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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M-eTCpoEcA&feature=youtube_gdata

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.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw7MdqjxSTA&feature=youtube_gdata There is a totally different mood in Strayhorn’s “Prelude to a Kiss” where Bill shows his more romantic side. https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=IPboRwSw48k

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

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1998 celebrates a gala 15th anniversary

jazz logo  Although Wayne Naus was not a “newcomer” to the series, (having performed as co-leader of the Greg Hopkins/Wayne Naus big band,) he made his first appearance as solo bandleader in March.

Wayne Naus

Wayne Naus
photograph by Ruth Williams

The program was “a Tribute to Clifford Brown” a virtuoso trumpet player who died tragically in a car crash in 1956 at the age of 26. Wayne was joined by Arnie Krakowsky on tenor sax, Mark Pucci on bass, Rick Klane on drums and Joe Mulholland on piano.

As early as the fall of 1997 I had started planning for the 15th anniversary concert. It was clear that we needed a large hall with more seating capacity than the one at Lasell. I sought advice from Judith Anderson, Associate Director of the Mayor’s office for Cultural Affairs in Newton. We had known each other for a long time and she was a great fan of jazz. I felt she could recommend a suitable venue for us. She suggested the auditorium at Newton South High School. It had recently been completely refurbished, had excellent acoustics and a fine piano. I told her that was a great idea but I didn’t know who to approach about reserving the date etc. She asked me to let her know the date and she would take care of the rest. Much to my surprise I never received a bill. I guess Judith reserved it under the office of Cultural Affairs and absorbed the costs, but whatever she did, she never told me.

Once the date was set as April 4 the next step was to hire the musicians. I wanted to include as many people as possible. I started making calls and was delighted to find that anyone who wasn’t already booked agreed to do the show. In the end I hired 17 musicians. With such a large number I couldn’t afford to pay anyone very much money. No one had a problem with that. Quite the opposite – each wanted to thank the organization for providing an opportunity to perform.

Eric Jackson, host of Eric in the Evening at WGBH-fm agreed to act as MC. We even hired a professional engineer who provided sophisticated sound equipment.

Here is the program from the evening:

anniversary program

15th anniversary program

donna Byrne Quartet

left to right- John Lockwood, Donna Byrne, Les Harris, Jr.
photograph by Ruth Williams

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Parris

Rebecca Parris
photograph by Ruth Williams

Jazz Professors

left to right – Richard Evans, Tony Corelli, Jeff Stout
photograph by Ruth Williams

As the program indicates some of the rhythm players performed with several groups. Nevertheless, as you can see in the photo of Joe Hunt there were two drums sets on stage, because not everyone was comfortable playing the same set.

Joe Hunt

Joe Hunt
photograph by Ruth Williams

Ruth Williams assembled a large photo collage depicting 15 years of Highland Jazz events in the various venues that we had used. The collage was on display in the auditorium lobby.

With the help of Ed Williams we issued three new cassettes. All the music came from live events. We had one for horn players, one for rhythm section players and one for vocalists. All the musicians I contacted agreed to donate their music for this fund-raising effort. My watercolors provided the cover art.

anniversary cassettes

Anniversary Cassettes

It was a spectacular evening of music. The house was packed and the excitement in the air was almost palpable. Everyone anticipated the appearance of their favorite performers; it was unusual to see so many outstanding musicians perform on the same stage in one night.  I think the musicians had more fun off-stage, hanging out in the green room than they did on stage.

We received quite a bit of press coverage, particularly from the Newton Tab which did a full page spread complete with photos. I was delighted that the story mentioned in detail the core volunteers, Highland Jazz’s unsung heroes. “Lincoln resident Ed Williams records the concert and sends tapes to the musicians, while his wife, Ruth, takes photographs of the performers for flyers and the organization’s web page. Alimansky’s aunt, Irene Benson, sells the tickets at the door. Needham resident Seymour Levy prepares all the flyers and graphics. Bob Ricles, a former Newton resident, brings soda to each show.” The article also noted that “Many of the performers for the anniversary concert, such as Rebecca Parris, were relatively unknown when they first played with Highland Jazz, but have since gone on to make a name for themselves, in the local area, if not in New York or nationally.”
(The Newton Tab, April 2, 1998. Page 32 and 33.

Three weeks after the anniversary concert we were back at Lasell for a return visit of harmonica player Mike Turk in “Out of This world”. He was joined by Jon Wheatley on guitar, John Ramsey on drums and Barry Smith on bass.

