Monthly Archives: May 2014

2000 A Millennium Concert Series

jazz logo In spite of the worries about Y2K and predictions of disaster I planned a full schedule for the spring of 2000. Each concert focused on a style or theme which had been important in jazz during the past 100 years. The opening concert marked the return of The Swing Legacy.

Ted Casher watercolor

Ted Casher on Clarinet
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

The personnel consisted of Henry “thins” Francis, piano, arranger and leader, Todd Baker bass, Steve Giunta drums, Ted Casher tenor sax and clarinet, Mike Peipman trumpet, and Mark Pinto alto sax and clarinet. Here’s their lively version of “Tickle Toe.”


Tim Ray returned in early April with a quintet for a concert entitled Bebop Lives. He led a typical bebop quintet featuring a rhythm section and two horns- trumpet and alto.

Tim Ray

Tim Ray
photograph by Susan Wilson

Joining Tim were Jeff Stout on trumpet, Mark Phaneuf on saxophone, Marshall Wood on bass and Bob Savine on drums. The jazz quiz from that night is missing but a good question would have been to name the two musicians who helped form the musical sound that we now call bebop. Answer? Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.





At the end of April The Paul Broadnax Quartet presented “Singin the Blues.” Ultimate professional that he is Paul distributed a program for that night listing personnel and the tunes for the night.

Blues program

Program for Singin’ The Blues

“Roll ‘em Pete” features Paul on vocals as well as piano. It is a typical blues, music which is emotional and also tells a story. The tune includes a strong solo by Fred Haas on tenor saxophone.

Donna Byrne

Donna Byrne
photograph by Ruth Williams

Any evening featuring Donna Byrne was a special event. The final spring concert “Saluting the American Songbook” was no exception. Donna was joined by Marshall Wood on bass, Jim Gwin on drums and pianist Tim Ray. To open the show Donna selected a hard swinging version of It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing” by Duke Ellington. She followed it with a light swing version of “Remember” which includes a tasty solo by Marshall. After hearing these tunes it’s easy to understand why Tony Bennett previously described her as “one of the best young jazz singers in the country today.”

“An Evening with Ron Gill” continued the theme of the American Songbook. His concert featured the works of Ellington, Gershwin and Strayhorn. Ron had spent twenty years researching the work of Billy Strayhorn for his recording “Ron Gill sings the songs of Billy Strayhorn” which had been produced by WGBH and WGBH Records. On stage with Ron were Manny Williams, piano, Ron Mahdi bass, Reid Jorgensen drums, John Stein guitar and Bill Thompson reeds.

The Joyce DiCamillo Trio had received rave reviews from the audience at their debut performance in 1999 and returned for a second appearance in October.

The most memorable concert of 2000 was the last. The first weekend in December Dave McKenna performed with Donna Byrne, Marshall Wood and Jim Gwin. The opportunities to hear Dave had become rare. His health problems had forced him to leave Cape Cod in April and move to Providence, Rhode Island. Bob Blumenthal, jazz critic at the Boston Globe, went to Providence the week before the concert to interview Dave. The article was published in the newspaper on Friday December 1, 2000. “At age 70, McKenna sees himself more than ever as a “saloon pianist,” a self-styled description reflecting his musical priorities. ‘The young piano players can all put me in their pocket in terms of technique,’ he said. ‘They don’t all play the melody that well, though. If I have a strong point, that’s it. I just realized that I liked songs, that the tunes are what got me interested in music. And while I love jazz, I never wanted to be a ‘stretch-out’ jazz musician. Bird was really the only guy entitled to take 50 choruses on a tune, because he was always inventive.’” According to the article Dave was looking forward to the gig, especially the chance to play with “one of my favorite singers. I love working wit her, even though it means I have to read music.”

