Monthly Archives: March 2007

J05: Elks on Summer Street

When I first began the writing of The Jazz Worcester Real Book, I wanted to include a collection of interviews with musicians talking about some of the places where they had performed. After talking with Roscoe Blunt about the Saxtrum Club, Emil Haddad about the El Morocco, Bunny Price on the Kitty Kat, Ken Vangel on Circe’s, among others, I quickly ran out of room. I still have all of my interviews on file and from time to time I’ll post them.

Here’s one on the original Quinsigamond Elks Club, when it was on Summer Street. I had called upon drummer Tom Price to fill us in. Price is the son of the late trumpeter Barney Price and brother of bassist, Bunny Price. In the ’60s and ’70s, Tom lived in New York City, where he worked with Jaki Byard, Burton Green, Henry Grimes and Frank Lowe. He also taught the art of drumming at the New Community School of Arts in Newark, NJ for more than 30 years. We begin with a general interview about his life in music.

Did you come up playing drums inspired by your dad?

Yes, the fact that he was a musician naturally drew me into it. He was an influence.

Did you take lessons?

I started out playing bongo drums. I taught myself listening to Calypso music when it was the craze — listening to Harry Belafonte and of course a lot of the other Latin bands — Prez Prado and people like that were around. I was playing bongos and congas.

I played with Kingsley McNeal. He formed a Calypso group. He was originally from Kingston, Jamaica. I was in my early teens, like 14 or 15. I played with him for two years. We used to play some of the country clubs around Worcester County. He was a singer. We had a little group with some of my sisters. I performed with him a great number of times with just him singing and myself playing the bongo drums. A few times he had someone on guitar.

I used to play the conga drums for Reggie [Walley] down in his dance studio on Main Street. I even performed a few times with him at the dances. His wife Mary choreographed these routines. That’s how I started out. Then I started taking lessons with a guy who played in the local symphony. I don’t know if he is still around. Then I took lessons with Joe Brindisi. He is still playing around. After I graduated from high school — I was at Commerce High — I went into Berklee. I was studying with Alan Dawson. He was, I would have to say, the major influence on me, in terms on playing. Aside from listening to guys like Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones – you know, listening to these guys on record.

I would like to ask you about the Elks.

That was the spot. Back then it was on Summer Street not far from Union Station. Just a little in from the square. That’s where it was for many years – across the street from Second Baptist Church. We did sometimes Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes it was a late afternoon on Sundays. We played functions and dances as well.

Do you recall any of the players?

Johnny Catalozzi played with us an awful lot. Bunny. Al Pitts, the tenor player. He died. He stayed in Worcester for quite a while then he moved into Hartford. He used to come back and forth every now and then to play.

I heard he was quite the bluesy player.

Oh, yes. He was. He was originally from Gary, Indiana. He ended up in Massachusetts because he was in the army. He was stationed at Fort Devens. After he got discharged he stayed around. He took up residence in Worcester for a while. As a matter of fact, he married one of my cousins.

Did you play jazz as well as the pop songs of the day?

We formed a group with Art Lonegan. Bunny was on bass. Lou, a piano player, whose name escapes me. Art used to get all these gigs. We played the pop stuff of the day. We did weddings and commercial gigs. At the time I was in high school. I left to go in the service when I was 22. While I was at Berklee I was doing a lot of playing.

Do you recall what the old Elks looked like?

It was basically a membership thing. It was a social club as such. I remember the place that was at Clayton St. We had a little club there for a while. I know my dad and Howie played there. I’m trying to recall if it was still the Saxtrum at that time. It may have been the tail end of the Saxtrum Club that I am thinking of. It didn’t last. Later on it became a church.

Did Jaki Byard play there?

I didn’t play with Jaki in Worcester. I played with him in New York. We played at the Top of the Gate. That was during the days when I was hanging out in the city. That was a gas. It was really great to play with Jaki. It was a quartet.

Did you gig with Howie?

