Tag Archives: Marshall Wood

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

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 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.”


1993 had just about everything – a black out, Thelonious Monk, a swing band, and an evening of tap

jazz logo  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.

Swing Legacy

Swing Legacy

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.

Ted Casher

Left to right Ted Casher, Peter Bodge, Dave Trefethen
photograph by Ruth Williams

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.

Four on the Floor

left to right Josh Hilberman, Drika Overton, Julia Boynton. In back Alan Dawson on drums
photograph by Ruth Williams

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.

Dianne Walker he has been dubbed the “Ella Fitzgerald” of Tap Dance. This video captures her signature style dancing to Jobim’s tune, “Black Orpheus.” and a much younger Dianne taps out “Perdido.”

The Fall of 1990 Brings More New Faces to Highland Jazz.

jazz logo  First and foremost was a concert featuring the nationally known guitarist John Abercrombie. He and Alex Elin had played together during their student days at Berklee. John agreed to return to Boston for a reunion concert with Elin and another friend, bassist Al Reed. Completing the quartet was drummer Bob Gullotti.  We recorded the concert and later issued a cassette called Just Friends.

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie
photo by Jonnie Miles

Abercrombie had a distinctive style which varied from bop to free-jazz. He was a frequent winner of the Downbeat critics’ and readers’ polls and was known around the globe both as leader of his own group and as a much sought after sideman. He had toured extensively with Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham, Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans and Jack DeJohnette.

Since I couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel room for John, I offered to put him up at my home. He spent most of his time visiting other musicians in town; I can’t say I got to know him at all. My memory is that he was reserved and quiet. He was very amused by the Jazz IQ quiz we used the night of the concert. Marshall Wood had suggested the questions; they all related to guitarists. Here’s a copy. It was one of Marshall’s most challenging quizzes, to say the least.


Jazz IQ Quiz

In October we presented Donna Byrne as the head of her own quartet. She was joined by her regular trio of Gray Sargent on guitar, Jim Gwin on drums and her husband Marshall Wood on bass. By this time Donna had quite a following and the room was packed.

Lou Colombo

Lou Colombo
photo by Ed O’Neill

Another new face came in November. Lou Colombo was a long-time resident of Cape Cod and had his own band. Dizzy Gillespie often described him as “my favorite natural trumpet player.” Lou had played extensively with Dick Johnson and Dave McKenna. He enjoyed playing Dixieland tunes as well as other jazz standards. With him that night was Jon Wheatley on guitar, Frank Shea on drums and Marshall Wood on bass.

Jphn Wheatley

Jon Wheatley                                          photograph by Ruth Williams

Lou appeared in many subsequent Highland Jazz concerts. He was a delightful man to work with- full of humor but also very humble.

Where are they now?

To learn more about John Abercrombie’s current activities, visit his web site.  For a video I found a full-length recording of a concert featuring his quartet from 2011.

Lou Colombo passed away on March 3 in 2012 in Fort Myers, FL, as the result of a car accident. He was 84. A memorial concert was held for Lou at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis on Father’s Day that year.  A New Orleans style procession led the way down Hyannis Main Street to the Melody tent. The Barnstable Patriot published this article about Lou after his death. This video of Lou shows him playing while holding the trumpet only in his right hand.