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.
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.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVdj01DZDjEui
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.
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.
“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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57enNzLR2QU
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.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HS8xr_XSVqg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXCf6AqaJf4
“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.”
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.”