We did some things in that little place I was describing. It was another thing they had going. I don’t want to say it was a rival to the Elks. I did a few things there with Howard and my dad. We had different people on piano. Judy Wade played bass. The Elks was there for quite a long time. It was pretty much the focus in terms of black entertainment. It was the place for many, many years. That’s where everybody came on Friday and Saturday nights. There was an upstairs and downstairs but downstairs was where we did all the playing. It was a big boxy room with tables. I remember playing a gig upstairs too.

Did you feel like it was a learning time for you? A time to pay your dues?

Definitely. It was a learning and growing time for me. Just to get the experience to play. For me the Elks was the place. It was a mentoring time. As far as some of the older black musicians that were around. I remember Freddie Bates. He had a stroke, but he was always around at sessions. They were role models. A lot of it wasn’t spoken out to you directly. You just learned. You noticed how people dressed and how they came to the gig and things like that. You were expected to be there on time and all of that. I did a lot of watching. Because even before I got to play somewhat regularly, I was at gigs just watching, observing and learning that way.

Postscript: The red brick building is at 210-225A Summer Street, which is right off Washington Square before Asylum Street, was recently purchased by Katie Krock, who intends to open a nightclub.

Clip of the week: Sonny Rollins with Don Cherry, Billy Higgins and what appears to be Henry Grimes. For more on Grimes, see: http://www.henrygrimes.com/biography.html.

Here’s a picture of Price with Grimes: http://www.henrygrimes.com/Photos/photos.html.

J04: Swan’s song

For years I had heard that the author of the great standard, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was from around here. His name was Einar Swan. The fakebooks list him as E.A. Swan. That was the only information I had. I filed it away under: Someday, I’d like to find out more about this guy.

A couple of years ago, Sven Bjerstedt, a Swedish educator, also wondered about Swan, not because he was from Worcester of course, but that he seemed to have been “completely forgotten.”

“I have always loved the 1931 torch song “When Your Lover Has Gone,” Bjerstedt says in a recent email correspondence. “My specific interest in its writer started when I discovered (in March, 2005, I believe) that his first name was Einar, which seemed to have a Scandinavian ring to it.”

From this initial thought, Bjerstedt started his research into resurrecting and reclaiming the legacy of Swan. The result is an 80-page loving portrait called Who Was Einar Swan?: A Study in Jazz Age Fame and Oblivion.

It was published online by the Swedish Finn Historical Society, which can be found at http://ask.lub.lu.se/archive/00024036/01/bjerstedt_Swan.pdf. A shorter version was published in the January, 2007 issue of The Mississippi Rag.

For fans of local jazz history like myself, the publication of this remarkable study is akin to finding a lost treasure. Working from the specific of the tune, Bjerstedt has literally written the definitive biography of the man.

Reading Who Was Einar Swan?, we learn that the author of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was no one trick pony, but much more. As a saxophonist he played on the national stage and as an arranger, he supplied charts for the best bands of his day. Most of all, we learn that Swan was someone local fans can hold up and proudly say, ‘He was one of our own.’ As Bjerstedt has rediscovered, Swan’s legacy is rich, deep and most worthy of study.

Though Bjerstedt says he was not able to locate his birth certificate, most books list Swan as being born in Fitchburg on March 20, 1903. He died on August 8, 1940 in Greenwood Lake, NY. He was 37.

His given name was Einar William. He was sometimes called Eino or Einor. He later changed his middle to Aaron, after converting to Judaism. A child prodigy born into a musical family who immigrated from Finland, Swan became a talented multi-instrumentalist, composer, lyricist and arranger.

His father, John, is said to have known Jean Sibelius in the old country and claims to have invented the single reed bassoon. He lived in Ohio for awhile where he was a member of the Cleveland Saxophone Quartet.

The Swan family moved to Worcester some time around 1917-18 and for a time lived at 11 Elliott Street. A teenage Einar went to Commerce High School and played clarinet in the school’s orchestra, of which violinist Harry Levenson was also a member.