Tim Ray

Tim Ray
photograph by Ruth Williams

May featured the Tim Ray Quartet. Even though Tim had appeared before as the pianist for Donna Byrne this was the first time he performed as leader of his own group. Tim featured the music of Thelonious Monk in a program he called “Monk Stream.” The concert included Marshall Wood on bass, Bob Savine on drums and Herb Pomeroy on trumpet. Tim’s interpretations of Monk’s tunes was fascinating. In addition he played several of his own new compositions that he had written specifically in a monk-like style.

Donna Byrne

Donna Byrne

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth, the Donna Byrne Quartet presented “Mostly Gershwin”, featuring a variety of Gershwin’s tunes as well as some of Donna’s favorite non-Gershwin songs. She was accompanied by Tim Ray on piano, Marshall Wood on bass and Less Harris, Jr. on drums.

 

 

 

October introduced an evening of Brazilian jazz with the debut appearance of the Roger Ebacher Quartet. Roger played both percussion and flute and was joined by Sam Barrios on keyboards, Thomas Hebb on bass and Matt Taylor on drums.

Semenya McCord

Semenya McCord
photograph by Ed Cohen

This very special year ended with two long-time Highland Jazz favorites: the Semenya McCord Quartet in November and the Paul Broadnax Quartet in December for ”A
Jazzy Holiday Concert.” Semenya was joined by Herb King on drums, Frank Wilkins on piano and Wesley Wirth on bass.

Paul featured Fred Haas on reeds, Dave Trefethen on guitar and Peter Kontrimas on bass. As a special treat Newton artist Hank Kearsley displayed several of his drawings of jazz musicians, including some of Paul. This was the first appearance of Fred Haas at a Highland Jazz concert and he received an enthusiastic welcome from the audience.

Where are they now?

Judith Anderson passed away in January 2010, a regrettable loss to her family and to the city of Newton.

Although Tim Ray is probably best known as the pianist for Lyle Lovett  his website details his many musicial accomplishments, including performances at Carnegie Hall, the White House, the Kennedy Center and the 1992 Presidential Inauguration. (http://www.agitatedcatmusic.com/biography/biography.html.) The site also includes information about the innovative trio Tre Corda which featuresTim on piano, Greg Hopkins on  trumpet and cellist Eugene Friesen .A video from the University of New Hampshire provides an opportunity to appreciate Tim’s solo work. Here he plays a medley of Duke Ellington tunes. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v7IJUsSw_Y ).

Fred Haas is a senior lecturer at Dartmouth College (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~music/faculty/haas.html) as well as composer and a master of both saxophone and keyboards. Fred Haas teaches jazz improvisation, jazz history, music theory, saxophone, and jazz piano and directs several jazz combos at the college. What a lot of people don’t know is that he is the founder and director of Interplay Jazz Camp, a week long holistic jazz workshop that incorporates meditation, yoga and tai chi to enhance creativity. Fred also runs his own CD company, JazzToons, that has produced several small group jazz CDs.

 

1997 Adjusting to a new venue –Expanding the list of new performers

jazz logo  The new venue was the Yamawaki Art and Cultural Center at Lasell College in the Auburndale village of Newton. I had visited a number of venues and this one came out on top for several reasons – the hall had a grand piano, comfortable seating, a raised stage and good sight lines. It could accommodate a larger audience than Pine Manor, although I didn’t expect to fill the house for every event. Although the performance hall was on the second floor, a small elevator was available and in theory it was handicap accessible- a major advantage over the Founders Room.

I worried that the new location would result in smaller crowds. The Yamawaki Center was not an easy venue to find – located in a residential area where the street lighting at night was not bright. The one small sign for the hall was barely visible from the road. It was not until after 2000 that some car manufacturers even offered gps systems in their cars. In 1997 a person new to a neighborhood could easily get lost especially after sundown.

Another negative was that during intermission there was really no place for people to gather. The narrow passage outside the concert hall was barely wide enough to set up tables for the soda and ticket sales. As a result people many people stood on the stairs leading to the ground floor or during nice weather went outside.

On the lighter side I had a great deal of difficulty figuring out the lighting system. There were multiple switches in various parts of the room. Some controlled the stage lights, others the lights in the hall itself. There seemed to be no clear logic to explain how they worked; in some cases turning them up made the lights go down. That mystery remained during our stay at Lasell.

Because of my concern about finding the location I scheduled the first concert at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. We opened the season in March with the third annual presentation of “Women in Jazz Know the score…” again under the direction of Henrietta Robinson. Here is the program from the event.

