J01: Opening chorus

Here’s the opening chorus to what I hope will be a weekly session on what’s happening in the way of jazz in Worcester. The students at WPI studying with Rich Falco are to thank or to blame for such instigation. Together they are about to launch The New England Jazz History Database, an active and growing library of historical materials focusing on the history of jazz in New England, as the name implies.

It is a culmination and partnership between International Association for Jazz Education Massachusetts Chapter and Worcester Polytechnic Institute JazzGroup. Through the site jazz historians, musicians, educators, students can contribute to the preservation and education of the music here in New England.

This jazz blog will be just one of many components involved in the site and I’m glad to be a part of this important project. While the database has historic import and obvious academic implications, my intent is to get a little more “street,” and report on activity happening in the here and now. Because this is an online journal, I’ll also use a style borrowed from Jack Kerouac called, “spontaneous bop prosody,” which basically means I’ll write off-the-cuff as much as possible. “First thought, best thought,” to quote Ti Jean.

I plan to dive into the wreck of a myriad of subjects that suits my jazz shoes from CD reviews to live shows, from Q&A’s with musicians, to analysis of musician’s solos. In the coming weeks I’ll catch up with players who didn’t make my book, The Jazz Worcester Real Book, such as Don Asher, Charles Ketter, Dave Kendarian, Rich and Jim Heffernan, just to name a few.

I’d also like to make some calls to Queens Police Department to get an update on the murder of Jaki Byard. I’ll talk with the teenage Chaplin brothers, Stephen and Gregory, to get their take on what it was like playing at the Grammy’s. I’ll sit down with other writers, radio programmers, promoters and club owners to talk jazz. In the coming weeks, I’ll be chatting with Jaime Flores, Miguel Almestica and others about the local Latin Jazz scene.

There’s an extraordinary jazz symposium focusing on the life and art of Lennie Tristano happening at WPI in April. Word has it that Ira Gitler, Sal Mosca, Connie Crothers, among others will be in attendance, as well as WPI professor Eunmi Shin, author of Lennie Tristano: His Life and Times. I plan on previewing the festivities in depth. Watch for it.

The club scene in Worcester is virtually non-existent, regardless there are many musicians plying their trade and practicing their art every day. I’ll talk with artists like Jerry Sabatini, Bill Fanning and Tim McCall, among others about the where, how and why of performing.

I’ll check in with some locals who ventured out of town like Thomson Kneeland, who is currently making a name for himself in New York. I’ll talk with guitarist Marc Copley, who recently signed to sub on “Saturday Night Live.” I’ll also check in with students away studying the music in school, like Sarah Politz at Oberlin, Stephen Chaplin at Berklee and Glenn Zaleski at the Dave Brubeck Institute.

I’ll call some unsung heroes on the scene, people like drummer Phil Salah, who has been quietly teaching at Union Music for years. I’ll talk to local teachers about their teaching style, performing and personal listening, as well as high school band directors like Dennis Wrenn and big band directors like Eric French.

As many of you know, I am a writer for Worcester Magazine. My byline has appeared in the weekly since 1993. In that time I’ve had the opportunity and good fortune to have interviewed such esteemed jazz musicians as Sonny Rollins, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson, Tito Puente, Mose Allison, Joshua Redman, Stanley Jordan and Joe Lovano, to name drop a few. In the near future you will be able to hear clips from those interviews on this site.

Speaking of clips, my old pal Tom Reney and I have been trading YouTube clips of note. (I’ll also pass them along to you. In fact, have you seen the one of Jaki Byard with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Alan Dawson? Reney is a Worcester native, who is the longtime host of “Jazz a la Mode,” heard Monday through Thursday at 8 p.m. on WFCR 88.5 FM. His shows are crafted as clean, tight and lyrical as a Paul Desmond solo. His in-between-the-music banter is always informative and never intrusive. He’ll give you just the right pitch of background for context and then get out of the way. Check him out today and tell him I sent you.

I recently interviewed singer Kate McGarry, who is appearing at Mechanics Hall on Wednesday, March 14 at noon, as part of WICN’s Brown Bag concert series. She has performed with the likes of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. In 2005 Kate toured along side Kurt Elling in renowned pianist Fred Hersch’s song cycle “Leaves of Grass,” a setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry to music. McGarry is currently a member of the new vocal group MOSS, which includes the rare talents of Luciana Souza, Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge and Lauren Kinhan. Kate also has a few albums out under her own name. The most recent is called The Target on the Palmetto label, which is due out in April.

Here’s some bio notes taken from her website: “Growing up in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Kate was one of 10 children in a musical family with whom she spent many nights singing. She attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she studied with Dr. Horace Boyer and renowned avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in African American Music and Jazz.”

In our interview I asked her if she got see Dave McKenna while living on the Cape. McKenna, who is originally from Woonsocket, RI, spent many a night gigging in Worcester, especially at the El Morocco. Here’s what McGarry said:

“I would go to the Asa Bearse House [in Hyannis]. He was there a couple of nights a week. I would go to sit and listen to him. That was one of my main entries into the jazz world. I didn’t even know who he was; I just knew how right it was.

“This is so good. What is it? I had no idea what I was hearing, I just knew that I loved it. At that time I didn’t know any tunes. I was in high school, just starting college. People would say, you go to see Dave McKenna. Do you know how famous he is and how he is a master stride pianist? His name did not begin to register until much later. I’m so lucky.”

Although he is not playing due to illness, Dave has left a recorded legacy that’s rich and deep. In the coming months, I’ll be checking in with him for remembrances and updates. He has great stories about Boots Mussulli and Emil Haddad to share.

McCarry also mentioned a jazz room on Cape Cod owned by Bobby Bryne. “We would go see Donna Bryne there,” she says. “That was in the ‘80s. For me, somebody who knew they wanted to sing jazz, but didn’t know the first thing about it, going to see Donna was like: ‘Wow! This is a real singer.’ I got all the things I need to put me in the right head space to the music.”

McGarry also let it be known that her mother is originally from Worcester and her grandmother is from Grafton.

So here’s a taste of what the Jazzsphere blog is all about. Thanks for visiting. Be sure to jump into the dialog with comments, criticisms and suggestions of your own. I’d love to hear from you. See you around campus.

All the best in jazz Worcester,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>