Bjerstedt fills his study with family photos, reprints of articles and photographs from the Worcester Telegram and Worcester Historical Museum, even copies of handwritten manuscripts of Swan’s compositions. He takes the reader through Swan’s early days performing with Worcester bands like The Benny Conn Orchestra and his own Swanie’s Serenaders.

In our email exchange Bjerstedt reports, “When it comes to other musicians from the Worcester area, 1920s photos of Swanie’s Serenaders show these musicians, among others: Julius Levinsky, violin; Joe Toscano, banjo; Sammy Swenson, piano; Ernest Paul, drums; Oscar Werme, trombone; Einar Swan, saxophone; Benny Conn, trumpet. I think I also discovered a couple of Einar Swan’s associates from ”Swanie’s Serenaders” by searching this website: http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi.

“According to a 1959 article, trombone player Oscar Werme still lived in Worcester then. On the webpage mentioned above I found one Ernest Paul, b. 29 Dec. 1896, d. in Feb. 1968 in Worcester, and one Oscar Werme, b. 3 Dec. 1893, d. in Aug. 1971 in Worcester. [Werme went on to play tuba with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra]. I also found one Erik Gustaf Werme, b. 1 Dec. 1862 in Borgvik, Värmland, Sweden, son of Lars Gustaf Werme and Christina Löf, emigrated to Worcester, MA.)”

In great detail, the author accounts Swan’s arrival in New York City and his stints with the bands of Sam Lanin and Vincent Lopez. Bjerstedt notes that Swan played with such legendary figures as the Dorsey Brothers, Red Nichols and Xavier Cugat, among others.

Bjerstedt also points out that becoming a jazz musician caused a rift between Einar and his father. It was not the music John had expected his son to play, but as Bjerstedt writes, “Einar’s choice of musical style was no whim. A few years later, he elaborated on the subject in an interview: ‘Jazz,’ he says, ‘is the coming and perfectly legitimate development of modern music. All musicians are turning to it … Jazz is now firmly established, the music of the future, and already has become classic in a certain way — the only difference being that it is more alive than the older type of music.’”

He also talks about Swan’s eventual decision to give up performing to concentrate on writing and arranging. When asked if Swan can be heard on record, Bjerstedt says, “I seriously doubt that his own band, Swanie’s Serenaders ever recorded. The available discographical information on Sam Lanin’s and Vincent Lopez’s orchestras is probably not entirely reliable.

“I found it frustratingly difficult to ascertain whether Einar Swan can be heard as a soloist in any recording. A year ago, I posted on a jazz discussion forum regarding this, and even though the matter hardly was settled, some of the replies definitely were of interest: “>http://www.network54.com/Forum/27140/message/1139352613/ .”

Bjerstedt however points out that orchestral arrangements by Einar Swan could be heard in several recordings by Vincent Lopez, Dave Rubinoff, Raymond Paige, and others. “But,” he says, “I’m afraid that I have no way of being certain as to which specific tunes.”

“When Your Lover Has Gone,” has been covered by all the greats – Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Sinatra, to name a few. It has been reported that when Sinatra heard that Swan had died so young, Sinatra donated the royalties of his performance of the song to the family. The tune has also been sung by a number of pop singers, Eydie Gorme, Linda Ronstadt and Ray Charles, to name a few. Here is a YouTube clip of Carly Simon singing it, complete with the opening verse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6dX9alhXqQ.

Great instrumentalists have covered the tune as well, including such saxophonists as Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. It can also be heard on the film soundtracks of Any Given Sunday, Rockateer and Beyond the Sea.

This is what the sheet music looked like:
http://cgi.ebay.com/Sheet-Music-1931-When-Your-Lover-Has-Gone-MINT_W0QQitemZ7410314231QQcmdZViewItem#ebayphotohosting

In his book, The Unsung Songwriters, Warren W. Vaché, writes: “In 1931 Swan wrote both the music and the words for one of the most beautiful songs in the library of American popular music, ‘When Your Lover Has Gone.’ In spite of the fact that competition that year was fierce, with all the top composers turning out excellent material, and even though the recording industry was struggling to stay alive while being smothered in the two grip of the Depression and radio, the song was an instant hit and it drew attention from those recording artists lucky enough to still be working and who appreciated the song.”