Dave McKenna

Dave McKenna reading music
photograph by Ruth Williams

Marshall Wood recalls the weekend concerts very well. “I remember that it was one of Dave’s last public performances. He was walking with a cane and he wasn’t feeling great. I remember that his playing was incredible (as it ALWAYS was). What few people know is that he was a great supporter of Donna. He made that clear to me on a car ride from CT to the Cape. He told me that her reluctance to pursue a career in music was admirable but if she had, he felt she would have been among the best. Dave told us after the first night of that 2000 concert that he didn’t feel he was playIng at his best. We were in complete disagreement. The second night he really blew us away! His playing was never anything less than total perfection!!”

Where are they now?

Dave McKenna died in Pennsylvania October 8, 2008 at the age of 78. The New York Times article published after his death includes this quote: ““I don’t know if I qualify as a bona fide jazz guy,” he once said. “I play saloon piano. I like to stay close to the melody.”

1999 fall series opens at a new venue

jazz logo

Stan Strickland

Stan Strickland
photograph by Ruth Williams

Stan Strickland and Laszlo Gardony opened the new venue at Christ Episcopal Church in October. Stan was well known to Highland Jazz audiences but this was Laszlo’s first appearance in the series. That night Stan sang, played several different reed instruments and accompanied Laszlo on various percussion instruments including the conga – a tall, narrow, single-headed African drum. In this medley Stan begins with Clifford Brown’s “Blues Walk” and then moves on to “Alone Together;” in his solo Lazlo inserts two choruses of the blues- a great example of how these two musicians “played off” each other’s ideas.


The Jazz Professors returned in November with Joe Hunt on drums, Paul Fontaine on trumpet, Ray Santisi on piano, Vishnu Wood on bass and Tony Corelli on saxophone. Although new to the group Vishnu came with an impressive resume having toured and recorded with many musical greats such as Elvin Jones, Terry Gibbs, Randy Weston, Yusef Lateef and Barry Harris. In their rendition of “Lotus Blossom” by Kenny Dorham you can hear the talent of each individual as well as the force of the group as a whole.

Sometime during the summer I had received a CD from the Joyce DiCamillo Trio, a group based in Connecticut. I was so impressed by the recording (their fifth CD) that I hired them to perform in October. Their combined resumes read like a Who’s Who of Jazz. Pianist Joyce DiCamillo is listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities and Outstanding Young women of America.

Joyce DiCamillo Trio

Joyce DiCamillo Trio

Drummer Joe Corsella had toured extensively with such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Marian McPartland, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims and Lee Konitz. Bassist Rick Petrone had performed with Buddy Rich, Chet Baker, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Torme and Marian McPartland. It was a splendid concert. The trio’s version of “I’m Old Fashioned” gives each player a chance to shine.

As for the new venue…………..I think people liked the table set up, although there were some who preferred to sit alone and moved their chairs into the aisles on the side of the room. The sound was quite good. Because the stage was raised you could see the musicians from anyplace in the room. The coffee was a big hit as the ample space to gather during intermission. On the other hand some of the folding chairs had no padding and were very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the little candles on the tables couldn’t conceal the fact that the hall was rather dismal. It was a basement with absolutely no decorations on the beige walls. Moreover the candles were not reliable; sometimes for no apparent reason one or two would just refuse to turn on no matter how new the battery was. I rationalized that in past eras people used to gather in basement clubs or grimy bars to hear the music that they loved and Highland Jazz was definitely following that tradition.

1999 Saxophones reign and another venue change presents a challenge

jazz logo I was particularly excited by the series of concerts I had planned for the winter/spring of 1999. February started off with the Dick Johnson Quartet. Dick was a true icon in the Boston area, a premier reed player- master of the clarinet, saxophones and flute. Artie Shaw had personally chosen Dick to direct the Artie Show Big Band when he retired- quite an honor- and one that Dick accepted with his usual modesty.

Dick brought sparkle and warmth to any performance- always smiling and always very appreciative of the audience. It was obvious how much he really loved to play. Joining him that night were Paul Schmeling on piano, his son Gary Johnson on drums and Marshall Wood on bass.