Program

Program for “Women in Jazz know the Score…”

Three weeks later we featured the Donna Byrne Quartet with her usual band: Tim Ray on keyboards, Jim Gwin on drums and bassist Marshall Wood.

Donna Byrne quartet

Donna Byrne Quartet
left to right Tim Ray, Marshall Wood, Donna and Jim Gwin
photograph by Ruth Williams

April brought the return of Paul Broadnax in a concert entitled “Spring is Here.” He was joined by vocalist Carol Akerson, Peter Kontrimas on bass and John Connelly on drums.

One of the newcomers that season was a group called RESQ, the Really Eclectic String Quartet,  (pronounced rescue”). Although classically trained they had a varied repertoire – jazz standards, gospel, R&B, Latin and European folk music. No less an authority than Yehudi Menuhin once called them “truly original and marvelous…”

Riverboat Stompers

Riverboat Stompers
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

The fall opened with another new group- an evening of Dixieland Jazz featuring the Riverboat Stompers. Their instrumentation included trumpet, trombone, clarinet, piano, drums, tuba, two banjos and often a Klaxon horn and kazoo. They were clearly not the most polished group I had ever hired but the audience appreciated their flamboyance and enthusiasm, especially when the two banjo players began to trade solos, clearly competing with each other to see who could play faster.

 

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter returned in October. We ended the year with the Jazz Professors- five professors from the Berklee College of Music. Technically there were only 4 professors: Joe Hunt on drums, Paul Fontaine on trumpet, Ray Santisi on piano and Richard Evans on bass. The saxophonist Tony Corelli was a Berklee graduate (class of ’79) but he was promoted in rank for the concert.

The transition to a new venue seemed to occur without too much disruption. Little did I know that our stay at Lasell would end in just two years.

Where are they now?

The Riverboat Stompers’ website (http://www.riverboatstompers.com/) has information about the band’s current activities and a clip of their rendition of “Limehouse Blues.”

 

End of an era- Highland Jazz leaves Pine Manor

jazz logo After seven years at the Founders Room in Pine Manor College it was clear that I would have to find another venue. The reasons for leaving revolved around money. When we started there the college had charged us a rental fee of $125 for the room which had a capacity of 125 people. Over time the price rose to $150, still quite reasonable. Then in the spring of 1996 I was informed that the cost would increase another $100. Moreover we would no longer be allowed to bring in our own refreshments for sale. We would have to purchase soda from Pine Manor’s concession and then sell it, thereby practically eliminating any profit from the sale. Most harmful to our welfare was the impending loss of the Saturday night slot, the time when we were most likely to sell out the 125 seats. We were offered Friday or Sunday. I had tried a Sunday in the past but the attendance was very low. Other than the Friday concert we did last year with Dave McKenna Friday night had also not been successful for us.

The Newton Tab published an article on August 13, 1996 and interviewed David Ellis, vice president for business and finance at Pine Manor. He said the rent and room availability changes were based entirely on a business decision.

“We feel very strongly about being good neighbors here, but you have to realize we’re not in the business of subsidizing nonprofits. We’ve been losing money for a long time on outside programs.”

After consulting with the board I made the hard decision to leave. The Founders Room was an elegant place, a beautiful venue for jazz. I was worried about how the audience would react to a change of venue. From past experience I knew we would lose a portion of our audience since some people just don’t like change, no matter what the reason. Nevertheless I felt I really had no choice.

The final concert at Pine Manor took place on November 23 and featured the Gray Sargent Trio with Gray on guitar, Marshall Wood on bass and Jim Gwin on drums. It seemed appropriate to end our run at Pine Manor with Gray’s Trio, since his was the second band I hired when Highland Jazz began thirteen years before in 1983.

Alimansky sketching

Nancy Alimansky skeching
photograph by Ruth Williams

It was a beautiful concert. I sat in front on the stairs, sketched the musicians and relaxed in the venue for one last time, surrounded by beautiful tapestries on the walls and oriental carpets on the floor.

1996 welcomes more first-timers to the series

jazz logo  Much to my concern scheduling problems began to occur at Pine Manor. We were, however, able to secure March date for a reprieve of “Women in jazz know the score….” However, we had to settle for a Friday night. The college told me that they could get more revenue from other renters on a Saturday night. So as far as March dates were concerned it was Friday night or nothing.

In April Herb Pomeroy returned with a reprieve of “Reminiscin in Tempo!”, his tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. He was joined by Jon Wheatley on guitar, bassist John Rapaucci and drummer Artie Cabral.