In his study, Bjerstedt includes the full lyric. The piece has an opening verse, which is rarely performed. It reads: “For ages and ages / The poets and sages / Of love wond’rous love always sing / but ask any lover / And you’ll soon discover / The heartaches that romance can bring.”

With a title like, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” you know it is going to be filled with melancholy. It’s usually taken at ballad tempo, but some like singer Alma Micic will read it quite differently. Here’s a link to her take: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hYMPmByCxE.

According to Vaché, in spite of it being a hit, Swan made no attempt to cash in on its success with a flurry of follow-ups. He points to “A Room With a View,” as the only other song of note, singling out Helen Forrest‘s recording on Bluebird. For a complete list of Swan’s published songs check the ASCAP page at: http://www.ascap.com/ace/search.cfm?requesttimeout=300&mode=results&searchstr=8951400&search_in=c&search_type=exact&search_det=t,s,w,p,b,v&results_pp=20&start=1.

For all his comprehensive research and untiring efforts, Bjerstedt admits there is more to the Einar Swan story.

“It is a pity that this research wasn’t carried out earlier,” he says. “Unfortunately, Einar’s two younger siblings Aina and Arthur passed away in 2005. However, I was very lucky to make contact with Einar’s children and two of his nieces. Without their kind and generous help, the task would have been impossible.”

If you have any information about Einar Swan that you would like to contribute to the Jazz Worcester history, please leave a comment and thanks.

J03: Metacomet meets Ataxia

Eight years ago, guitarist Jay Tyer was diagnosed with a rare degenerative neurological disease called Ataxia. Since that time, his life has drastically changed. He has lost his job and virtually all of his students. His driving is limited. His sleeping patterns are all messed up, and though he still plays the guitar, his approach and technique are radically different.

What remains constant in Tyer’s life is his family support, his attitude and sense of humor. He’s not looking for sympathy or attention. What he wants is for people to know that the disease exists. He wears a T-shirt that reads: “Ataxia is not a foreign cab.”

According to the National Ataxia Foundation, the word “ataxia,” comes from the Greek expression, “a taxis” meaning “without order or incoordination.” Here’s what their Website says about it: “People with ataxia have problems with coordination because parts of the nervous system that control movement and balance are affected. Ataxia may affect the fingers, hands, arms, legs, body, speech, and eye movements.

“The word ataxia is often used to describe a symptom of incoordination which can be associated with infections, injuries, other diseases, or degenerative changes in the central nervous system. Ataxia is also used to denote a group of specific degenerative diseases of the nervous system called the hereditary and sporadic ataxias which are the National Ataxia Foundation’s primary emphases.”

Tyer says sometime before the 21st century millennium change, he started noticing that his speech began to slur. At the time, he was a specialist who was consulting and teaching online classes in verilog, timing analysis and other advanced developments in electrical engineering. He is also a composer, author, and music teacher who had written many computer-based tutorials for jazz guitar and improvisation.

“It was like I was drunk and I don’t drink,” he says. “I went to a lot of doctors. Once it was determined to be neurological, I started checking things out on the Internet and found ataxia.”

Tyer says his symptoms fit his condition of the disease. Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann, a neurologist at Mass General Hospital in Boston, confirmed Tyer’s assumption, diagnosing him with Sporadic Ataxia.

Tyer says the disease affects his energy levels and motor skills. He can only sleep for a few hours at time. He can’t really write with a pen and his walk is a pronounced gait. The slurred speech is the most noticeable.

“I could never pass a drunk driving test,” he says. “I have a letter from my doctor that says ‘this guy is not drunk.’”