Gray Sargent was on tour with Tony Bennett and was generally unavailable for most local events. However, Tony had given his musicians a brief time off in February and March; although I didn’t have much advanced notice I was able to book the hall at Lasell for an extra concert in March. Gray played in a trio format with Marshall Wood on bass and Les Harris, Jr. on drums. Gray gave the audience two full sets of music;I felt he would have been happy to play even longer. When in charge of his own group he could really stretch out. He especially liked to challenge his fellow musicians by calling a whole variety of tunes, including some obscure ones.  Both Marshall and Les were up to the challenge that night. Here is the trio’s rendition of “I want to be happy” by composer Vincent Youmans and lyricist Irving Caesar.

A week later the Tim Ray Quartet presented “Happy Birthday Duke Ellington” – a celebration of the Duke’s 100th birthday. With Tim were Marshall Wood on bass, George Schuller on drums and special guest Herb Pomeroy on trumpet.

Cercie Miller

Cercie Miller photograph by Ruth Williams

April featured another saxophonist- Cercie Miller. Her quartet included Bob Savine on drums, Dave Clark on bass and Tim Ray on piano. The jazz quiz that night featured questions about women in jazz.

Jazz quiz

Jazz Quiz April 1999

The answers are at the end of the post.

Bill Pierce

Bill Pierce photograph by Ruth Williams

The last concert of the season featured the Bill Pierce Quartet with Bill on tenor and soprano saxophones, Conseulo Candelaria on piano, Ron Savage on drums and Ron Mahdi on bass. If you listen carefully you can Bill counting out the rhythm by snapping his fingers at the beginning of this hard-swinging version of Ellington’s “Take the A-train.” There is a totally different mood in Strayhorn’s “Prelude to a Kiss” where Bill shows his more romantic side.

It turned out that the spring of 1999 marked the end of our stay at Lasell College. The school administration planned to build senior housing on the campus which later became known as Lasell Village. Initially I thought the project would provide us with a built-in audience for our concerts. However, the school decided to locate the project’s marketing department in the Yamawaki Art and Cultural Center and convert the performance hall into office space. Therefore, in the midst of a highly successful spring series I was frantically searching for a new venue.

I looked at a multitude of places, or at least it seemed that way at the time: various churches, private schools and a middle school in Newton. In the end I chose the Episcopal Church on Highland Avenue in Needham. The church was on a main street, very easy to find. There was parking across the street in the Needham library lot. The basement hall had a stage, a good piano and could accommodate about 200 people. There was a full kitchen in the back of the room and very nice bathrooms nearby. There was even storage space so that we could leave some supplies there.

In the back of my mind was an old dream of having table seating and a cabaret atmosphere. I had tried that setup at Pine Manor but had to abandon the tables because they used up too much room. The church hall, however, would be large enough. I bought dozens of battery operated candles so that when the lights were turned off it would look as if real candles were on each table.

The major negative about the venue was that the church was not in Newton where I received Art Council support. However, I was the best alternative available I could find and afford.

How much the change would affect the audience only time would tell. As before I was plagued by the question- would the audience transition again to a new location?

Jazz Quiz answers

1.Ina Rae Hutton and her  Mellodears, the Sweethearts of Rhythm

2. Some Like it Hot.

3. Ella Fitzgerald and the Chick Webb Orchestra.

4. Lil Hardin was Louis Armstrong’s third wife

Trombonist and arranger Melba Liston, pianist

Pianist and Singer Shirley Horn

Singer and composer Peggy Lee.

saxophonists Cercie Miller

Pianist, composer and arranger, leader Toshiko Akiyoshi

Canadian born pianist to Singer Diana Krall

Singer who said she didn’t sing jazz is Mahalia Jackson

Radio jazz show host is the late Mary McPartland.

5. Terry Lynn Carrington.

6. Leonard Bernstein, On The Town