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter

May introduced the husband and wife team of Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter. Their program was entitled “Happy Birthday Irving Berlin.” Berlin, born May 1888 would have celebrated his 112th birthday the week following the concert. Lynne and Mike were known for their interpretations of the American songbook. According to musician and composer Dave Frishberg, “I can’t exactly describe what Lynne and Mike do, but whatever it is they do it better than anyone else on earth!” Doubly talented they both sang and played- Lynne on piano and Mike on bass. They were joined by Jim Repa on reeds and flute.

 

The next newcomer to the Highland Jazz series was Ron Gill. Ron had been part of the Boston jazz scene for over twenty years, performing in concerts, on radio, television, jazz festivals and variety shows. At the time of his appearance he was the host of the Jazz Gallery on WGBH-FM, Monday mornings from 1 to 5 a.m.

Ron Gill

Ron Gill
photograph by Ruth Williams

Ron chose a provocative theme for the concert.  “Tribute to the 90’s” featured the music of five jazz greats: Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, Antonia Carlos Jobim, Carmen McRae and Dizzy Gillespie. All of these giants had passed away in the 90s. Ron was accompanied by the Frank Wilkins Quartet with Frank on piano, Bobby Tynes on sax, Skip Smith on bass, Antonio Dangerfield on trumpet and Eric Preusser on drums.

The fall series began with a reprieve of Dave Whitney’s successful 1994 concert “Satchmo’s got it!” – a tribute to Louis Armstrong. The band featured Dave on trumpet and vocals, John Wheatley on guitar, Peter Kontrimas on bass and Chuck Laire on drums. Try your luck at the jazz quiz from that concert. The answers can be found at the end of the post.

Lennie Hochman

Lennie Hochman

Leonard Hochman, another Highland Jazz newcomer, performed at the October concert. “Manhattan Morning,” was a salute to Lester Young and Billie Holliday. Lennie was a veteran reedman who played both tenor sax and bass clarinet. His career included performances in leading clubs, theaters and on radio and television throughout the U.S., Europe, Mexico and Canada. His first CD “Until Tomorrow” was widely acclaimed and a received a Boston Music Award nomination. According to jazz critic Bob Blumenthal “On bass clarinet Lennie already has his own niche…he is a true original.” Rounding out the band was vocalist Sally Worthen, Irv Galis on piano, guitarist Tony Wolff, bassist Dave Zox and drummer Harvey Brower.

Lennie’s story is an interesting one. Born in Philadelphia he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. He started playing tenor when he was 11 and freelanced from the time he was 15 until he turned 24. Among the musicians who he performed with were  Kai Winding, Al Haiag, Phil Woods, Kenny Clarke, Brew Moore, Charlie Barnet and Herbie Mann.  In 1957 Lennie moved to Boston and spent six years as a studio musician. He recorded with  Phil Wilson in the early 1960’s but was still little-known when he stopped playing in 1963. Hochman then worked at a band instrument rental company and eventually bought the business. After selling the company, he began to play again in the early 1990’s. He was finally discovered at the age of 61 when he recorded Until Tomorrow. With him on the debut recording are guitarist Mitch Seidman, Harvie Swartz and Alan Dawson. He made a follow-up set, Manhattan Morning in 1995 with a quintet that included Swartz and  Kenny Barron.

Where are they now?

Lynne Jackson and Mike Palter continue to delight audiences with their interpretations of the American songbook. Their web site offers up-to-date information about their newest CD and other activities. http://www.aahome.com/rainbow/index.html

According to Ron Gill’s official web site (http://www.rongill-sings.com/www.Rongill-sings.com/HOME.html) he has retired to Charlotte, NC. Boston’s loss. In addition to information about his career and recordings, the site includes photographs from a March 2005 Highland Jazz concert. (http://www.rongill-sings.com/www.Rongill-sings.com/Highland_Jazz_Pictures,_cont..html)

Leonard Hochman has died, but fortunately his music is still available. Here’s a recording of “The Dragon” with Lennie playing bass clarinet. The tune is from his first CD Until Tomorrow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GJgIbCh4io

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GJgIbCh4io&feature=youtu.be Faces of Jazz, Ruth Williams Photographs, Boston Publishing Company, Newton, MA c. 2001

 

1995- The debut of “Women in Jazz Know the Score” and a memorable weekend with Dave McKenna

jazz logo  In 1987 Congress passed a resolution declaring March to be Women’s History month that year. Since 1995 all U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations to continue the tradition. It was time for Highland Jazz to get into the act. Henrietta Robinson, then host of WGBH’s Friday night Jazz Gallery, proposed the idea of an all-female quintet comprised of composers, arrangers, band leaders, vocalists and instrumentalists. The quintet took the name Women in Jazz Know the Score.. (and a whole lot more). For the program the group not only chose jazz standards but also featured their own arrangements and original compositions.

