The beginning of the year through to early April saw me mostly working local gigs in the Jersey Shore area with Princeton probably being the furthest I ventured. First big performance was at the Cape Bank Jazz Festival in Somerspoint Point, NJ where I was invited to reprise our Sinatra run from Jazz Standard, a few months earlier. I really thought there was no way that this could happen BUT miraculously 95% of the guys were available and jumped on board. Never wanting to stay still I added a few new ‘themes’ and arrangements to the book for this performance. This remains the only time I have ever been checked into two hotels on the same night. My friend Bernard Brady had checked into to a motel in Somerspoint where the nightly rate was so low we SHOULD have been worried 🙂 and when Lewis Nash arrived in town he showed me hotels via an app on his phone that were advertising luxury rooms in Harrahs in Atlantic City. I headed in there with Lewis where we took the opportunity to catch up on a lot of stuff, along with the car ride back up north where he would connect with his driver. Gig was a lot of fun, even though Ocean City is famous for being a dry town – on behalf of our ensemble we’ll plead the 5th.
Vocalist Christine Tobin had the task of singing the opening song, a capella mind you!, no pressure there!!! at the Ireland Rising concert on April 22nd at New York’s Symphony Space. After Christine had performed and made her way back from backstage she mentioned that Cassandra Wilson was on the bill and I immediately thought of a conversation I had with her 24/5 years earlier where she talked about Irish music and how much it moved her…and this was before she knew she is, in fact Irish. I will write about this further when our upcoming project starts to appear but suffice to say, little did we both know, that night, that life would take an immediate and exciting turn!
The next few months saw me become consumed by the possibilities the project with Cassandra seemed to present. Before long I realized that not only would I be playing guitar or guitar(s) on it, but I was in fact, producing it. The arranger in me has long ago realized and embraced the concept of collaboration and it is the communications with Cassandra about all things including music that make this project so unique to me.
Summer came and a combined trip upset New York to reconnect with my good friend, and, no exaggeration here, one of the great culinary minds on this side of the Atlantic Matt Lake, who was in town visiting with his son Nate. Me and my boys took the trip but took a detour via Woodstock to see Cassandra where we also met her son Jerris. This marked the first occasion we both had guitars in hand and played/talked through some ideas and it felt great.
August, saw me fly to Chicago to do a concert with vocalist Monika Ryan at the Skokie Theater during which time we decided to record two albums! Two!! Monika came up with a couple of interesting themes, one was a holiday album which I have never done and the other was based around songs from the year of the great Crash/Depression. I found it challenging to have to come up with arrangements for songs I hadn’t previously heard or didn’t already know, along with the feeling that the clock was ticking. By setting a goal of two albums, little did Monika know that I would be kind who would have to reach the finish line on that goal. Well…we did, and there were some stand out moments, one in particular was the version of Happy Days Are Here Again. Monika gave it a reading that made historical sense – she approached as almost like a wishful thinking feeling, as the year it was written, happy days were far from there! An epiphany type of discovery like that can be all it takes to get me in deep into a project, and it did!
While with Monika, I found out that my hero and mentor Louis Stewart was now in hospice care. Bernard Brady had the difficult task of telling me and I was in the car with Monika and her kids. I tried t hold it together but couldn’t. Bernard, told me of Louis amazing bravery and acceptance and cited this as being enormously comforting to him (Bernard). Andrew Yonke, one of Monika’s friends had lent me a Super 400 for the recording and I kinda felt I was getting a signal from Louis and then…Bernard called. I wrote quite bit on this after Louis’ untimely passing but I clearly remember the ominous feeling that the world, as I knew it was about to change, and not in a good way.
Later that month, and back in New York/New Jersey I got the word that Louis had passed (August 20th, aged 72). I will forever be indebted to the kindhearted musicians and friends from Dublin who kept in touch with me though this heartbreaking time including Louis’ son Tony. Tony would pass messages from me to Louis that were in turn coming from the great American musicians who were huge fans of Louis. I am also grateful to people like Lindsey Horner and Doug DeHays who were prepared to take extraordinary measures so I could get back for the funeral, also to Hugh Buckley and his daughter Shona, both of whom were in New York at the time. Their presence gave me comfort at the time, so much so that I have difficulty imagining how I would get through this time without them. I didn’t make it back but was due back one month later.
