Music on the Green
Gloucester Meeting House, Gloucester, MA
Sitting behind a tall yellow church. It’s the oldest (1806) surviving meeting house in Gloucester. The others have all burned down. Hopefully Willie Alexander’s performance tonight will not get too hot. His piano sits on the stage displaying stickers that have been picked up from all over the world. Charles Nazarian jokingly introduces the band as the Persistence of Life Orchestra as it was misprinted in the local paper. Joining Willie are Jim Doherty on drums, Mark Chenervert on tenor sax and clarinet, and Ken Field on alto sax and flute. Willie bangs and tickles the keys while spirits fly out his mouth. It’s Vincent Ferrini’s “The Blessedness” and the bands unique beebob jazz takes over. Picture Jerry Lee Lewis on piano backed by the sax action of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, with Max Roach on the kit. Okay, maybe I’m going overboard but I’m in the same harbor. Willie introduces “Kerouac” as one half of the 1975 double-A sided single that made him famous. Willie wears his heroes on his sleeve – Jack Kerouac and Vincent Ferrini continually pop up in his music. When Willie points to the sky it signals the other musicians that it’s time to bring another tune to a close. He drags out “Zombie Strut” from Tap Dancing on My Piano as if we should all be familiar with it, saying “I’m sure you all got that one at home.” Ken walks around like a zombie when the song ends. “Who Killed Deanna” (aka “Som-som-Somerville”) is for Deanna Crimin, a victim in the city just north of Cambridge. And if we want to head back into Boston it’s time to hop on “Mass Ave” – the other side of that single that brought Willie fame. His right hand tickles the keys while the left pounds some resemblance of a boogie woogie bass. They slow it down as the sound gets misty. Willie sings “I walk up Portagee Hill” from “Our Lady” with a waterfall of descending chords before the saxes take us for a ride with the greasy pole champ. Willie says the next one, “Baga Bega,”was written by Mikel Laboa and Mark Chenervert starts snake charming with his clarinet. Willie rhythmically utters syllables from low to high… it makes me laugh. “Laga booga steega and keek keeka keeka keek…” It’s beebop skat. From across the bridge – 88 ears old – Willie’s favorite composer – New Orleans — they call me “The Fat Man.” We chant “Bass Rocks” – this is the fish, not the bottom end, and one of my favorite areas of Gloucester. Then it’s another lovely ballad… by the Boom Boom Band “Lookin’ Like A Bimbo.” We all know the reptitive line of “Life is a Poem” as Vincent Ferrini inspires Willie with funky rhythms that build up and break down. Any entertainer can learn something from watching Willie, he didn’t get the nickname the Godfather of Punk for nothin’… though his new crown reads the WAAA! of Beebop Jazz. (T Max)
St. Susanna’s Parish, Dedham, MA
It now seems like forever since The Beatles launched the British Invasion almost 55 years ago and they’ve never gone out of fashion as each succeeding generation arrives at their genius. Two of our area’s most fervent fans are T Max and Bird Mancini, who have hooked up several times to showcase that great songbook.
Tonight we’re in a lovely packed hall in Dedham to share our appreciation of Beatles’ yeah-yeah-yeah. Each act presents their own short opening set before collectively turning “fab & gear.” T Max gets right to the heart of the matter with a personal fave, “Be Kind,” with its Morphine-esque groove and humane theme (“You don’t need to be right/ Choose to be kind… it works every time/You don’t need to be rich to be wealthy/ You don’t need to be sick to be unhealthy!”) Combining more originals – “Chop Chop Chop” (a cooking ditty) and “Bless You” (a gruff comedic sermon) – with some well-chosen covers (”All Along the Watchtower,” “Spooky,” and “Smile”), he conveys his usual charm and instrumental forte, especially with a bevy of pedals that lathers his voice and guitar into an accompanying ensemble (gotta love that technology!).
Next up are Ruby Bird and Billy Carl Mancini, who announce their appreciation for Beatles compositions that have inspired their own tunes. Their voices intertwine and contrast beautifully in “Congratulations” (written with their friend, Sal Baglio from The Stompers) and continue in “The Other Side” and “Green Walls.” For me, it’s easy to hear the subtle nuances and relative connection to the Fab Four in their harmonies and musical structure. This is primo-pop, folks! Following with “Didn’t Last Long,” “One Mistake” (brand new!), and “Through Your Eyes,” they have admirably set us up for the main event.