Henrietta Robinson

Henrietta Robinson
photograph by Ruth Williams

Henrietta was producer, band leader and vocalist. Carolyn Ritt, recording artist, band leader, composer and professor at Berklee, was the pianist. Diane Wernick, instructor and leader of the band “Bop/a/Nova,” played soprano and alto sax. The drummer was Carolyn Castellano, a member of “Boungainvilla” and co-founder of the ensemble “The Lydian People’s Front.”  On acoustic  bass was Jane Wang, a member of the ”All Nationalities of Women” jazz ensemble as well as the groups “Wide Out,” and “The Lydian People’s Front.”

Founders Hall was packed for this debut and I knew that we had started a yearly tradition.

Following Women in Jazz Herb Pomeroy and his quartet presented a reprieve of “Reminiscin’ in Tempo” featuring the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

One of my dreams had always been to present a concert with Dave McKenna. For as long as I could remember I had been a great fan of his. I frequently went to the Copley Plaza Bar to hear him during the seven years that he played there (1981-1987). (http://troystreet.com/tspots/2013/06/24/june-24-1989-dave-mckennas-last-set-at-the-plaza-bar/)

Dave McKenna

Dave McKenna

It was a very comfortable room with deep lounge chairs, not unlike a typical living room. There were also a few high chairs surrounding the piano. If you got there early you might be lucky enough to find one of those seats empty and then you were in for a great treat. Musicians used to comment that Dave “knew all the tunes.” I heard a story that when he was a young man he was featured once a week on a live radio broadcast. People would call the program and ask for a tune, hoping to name one that Dave didn’t know. He was rarely stumped.

He used to like to play tunes which had a common theme, depending on what his mood was, or what he might be thinking about. For example, he might do a medley of tunes about weather, or Paris, or baseball. He was a great fan of the Boston Red Sox. If a game was in progress he couldn’t wait to take a break and leave the bar to check the score in his room upstairs.

One night at the Copley he asked me who my favorite piano player was. I answered “You.” “No, really, I am serious. Tell me who your favorite player is.” I told him, “You are my favorite piano player.” Dave seemed like the kind of man who didn’t know what a gifted musician he was. That’s why my answer came as such a surprise.

I never seriously thought he would do a concert for Highland Jazz. I doubted that I could afford his fee. However, Gray Sargent suggested that he and Dave perform a duo. He agreed to call Dave for me and much to my surprise Dave accepted. He even agreed to stay at my home to save the cost of my paying for a hotel room. The dates were April 21 and 22, 1995.

The plan was for him to arrive at my home late Friday afternoon and leave Sunday morning. He would stay in the den which had its own bathroom, TV and piano. Of course I had the piano tuned, thinking that I would probably have a private concert from my favorite pianist right in my own home.

A few days before the weekend Dave called to tell me that he was coming with his wife, Frankie, and that she would require her own room. All I had left was a single bed in my son’s former bedroom; Dave said that would be fine.

When they arrived it was obvious that theirs was a strained relationship. I showed them their accommodations and reminded them that the house was smoke-free. If they wanted to smoke they would have to use the breezeway off the kitchen. Neither one looked very happy about that news.

Then Dave went into the kitchen, opened one of the cabinets and took out a plastic cup that I had received as a promo from Dunkin Donuts. It was one of those cups with plastic suction in the bottom that would attach to the dashboard. “This will be my cup while I am here,” he told me. I was rather taken aback. He had obviously picked the cheapest cup I owned. I told him that since I had plenty of nice cups and a dishwasher, he didn’t need to confine himself to that one. “No,” he replied, “this will be my cup,” and he left it on the counter. I guess that was his routine on the road when he stayed as a guest at someone’s house .

I thought the concert went very well Friday night.  We had a good crowd and Dave and Gray couldn’t have sounded better. They were both what I call “quote masters;” that is, in their solos they would insert bits and pieces of other tunes to amuse each other and sometimes confound the listeners.

During intermission Frankie sat upstairs at a small table where CDs were for sale. She confronted me right before the break. Did I expect her to give Highland Jazz a commission for anything she sold?  I explained that wasn’t our policy, but she remained rather irritated all evening.