Prior to heading back to Limerick for the Jazz Festival there, where I would be “Artist In Residence” I was due in the studio with Monika for an album of songs from her “Windmills” release. These songs are all songs whose lyrics are written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Originally scheduled to include strings and brass, the course changed dramatically for reasons I won’t go into here but, a combination of Monika dealing with challenges head on, her impeccable ability to put a great band together and of course this great repertory saw us produce something I believe will sound very special when you all get to hear it. A few days later I’m off to Limerick and good friend and guitarist extraordinaire Phil Robson is on the same flight back. Limerick is a city I haven’t been in for decades and I loved it from the time we arrived. Much of this was due to the great hospitality I received from festival organizer and drummer John Daly but also the Dolan’s whose welcome they give artists is a template for venue owners. A template in fact that has been present in the Smyth family of JJ’s fame for as long as I have known them. Workshops and an album launching gig in Limerick and we were now off on a short tour of Ireland. Being driven through the Irish country side was exactly what the doctor ordered. Work was interrupted by a stop first in Galway for lunch with the wonderful Sean Nós singer Deirbhile Ní Bhrolachain who I had, earlier in the year, written a fan letter to. Deirbhile drove me to Claregalway where I was met by Kevin Ward, practically a lifelong friend but not before the seed was planted for me to join her on her upcoming CD. Kevin made me a few unforgettable meals that were “polytunnel to table!” During the rest of the trip I had lunch with Tony Stewart, played JJs, Sligo, Belfast and headed back to Limerick for the return journey. I also got in a dinner with Ronan Guilfoyle who I have known since we met on the queue for Louis Stewart’s gigs at the Baggot Inn, back in the late 70s. At the JJs gig I saw so many old friends that I dare not try and mention them here as I know I’ll leave people out. I headed back for the flight home feeling fulfilled that I had met so many friends, comforted and exhilarated by the great catch up with Tony and excited knowing that after a more couple of weeks home I would back for the Cork festival.
Cork was an extended trip so I could stay on for the Louis Stewart tribute at JJs, I ended up being in Cork for almost week and I loved it. Trip to the Donkey Sanctuary (thank you Sian Murray), sad news that our beloved rabbit Mrs Fluffy Snuggle had died – Finn is still struggling with that, workshops with Dave Fleming, James Polsky, Edel Meade and Fintan O’Neill. Catch up with Niall Vallely and Karan Casey (on separate days), a gig in Coughlans – talk about intimate! Again, venue owners who prioritize their welcome to artists. Deirbhile picked me up at some unGodly hour of the morning to record in a slim window, in a studio outside Galway. As I’m sure I mentioned elsewhere, her voice took me out as we hit that special place I haven’t gotten to four some years now. Train to Dublin where I am met by Garvan Browne. A few days of watching movies on that huge screen of his, dinner and Strictly Come Dancing with Bernard Brady where I fell asleep in his house and snored my Jimmy O’Dea off, dinner as mentioned elsewhere was the steak and kidney pies from a can!!! Louis tribute on the Sunday but not before I had dinner, drinks and much catch up with my brother Paul and sister-in-law Rita where we were joined by Paul Dunlea and Stephen O’Keeffe. John Daly drove me to Limerick where I had a hotel in Shannon Airport, a mere walk to check in and I’m headed back to Newark. This is also supposed to be the first day of rehearsals and workshopping with Cassandra and Liam O’Maonlaí.
So that first day back and I end up skipping it to recover. Day 2, Tuesday I head in to the Irish Arts Center where I am treated to many of my musical worlds meeting – I have written at length elsewhere but let me say it again. I have to think back very far to remember getting that feeling before, and I felt it every night we performed.
December saw us revisit our Sinatra concerts of a year ago at Jazz Standard and that can be read about in the previous edition of this blog.
The coming year will see a lot of interesting projects and I am excited by this. On a down side, the US elections have presented me with many challenges:
People who voted for a racist trying to say it doesn’t make them racist! So what does it make you? You are clearly ok with putting a man with these viewpoints in to a position of immense power.
The emerging wide embrace of greed and selfishness by people, we are forgetting how to be kind and compassionate.
The rules are only important if they help us but if it helps our opponent to break the rules then this is a travesty.
When did people lose their way. When did having your candidate win make it ok to fly in the face of all you previously help close to you. The mind boggles…Roll on 2017 and please have some better answers for us than I can give!