Tyer is well-known in the Worcester jazz community. For more than 15 years he has been hosting a free jam session at various clubs throughout the city. Currently, he is in residence at the Java Hut. During the winter, Tyer and his trio play but once a month. Come April, the session will happen every Sunday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. Learn more at: www.jaytyer.com.

For years, Tyer played solo with invited guests every Wednesday at the Sahara Restaurant on Highland Street. He has one CD to his credit, Metacomet an outstanding showcase of originals by Tyer and his quartet, featuring saxophonist Jim Allard, bassist Phil Madison and drummer Ed Conley. Check it out at: cdbaby.com/cd/jaytyer.

“My ataxia has effected my playing, but I fight it,” he says. “I use Tom Harrell, Stephen Hawkings, and Django [Rheinhardt] as inspirations. Ataxia is not symmetrical. My right side is different from my left.”

Tyer is married and lives with his family in Jefferson. He and his wife Erica have two daughters. Erin, who was born with brain damage, is six. Brianna, an acoustic bassist who will be accompanying dad at the jam, is 15. Erica is a stay at home mom, who in addition to caring for the family, is also working on becoming a published author.

Tyer says what frustrates him most is the fact that he can’t work. “I collect social security and it’s what we are living on now,” he says. “We are living on an eighth of what I used to make. It’s tough.”

Like Metacomet, the character he named his album after, Tyer is a fighter. (Metacomet, who was also known as King Philip, was a Sachem Indian war chief that fought with the English in the late 1600s in what was to become known as King Philip’s War. He used Mt. Wachusett as a base of operations for most of the conflict.)

When asked where he finds the strength to carry on – Is it religion? he laughs and says, “I meditate. My daughter calls me a non-practicing Buddhist. I’m actually a recovering Catholic. I went to St. Paul’s where I was an alter boy.” (Tyer grew up in Worcester in the Highland Street neighborhood.)

Evidently, there’s not much in the way of treatment for ataxia. Tyer takes a concentrated vitamin supplement. “I could benefit from stem cell research,” he says. “Ataxia is progressive. “Many people with ataxia wind up in wheelchairs. Mine is moving slowly. Still there are so many things I used to do that I can’t.”

Through it all, Tyer maintains his warrior spirit. “Folks who have disabilities don’t have to stop living,” he says. “There are many more worse off than me. You play the cards you are dealt.”

For more on ataxia go to: http://www.ataxia.org/.

J02: The Latin Jazz Beat

Last week I had a chance to sit in on Jaime Flores’ exciting new show, “The Latin Jazz Beat,” heard every Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. on radio station WICN 90.5 FM. The program, “takes you on a wild ride through the intoxicating sounds of Latin jazz,” as the hype reads. “Dance and party the night away to music from Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente and more.”

Flores is one of the most recognized voices in Worcester radio – especially if you understand Spanish. For more than 30 years he’s hosted a variety of shows at community radio station WCUW 91.3 FM. He was one of the first Spanish programmers of “La Voz del Pueblo,” heard at the station back in the ’70s, when shows were broadcast in the basement of Sanford Hall at Clark.

Flores is also one of the more familiar faces in local TV. For more than 40 years, he’s been involved in Spanish programming for television. His latest project is hosting “Worcester Latino,” a 30-minute segment, which airs on WCTR-TV3. A little man with a big voice, Flores is the perfect choice for “The Latin Jazz Beat.” Although, the “Beat” has only been aired five weeks (it was a year in the making), it is rapidly finding an audience. “I get as many Anglos as Latinos listening,” Flores says.

Besides being a popular personality in town, his passion for the music is deep and undeniable. Sitting in front of the console at the Portland Street station, Flores surrounds himself with CDs that he spins throughout the night, some from ‘ICN’s library, most from his own collection.

After cuing up a cut, he takes time to just sit and listen. Like taking sips from the 16 oz bottle of Coca-Cola that he brought along to quench his thirst during the four-hour radio drive, he appears to drink in the sound of every track he plays. When his favorite conga drummer or “conguero,” hits an evocative rhythmic groove, Flores shouts, “Hear that? Unbelievable!”