When we got home Dave immediately complained about the piano, that it was stiff and hard to play. Here was a musician who described himself as a saloon player, who often played in cafes or restaurants where the piano was in poor shape. No one else had found the piano at Pine Manor inadequate and I was quite surprised. Maybe something else was going on. As for Frankie, she was angry that Gray had left her in charge of selling his CDs. “Why didn’t he bring someone to do that?” I said nothing in response.

Things didn’t improve the next day. I invited them both out to lunch, hoping to ease the tension in the house.  Since Dave declined I was left with Frankie. It was more of the same- stories about people who took advantage of Dave, who didn’t appreciate him enough, who recorded him playing without his permission etc., etc.

Saturday night we had a standing-room-only crowd. This time there were no complaints from Dave about the piano. I think he really enjoyed himself.  The two musicians seemed to read each other’s minds when it came to improvising and challenging each other.

Here is what Gray wrote about playing with Dave- “It’s a dream playing with him because he’s such a great musician. Absolute genius. Working in a duo format, it’s like having a small orchestra behind me. He has unbelievable ears. It’s like he’s soaked in all the music he’s ever heard, and it seeps out little by little when he plays.”

McKenna, Sargent

Dave McKenna and Gray Sargent
photograph by Ruth Williams

When we arrived home, Dave looked around the kitchen and noticed a box of matzo on the counter. Passover had just ended. “Can you make matzo brie?” he asked. I was shocked to hear him use the Yiddish phrase for fried matzo. I told him I could. He explained that the best matzo brie he ever had was when he stayed with a member of Benny Goodman’s band. He had never tasted anything like it since. I promised to get up early the next morning and make him a double serving.

Around 7 am Sunday morning I heard him moving around downstairs. I got up quickly and hurried into the kitchen. The fried matzo came out perfectly. Dave left nothing on his plate, though he didn’t say how it compared to the version he had eaten years before.

Frankie left about noon, but Dave remained because he had a gig later that day. When we were alone in the kitchen he told me that a young woman, named Liz, was coming to pick him up and drive him to the venue.  “She’s my girlfriend,” he explained, “although I shouldn’t say anything to you. You and Frankie seemed to be pretty close.” I explained that I was not close to Frankie in any sense. “Of course there’s nothing for you to worry about,” he continued. “It’s just a platonic relationship.” That was clearly more information than I needed to know.

Soon after the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find a nice looking woman, quite a bit younger than Dave. A few minutes later they left together.

The next day I called Marshall Wood who had played with Dave on Sunday afternoon. “So, what did Dave say about the fried matzo I made for him?” I imagined that now I would be featured in one of Dave’s many stories. “Oh, he didn’t mention the fried matzo,” Marshall replied. “All he said was that you made him smoke outside the house and that it was cold.”

And did he ever play the piano while he was there? Not a note. For him this was just another gig and he certainly didn’t need to practice.

The season ended with two solid programs. The first in May featured the Donna Byrne Quartet with Tim Ray on keyboards, Jim Gwin on drums and bassist Marshal Wood. This was the first time Tim appeared at Highland Jazz and he soon became a frequent performer.  By this date Donna had issued two CDs, “Sweet and Lovely” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” She had also appeared in New York City at Rainbow & Stars, the Blue Note and Tavern on the Green.

In JuneAlex Elin returned with a reprieve of a 1991 concert, “Masters of the American Songbook.” This concert featured trumpeter Lou Colombo as special guest, Alex on piano, Joe Hunt on drums and Mark Pucci on bass. The quartet played tunes by some of America’s most beloved song writers including George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. It provided a strong ending to an exceptional spring season.

September marked the return of Meredith d’Ambrosio and Eddie Higgins – always a crowd favorite. The Philadelphia Daily News described Meredith as follows- “I can’t say enough about Meredith. Here is a singer and a musician who knows her own voice in a way that the best soloists in jazz know their instruments….”

Mike Turk

Mike Turk
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

In November I presented a newcomer to the series. “Settin’ the World on Fire” featured Mike Turk, a virtuoso harmonica player who had been called the “Toot Thielemans of New England.” He simply amazed the audience with his playing, making the lowly harmonica perform like a true jazz instrument. Joining him were Paul Broadnax on vocals and keyboards, Joe Hunt on drums and Dave Trefethen on guitar and bass.

Where are they now?

Carolyn Castellano teaches at Brookline High School and actually brought her jazz band to perform as the opening act of a recent concert. In this video (http://blip.tv/improvlive365/episode-269-we-just-do-that-6372436) she talks about her goals in teaching music to high school students.