I love you all,
Starting the week of the Jazz Standard run we were coming off a week of personal challenges and heartache that I won’t go into here but let’s just say that my ability to focus was being put to the test. This week seemed to be no exception but that said, I was very aware of the role music has played in healing wounds and beyond that, helping to bring joy to myself and others…and I hoped that this week of Sinatra charts would have the same uplifting effect.
Paul Dunlea arrived in on the Tuesday (13th) and along with Christine Tobin we headed to the Consul General of Ireland’s residence in UN Plaza for a reception I was invited to. The reception was for the RIAM who have partnered with Juilliard here in NYC. I later joked on Facebook that this a special reception to welcome Paul Dunlea to NY for Sinatra week 🙂 I had met Mrs Barbara Jones, the Consul General a few weeks earlier and, like everyone who has met her, was struck by a) how personable she was and b) how VERY important art and culture is to her. It was an early reception so before heading back to Weehawken, NJ where I had parked my car outside Christine’s we went for a few drinks. Here Paul reiterated an offer to come and help me ‘put the pads together’. Anyone who has ever led a big band will know how much work it is. Parts go missing, new arrangements need to be added and numbered, set lists need to be put together…and kids have to brought to music lessons and fed. The latter meant I would meet Paul in Red Bank and then he, Jennifer, me and the boys would grab dinner in Red Bank’s Dublin House. Back home and time to get to work. Paul’s organizational savvy has us immediately on track as he lists missing parts, tapes pages together while yours truly is formatting new additional arrangements in Sibelius.
THE REHEARSAL (Thursday 2pm, opening day)
Carpooling on the way in with Doug DeHays we were trying to avoid double tolls and parking etc, which in Manhattan adds up. I arrive just in the nick of time at Jazz Standard. It’s always a great buzz on large ensemble projects when you see what musicians are here already, watch those who are arriving, texts from those who running behind, the sounds of people warming up on their instruments. With a show that had the kind of quality band I had assembled they don’t need to play through full songs. Intros, endings and a few trouble spots are addressed and we are ready. Nothing left to do now except hit the Blue Smoke BBQ buffet and wait for showtime.
It’s been 8 months since most of us have played together and a year since some of us have…and one sub and the band sounds like we are picking up where we left off. It doesn’t take long before we are “swingin’” and having Bob Millikan on lead trumpet is bringing an authenticity to the sound of these arrangements. Songs like “I’ve Got The World On A String” and “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart” stand out for their immaculate phrasing. The vocalists tonight are Sachal Vasandani and guest vocalist Tony Corrao and they are ‘on’ right from the start.
The O’Rourkestra with featured vocalist Sachal Vasandani, guest vocalists Tony Corrao and Jennifer Sutton O’Rourke
First set is heavily sold out and 2nd set not far behind. Vocalists and Band are hitting it way out of the park. Private emotional moment for me happens when I hear the beauty of the great Robert Farnon’s arrangement on The Very Thought Of You which I have adapted from the full orchestral version to a big band. Sachal’s wonderful rubato waves in and out of Farnon’s great writing. In the middle of the chart there is a brief instrumental interlude that seems to envelope the whole room (as it did last year) and I feel a huge wave of emotion internally as these sounds written by a beautiful spirit remind us of why he was nicknamed “The Guv’nor” by Frank Sinatra. Another one off the bucket list happens when Jennifer sings “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart” – I have conducted that quite a few times with different ensembles but this trumpet section under the legendary Bob Millikan nail the phrasing and the dynamics – all backed up by the amazing swinging rhythm section of Lewis Nash, Peter Washington, Peter Bernstein and Neal Kirkwood. Friday night, both sets are being filmed thanks to a kind offer of help/support by Rob Cantwell, a friend who knows how important this opportunity is to get some good footage.