Did I already mention The Beatles were a genius band? The 12-song set tonight illustrates their eclectic nature and has the audience joining in numerous times. Here’s what T Max & Bird Mancini offer so spectacularly: HOLD ME TIGHT – NOWHERE MAN – PLEASE PLEASE ME – I’M ONLY SLEEPING – FOOL ON THE HILL – STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER (T Max solo) – HURDY GURDY MAN (T Max solo – a strange choice, though he explains that George Harrison wrote the final verse uncredited) – WE CAN WORK IT OUT (Bird Mancini solo) – I’VE GOT A FEELING (Bird Mancini solo) – I WANT TO TELL YOU – HELP – MONEY – LET IT BE – WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS (a rousing closer featuring Ruby’s soaring voice that has everyone singing and swaying). To echo John Lennon’s famous parting words: everyone passed the audition. A thrilling tremendous evening of music! (Harry C. Tuniese)
QUINTESSENTIAL BRASS (first set)
Patton Park, Hamilton, MA
I’ve been to this park named after a famous WWII general before… Chelsea Berry was singing the National Anthem (with a fly over) at the onset of an equestrian show. I never realized how much detail was put into syncing up the singer and the pilots. But today is another beautiful day at Patton Park and the gazebo is occupied by five horn players collectively know as the Quintessential Brass. They will be performing Patriotic and American songbook tunes. About 200 people are camped out in the shade with the chairs they’ve brought, ready to be entertained. The five-piece brass band starts with a fan fair of the Ben Hur theme. The group includes Adam Mejaour (trumpet), Mike Piepman (trumpet/ piccolo trumpet), Robin Milinazzo (French horn), David Lindsey (trombone) and their leader Leslie Havens (bass trombone/ tuba). Next they’re belting out “Spinning Wheel,” the 1968 hit by the brass-heavy Blood Sweat & Tears. The sound of patriotism spills out of John Phillip Souza’s “Manhattan Beach March,” but I guess all marches kind of sound patriotic. This one was composed imagining a walk on the beach with the sound of a band playing in the distance. The next selection, “Hail, Columbia,” is used as the ceremonial entrance for the Vice-President of the United States. That one rolls into “Lili Bell Quickstep” which is accented by speedy melodies from the piccolo trumpet. Before the quick step is done a train passes by the park, adding its own sound dimension to the song. Then it’s time for some Civil War-era tunes – “Dixie,” (we think of Dixie as a reference to the South but when the song was written it was really about Ohio – what’s round on the end, high in the middle?) “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Glory Glory Hallelujah” starting with a muted French horn. Our third president Thomas Jefferson pushed forth the Louisiana Purchase opening the floodgates to the new American cowboys. Rutted by the tuba, “Cowboy Rhapsody” gets the herds a movin’. It includes the folk song we all know – “Home, Home on the Range.” My favorite selection of the days washes variations of “America the Beautiful” in Charles Ives’ way – letting different keys cross paths, creating playful polytonal interludes – always fun to hear – even when it sounds dark at times. Quintessential Brass cover that modern hit “God Bless the USA,” use a typewriter and alarm clock for effect in a Leroy Anderson medley, and finish us off with the penultimate patriotic George M. Cohan medley that includes “Give My Regards to Broadway, “Daisey” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” A cool hot patriotic day in the park. (T Max)
RICK BERLIN w/ NICKEL & DIME BAND
The Midway, Jamaica Plain, MA
If we local fans can sit back and reflect on the myriad clubs that we have attended to get our supply of our city’s finest talents, then, for me, The Midway would have to be a Top Ten selection. Never flashy, never indulgent, never condescending – always gritty and welcoming – the real deal. The Midway is very clearly the last really great, classic room in the Boston area, not just a splendid palace of big dreams that just doesn’t happen to strike everyone on earth as being as blinding, shining, abundantly soul enriching as say, for instance, Shangri-la or the Taj Mahal, but hey, what do they know – the Midway is community cool. Jay, Smiley, Dave, Robert, Nick, Lenny – all good-natured gents, thanks always!