Carolyn Ritt Wilkins is a professor at Berklee in the ensemble department. (http://www.berklee.edu/people/carolyn-wilkins ). She is also the author of Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Journey from Slavery to Bittersweet Success (University of Missouri Press)

Diane Wernick is an assistant professor of the ensemble department at Berklee. (http://www.berklee.edu/people/diane-wernick).

Dave McKenna passed away in October 2008 at the age of 78. There will be more about his legacy in a later post.  Dave plays two tunes about the heart in this video. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAQy4oi2y8 ). It is a good example of the various rhythms he could produce with his left hand, which acted as its own rhythm section.

Mike Turkl’s web site has all the latest information about his recordings and current activities. (http://www.miketurk.com/)

Getting to know you, Alan Dawson – From the Jazz Report of 1990

jazz logo  They say it was the coldest December ever recorded and that day I hurried from the driveway to Alan Dawson’s front door, hearing the snow crunch underfoot. He greeted me with his characteristic smile. Inside the house –like the man- was warm, gracious and comfortable. There was even a touch of spring, with luscious green plants hanging amid the Christmas decorations. I forgot about the cold as Alan’s words took me to another time.

Alan Dawson

Alan Dawson
photograph by Ruth Williams

“Well, it’s hard for me to remember exactly when I got interested in music, but it all had to do with my family. Music was around me all the time. Like most people of that era we had a piano in the parlor – a very nice one, as I remember.  My father had never been a professional musician, but he loved music; he played the guitar and some piano and my mother and sister played piano, too. So I was in an environment of music.

As for drums, that dates back to about age five. Next to the voice drums are probably the most natural instrument to express whatever creativity you have – thorough knives, forks, spoons, chair rungs and whatever. But I didn’t get my first drum until I was 12. I was always buying drumsticks in the pawn shops, though. I used to get them for about 15 cents a pair as opposed to 25 cents in a music store. And I would beat on whatever I could find.

When I got that real drum, I improvised and made a funny little thing, a kind of high-hat, from an old ashtray and a wooden stand. And I started playing with the records. Mostly Count Basie, 99% Count Basie. Trying to duplicate that great sound Joe Jones got off his hi-hats. One summer I got a little job cleaning up a camp and managed to save enough money to buy a real hi-hat. I was starting get serious – I had a hi-hat and a snare drum

My first job was on New Year’s Eve in 1943 with Tasker Crosson. And the reason I got the job was because I had a hi-hat. They wanted my hi-hat and I came with it. I wasn’t going to let it out of my sight. Actually I only played one tune on the gig. Of course, I had been practicing lots of fast things and I couldn’t wait. I was sitting up there just begging to play something fast. So what do you think they played –a ballad! I never had a pair of brushes in my hand and I didn’t know what to do. I really stunk.

But I guess Tasker saw some potential, because he hired me a couple of months later to work with him two nights a week. Tuesdays and Saturdays at the USO on Ruggles Street in Boston. Fortunately he had a bass drum and a much better snare than I had. We used to keep them both down underneath the stage – in a little enclosure with a door. So that’s how my first gig came about and I didn’t even own a drum set.

About the drummers who influenced me? Definitely Joe Jones. No question about that. When I started playing I was attempting to copy him. A whole lot of people say “Hey, don’t copy this one.” Well, at that point, the greatest thing I could have done was to try and copy him. There was no danger whatsoever of my sounding just like him. But in the process I had an excellent role model. And when I saw him at the RKO Boston in ’41, I really flipped out. The cross handed type of thing he did was amazing. I was also influenced by Roy Haynes who was probably the most influential drummer to come out of Boston until Tony Williams. And certainly by a fellow named Bobby Donaldson whom I had only seen play once back in 1941, but he had a tremendous impact on me.

Back then, I was too young to go into clubs, but I used to stand outside the door. I used to listen to Joe Booker with Sabby Lewis’ band until the doorman would shoo me away. But my real influence was Joe Jones. Just listening to the records and playing with them. It’s a wonderful way to practice though I never considered it practice. It was recreation for me. I loved it. I would do that sometimes for eight hours nonstop.

By the time I got out of high school, I had four years of professional playing and I thought I was pretty hot, you know. But a good friend of mine, a drummer named Marquis Foster, persuaded me to study with Charles Alden. I stayed with Charlie for four years, right up to the time I was drafted into the army.

And it’s a good thing that I had done some studying. For all I know it might have saved my life. I got into the army band. There were a number of other players, good ones, too, who couldn’t read music and most of them wound up in the infantry.