Guitarist Russell Malone is in the audience tonight and I am reminded of one of his posts on Facebook recently where he reminisced about his performances with the great Joe Bushkin. That gets me thinking a lot of how Frank Sinatra used to wax lyrical about his time ‘on the bus’ with both Harry James and Dorsey’s band. In the latter band Joe Bushkin was the pianist and was enjoying the fruits of having a hit “Oh Look At Me Now” and Sinatra would often joke about Bushkin. Russel tells me later that he played that song with Joe a couple of times. This show, both sets, has been sold out for a while. My two children along with Jeremy Pelt’s two children are at a table together and they are joined by Cassandra Wilson. I go looking for an adult to help out at the table, either Jeremy or Jennifer and Cassandra stops me and says “I got this” quite emphatically. With Jennifer and Jeremy on stage along with yours truly I badly want to make a joke along the lines of …”If we’re up here, who’s watching the kids?” Thankfully, good taste prevails on the night although I am reassured that the table next to Cassandra has two of my favorite neighbors, Jim and MaryBeth Kopec. Jim knows my kids quite well and would jump in if needed…they were model citizens, for the most part 🙂 The audience are a little bit rowdier tonight and I have a feeling that Jennifer and Cassandra are egging them on! Band is grooving hard and the camaraderie is very much at the surface. Roger Rosenberg is subbing for Doug tonight on the low reeds and we quickly find out we have plenty to talk about between sets. Roger had done some work in the 80s for Pat McGuigan, father of Barry, an Irish boxing legend and we were talking about Carl Frampton and his upcoming fight. Roger has been touring with with Steely Dan and like Doug, he covered a plethora of woodwind doubles in our library.
First set is busy and on my mind, hanging over from last year I can hear Lewis saying to me that the Sunday night of a longer run in a jazz club is often the night that shit can go wrong..I won’t write here about last year’s last night but suffice to say this one went off without incident 🙂 Once again I went with the approach of not taking a fixed set of tunes and rehearsing just those and performing the same set(s) nightly for the sake of tightness. We did not repeat a set once during our run, some songs were played every night because of their historical context. I would like to extend my gratitude to the musicians who made this week a huge success and indeed pleasure. Here they are:
Sachal Vasandani, Tonny Corrao and Jennifer Sutton O’Rourke
Dave Pietro, David Lee Jones, Tom Christiansen, Jonathan Ragonese, Doug DeHays – subs: Steve Kenyon (for Dave), Peter Anderson (for Jonathan) and Roger Rosenberg (for Doug).
Bob Millikan, Jeremy Pelt, Phillip Harper, Dylan Canterbury – 5th trumpet for some selections Barry Fannin
Ryan Keberle, Paul Dunlea, Clark Gayton, James Borowski – subs Matt McDonald (for Clark)
Neal Kirkwood (piano), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Peter Washington (bass), Lewis Nash (drums).
Newark Airport, Wed Oct 24th (through Tues Nov 1st)
Headed back to Ireland for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. I’m looking forward to planting myself in Cork City for best part of a week before moving on to the next location.
The night before the festival kicked off we had a most enjoyable dinner with Jack and Deirdre who are the festival directors for over 30 years now. Someone needs to do some oral history interviews on their own experiences festival by festival.They have booked al the legends and in an age when it was mail, telephone but no email, texts or instant messaging. Personally, I can never forget how they carried me through times when my parents were ill and I would be worried I would lose them. I’m blessed by their friendship over all these years and am reminded time and again that is the music that brought us all together in the first place. Sometimes Dear Friends, music is the vehicle as opposed to the destination!
CIT Masterclass (Dave, James, Paul, Cormac, Bruce, Patrick)
Presenting the first masterclass of the festival allowed me an opportunity to focus on relationships formed in the music as I introduced Dave Fleming on bass who I have played with on and off since the late 70s! James Polsky, founder/partner of Jazz Standard was on drums and only at the end of our workshop did we reveal that connection. James took the opportunity to explain about KeyedUp – the new organization he has formed to help get the grass roots of jazz in the smaller venues again. This important organization is helping to create a breeding ground where the younger musicians get to play with the more seasoned and experienced ones as they grow the art form and create new audiences.
The nightly jam sessions at the Metropole take place behind closed doors but provide a unique opportunity for musicians, both local and visiting to share the stage with one another and this year was no exception. The task of making sure everyone gets a fair shake has fallen in recent years to my good friend and great pianist Fintan O’Neill. Fintan makes sure that everyone gets some stage time. My own surprise is when some bands come to a jam session like this and only play with the band with which they are already performing, making it a showcase rather than a jam session. I feel that defeats the purpose of what I would regard as MY philosophy for jam sessions. Fintan seems to work around these challenges as he makes sure everyone gets a turn.
The Dunlea Hospitality
Paul Dunlea took myself and Fintan out to Kinsale for a drive and a lunch where I made a return to the Blue Haven – the first time back there since 1991 with Larry Willis. Time flies and since you probably already know it is impossible to have a bad meal in Kinsale, this visit did not disappoint. I have, for years enjoyed very cherished friendships made through this festival and I’m thinking particularly of some no longer with us like the late Joe Callinan, and the late Bill Johnson – both of these men are in the ‘no finer’ category as far as I’m concerned and I still think of them often. I was introduced to Ken Foley by Joe and although I had heard of him and his Dad, I had yet to meet him and so began a friendship in the 90s that has lasted all the way through until the present. More recently, four years (already?) I met Paul Dunlea and through him Cormac and all the guys in his band and there it is again, that same friendliness that I encountered from my earliest days of playing in Cork. In Paul’s case we get to do projects together and as well as being a great friend I am also fan of his music and the way he makes things happen.