Tonight I’m sitting here during their two-week 30th Anniversary marathon awaiting the evening’s headliner, The Nickel & Dime Band w/ Rick Berlin – a major mainstay in the J.P./ Boston community who has entertained local patrons for many many many years in his various musical congregations. The fact that Rick has worked next door at Doyle’s for almost as long brings forth his wry stage comment that applies to both institutions: “You still here???” My answer is: YES! – as long as you remain so prolific and talented, no sweat!
In contrast to the group’s usual driving vim and vigor, everyone is in low-key mode for this special performance featuring a bevy of new tunes from their upcoming album, The Courage of the Lonely. Acoustic guitar/piano (Ricky), djembe (Chris), trombone (Sam) add gentility to the lead guitar (Rob) and bass (Dave) that ably support the charm and chutzpah of their pianist/lead vocalist (Mr. Berlin). Some of the newer tunes should be instant classics, fully enhancing the poignancy and primal thrust of his music: “I Think I…,” “My Fictional Friend from Norway,” “How Can I Let You Go?,” “The Boys at the Bar” – all leave me in quiet awe. In honor of the club’s celebration, Rick assumes a Patti Smith-as-poet pose and recites a tribute to The Midway while the band crawls through a hippie-esque blues jam – very funny! Several songs from past albums are also included – the sensitive “I Love My Street” and “I’m Jes Sayin,” the rowdy “Slut,” and the honorable “Nickel & Dime Song,” sung by Sam. A wonderful and embraceable show – though I’m really not jes sayin’ – here’s to thirty more! (Harry C. Tuniese)
NORTH SHORE CONCERT BAND
Salem Willows, Salem, MA 7/25/17
The summer is a great time to get out into the open air and experience live music outdoors. I personally love going to the Salem Willows for the free band concerts each year. Bill Flygare narrates the show in a family-friendly way that gives us information about each selection the 25-piece North Shore Concert Band performs. I arrive late and miss a few songs. The first one that catches my ear is “Bugler’s Holiday” with Bill Love on trumpet soloing – it has a wonderful crescendo of an ending. Next song is one I perform myself, the 1938 classic from the Wizard of Oz – “Over the Rainbow.” Joe Sokol ably handles the clarinet solo. There a pre-teen kid dressed in orange who is making the most of this open air production by standing on the right side of the stage, dancing, and acting as if he is part of the production. He jumps at the offer to lead the Mickey Mouse March, where all the kids in the audience roam around the audience playing percussion while the band brings back memories of an old TV favorite – The Mickey Mouse Club. “Hey there/ Hi there/ Ho there/ You’re as welcome as can be” – everyone sings along.
Before the intermission a couple of raffle winners are announced – tickets to Cinema Salem and gift certificates to Brothers Restaurant are given away. I run over to Ghandi’s for a famous Chop Suey Sandwich ($1.85). It may be July 25, but you wouldn’t know it by the weather. It’s a chilly evening and the hot sandwich feels and tastes good. In fact, the odd temperature definitely effects the number of people usually crowding this event.
Conductor David Benjamin taps the podium and the second set starts with Stephen Bulla’s “Saxophobia.” Despite the piece’s title, the sax section doesn’t do anything to scare anyone away. Mike Cameron seems to be playing a small tuba (a euponium?) on T.H. Rollison’s “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep.” The North Shore Concert band plays an especially nice arrangement of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” with Rich DeFreitas on tenor sax supplying the audible hug. Norm Dobson plays an unexpected harmonica solo on Richard Hayman’s “Ruby.” For Hogie Carmichael’s “Star Dust,” Jerry Barrett steps up for a trumpet solo. As the sky turns an amazing airbrushed red to blue, a perfect crescent moon steals the show. The whole brass section steps up on “Brass Brilliante,” then another Gershwin tune, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” from the movie of the same name, features Art Bakopoulos on alto sax. Narrator Bill Flygare announces the final selection of the evening and everyone sits up straight for “Stars & Stripes Forever” before they pack it up to stroll back over the hill through the weeping willows to re-enter their normal lives. A most enjoyable evening of music. (T Max)