Flores is particularly fond of drummers. As a kid he played the instrument. “The battery,” as he calls it. “I know all the rhythms — cha-cha, the clave, guanguanco, you know. Poncho Sanchez is my favorite.”

As much as he was excited about doing the show, Flores says he comes to it with a certain reluctance. “I’m used to playing salsa music,” he says. “Mostly three-minute cuts. I have my favorites, but I’ve never done a Latin jazz show before.”

Flores says he works without a script, playing what he likes and feels. He reaches back to the architects of the music like Tito Puente, Machito, Mario Bauza and Tito Rodriquez, and forward to new artists as well, like the Caribbean Jazz Project, Ray Vega and Alex Garcia. In between, he takes listeners on a tour of the Spanish-African Diaspora in music. The names on the CDs scattered on the console read like a who’s who of Latin Jazz – Bebo and Chucho Valdes, David Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Bobby Sambria, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. He also plays artists and friends from the Boston scene like Mili Bermejo, Claudio Ragazzi and Mango Blue.

“It’s a shame there’s no place to go and hear Latin jazz live in Worcester,” Flores says cuing up another track. “People would love it.” As a group of all-stars on the incredible disc called Jam Miami: A Celebration of Latin Jazz unwind their tribute to Tito Puente, Flores says, “There’s some players in town like Cecilio Elicier. He plays salsa and jazz. Of course, there’s Miquel Almestica. It would be nice to bring in guys like Eguie Castrillo from Boston, but that’s going to take some bucks.”

Flores’ style is relaxed and surprisingly brief when rapping on the mike. For those used to the rapid fire delivery of his Spanish shows, this is quite the departure. Using a bed of the ballad “My Way,” played lushly by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Flores gives the time, a little color, list the tunes and gets out of the way.

After a public service announcement and underwriting sponsorship for the Latin newspaper Vocero is aired, Flores returns to the music. “I don’t want to be talking all the time,” he says. “What’s the point? I want to hear the music.”

Returning to the conversation of live music in Worcester, Flores says he hopes to influence the decision making process in determining who plays the Jazz at Sunset series that WICN produces at the EcoTarium every summer. He also talks about suggesting ideas for the annual Latin Festival. He says, hearing pianist Enrique “Papo” Lucca at last year’s festival was a major highlight.

Over the years Flores has had the opportunity to interview some big names in the world of Latin music. He recalls capturing a conversation with Jose Feliciano at Clark on an old eight-track recording device and also mentions interviewing Larry Harlow of the Fania All-Stars.

Flores has been in town so long, locals take him as one of their own. He is actually from Columbia, but grew up in the Boston area in a family of four children. He has a brother still living back home, another in Venezuela and a sister in London. Flores stays in touch and visits when he can. He’s especially excited about WICN’s feature of streamlining shows on the world wide web — that way his siblings can tune in.

When asked if he gets many phone calls from people tuning in to his show Flores says, “Not really. I’m just getting started. I think they don’t call when they are content.”

As if on cue, the phone rings in the middle of a beautiful rendition of “El Manisero,” or “Peanut Vendor” by Paquito D’Rivera. The popular Cuban song is a standard throughout the world. It is essentially a call and response piece between the seller and his potential buyers. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the relationship Flores is trying to establish with his developing audience.

Tune in. You’ll be sold on “The Latin Jazz Beat.”

YouTube clip tip: Machito & Graciela En Japan, pt. 1

It should be noted that great Latin jazz can also be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m. at WORC 1310 AM. The show is called “Ran Kan Kan: The Best of Latin Jazz at Night.” In addition to playing the hits, host Edwin Cancel presents news, commentary and interviews. On Sunday, March 11, tune in to hear a phone conversation with percussionist Paoli Mejias, whose latest CD is called Transcend. For those outside of the Central Massachusetts area, tune in at www.power1310.com. Call-in at 508-791-1310, or write to rankankan@power1310.com.