primarily in New Hampshire.
According to his web site Josh Hilberman is currently traveling and giving tap workshops throughout Europe.