Fort Dix where I was stationed had two bands: a black band, the 173rd and a white band, the 9th division band. They had just integrated the army in general but the bands were the last thing to integrate. While I was in basic training word got around about me, thanks to Andy McGhee, and I started doing gigs with the band. That made basic training a lot easier. Occasionally the sergeant from the band would come around and say: ‘We need Private Dawson for a gig’ and I would be excused from some hike or exercise.

In 1952 they finally integrated the bands and I was sent up to the 9th division band. When I got up there, I was promoted to private first class, living the life of Riley with a semi-private room. And that band traveled! We went to New York every Monday to do a TV show. That meant if you were out on the weekend, you could go straight to New York. And after the gig, you could hang out and catch a set at Birdland. The next morning you were allowed to sleep late. Pretty good.

Two or three days before I was due to be discharged, we did a parade in Atlantic City and I ran into Andy McGhee and a drummer buddy of mine, Clarence Johnston. “Hey man, you’re just the guy I’m looking for. Lionel Hampton asked me to go with him and I don’t want to go. You got eyes?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ So that was it. Two days after my discharge I joined Lionel’s band and thereby hangs another tale.

In retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to me. There were some things I didn’t like, and I’ve talked about them before. But it was a heck of an environment to be in: with players like Clifford Brown, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, Monk Montgomery, Annie Ross and Quincy Jones. It also gave me recognition outside of the local scene and opened up many things for me. Like a chance to do some recording. And I even would up in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Except for my tour with Lionel, I never left Boston for any length of time. I’ve always done pretty well here. At the time I was coming up there were places to play seven nights a week and Sunday afternoon. You had a relatively good scale of living, especially for a young person. So I could survive as a performer. But it’s kind of difficult now. Who plays seven nights a week in one place now?

I also don’t like the road, period. Afar being out with Lionel all the time, I came back here as the conquering hero –so I thought. One of the first people I ran into was my old buddy, Albie Pickney. Well, he had been working days and doing gigs and he had a brand new car. I had been living very frugally and had managed to save half my pay – about $1,500 which ws pretty good money in 1953. But I thought, ‘here’s a person who stays in one place, he’s got a stable rent, not paying hotel bills all the time and he can eat at home.’ I was getting disillusioned about the “big time”.

Of course, today, it’s difficult to make it unless you travel around a lot. There are more musicians and fewer places with the potential of a steady gig. Even in New York, most of the people who live there have to travel. New York is the place to be in order to get the connections so that you can leave. It’s kind of rough.

What I’d love to do now are more big band things. I haven’t had as much opportunity to do that especially recently. I was with Herb Pomeroy’s big band for about three years and that was really a ball. There’s more of everything in a big band –more dynamics. A definite growth happens and you become a much better small group drummer, too.

About bass players….there was a time I could name the good local players on one hand and have three fingers left over. But now we have a lot of good bass players: White Browne, John Lockwood, Marshall Wood. And Ron McWhorter. On the national scene I certainly like the Judge, Milt Hinton. One of my all-time favorites was George DuVivier. Ray Brown of course. And I have to mention Monk Montgomery, one of my all-time favorites. I love his playing and his whole philosophy.

Today young players don’t have the opportunities I had. On the one hand there are really good music schools. turning out many good musicians. But the chances to utilize what they learned seem to be diminishing. As for big band experience, I don’t know how they are going to get it. What I call ‘the dead band leader’ bands are still going but the leaders of these bands are gone. Basie, Duke, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich. And there are only a few other big bands: Toshiko, Maynard, Bob Florence, Gerald Wilson, Mel Lewis, Frankie Clapp and Nat Pierce.

The future? – well I don’t know. Most people that came up with me, who are around my age group – from 45 to 75, if they are still in music today, they are also teaching. You have to do something else besides playing if you want to stay in this area.

In general, Boston is a wonderful place for musicians getting it together, to grow musically. There a lot of good music on the radio: WBUR, Tony Cennamo, James Isaac, Ron Della Chiesa, Eric (Jackson) WERS and the Harvard station. And there are places for people to play, but they can’t make any money. But when it comes to getting into the profession of playing music, well, you have to go someplace else.”

It was getting dark and Alan got up to turn on the Christmas lights. I noticed a young woman, a student, walking down the driveway – time for me to leave. On my way home I mused about what a fine teacher Alan is. He gives his students much more than technique; they learn love and respect for the music and understand the dedication it takes to be a great musician.

Alan Dawson died in 1996 at the age of 66. It was an honor to know him.