Cormac directing the Jazz Ensemble.
Cormac McCarthy invited me to come in and listen in on the Big Band at CIT rehearsing for their concert the next day. I was determined to not miss the as nowadays I consider invitations like these a privilege. Years ago I would oversleep and miss the performances that took place outdoors by a CIT Big Band that I would later learn had produced many of the crop of musicians I was now playing with. Cormac’s band had a great ensemble sound, great attention to dynamics and ensemble and I couldn’t help noticing the great bond between it’s director and his band. I was also delighted to hear Aine Delaney’s work – her self effacing demeanor couldn’t conceal that here is a very gifted young lady who with Cormac’s guidance is already making great music. The energy coming from the stage at this final rehearsal was something to behold.
I soon learned the true meaning of an intimate venue and also, why this venue has been voted top place to hear live music in Ireland. Music, here, in this room is very obviously considered to be very important and so are those who are making the music. I must say, that the commitment of venue owners I have fee to know in Ireland is that music is presented with a sense of pride in their contribution to the art form. I think specifically of the Dolan’s in Limerick for doing so with a multi layered venue and to the Smyth family for their long term commitment to presenting all these years. I again thank Brian for the way he and his Dad have allowed the music to flourish and the musicians to have a home where they could build an audience.
Back to Coughlan’s and apologies for the digression 🙂 It’s no secret that I like to play with minimal amplification and I don’t ever like being forced to play loud. This venue allows for a very unique blend of instruments and the ability to explore the true final quality of our instruments if we take the trouble to hold back on the amplification. Paul Dunlea was the first to not use a mic – we just used it for talk and introductions. This allowed us to take it down at times and create mood(s) and starting points from where to grow our solos. Too much balls to the wall playing and I feel like I went to the gym and only hit the heavy bag. Coughlan’s, you feel that what you are playing is exactly what the audience are hearing and that alone is special.
Wednesday, Nov 2nd
Very early, no make that VERY EARLY on Wednesday morning I was picked up at the Isaac’s Hotel in Cork to head to a recording studio in Galway where Paddy Jordan the owner and engineer was headed for Malaga and had to leave at 2pm. This meant we would record early but…my body clock was, as they say, ‘all over the shop’ 🙂 so I knew this would not be a problem. After all, that’s what coffee is for, right? Deirbhile had wisely mentioned that even if we just got my guitar parts down, given the rush, she could always return to re-do her vocal tracks. All that sounded fine until I ran through part of a song briefly with her and got a sense that some magic was about to happen. I asked Deirbhile to record with a ‘take’ in mind. This session came about after I had written Deirbhile a fan mail. I have been enjoying her recording of Domhnall O’Conall on Gael Linn for years now, make that decades! I finally decided I should track herdown ad let her know how her music had impacted me.I think hers, is possibly the most beautiful sean-nós voice in Irish music and has, for some decades now, had a big effect on me where I hear her sing. To get to record with her was a thrill for me and not even I was prepared for the feeling I would get as soon as we played together. What followed was a return to Salthill where I saw the (now closed) hotel where my mother had brought me in to her hotel room to wash my hair (not washed by me for 3 weeks!!!!) in my Spiddal Gaeltacht days. This was the 70s and I had long hair then so it must have looked priceless, to say the least. Soup at a hotel where they have jazz sessions and what a bowl of soup! Potato, Artichoke and Sage soup and it was delicious. Off to my hotel for a nap, I look out my window and see the Burren and soon pass out. Next, Deirbhile takes me to Wards Hotel for the weekly session where I reconnect with Eugene Lambe, for the first time since the 1980s – wow, how time flies. Eugene played the whistle, not the pipes tonight as he controlled a ‘tap dancer’ (puppet) with his feet. Deirbhile and I played “Black Is The Color” which we had recorded earlier and we hot the magic zone again. It was great getting in a few tunes with the local musicians – at one point I called Cassandra on FaceTime and played the session to her, over the phone.
Thursday, Nov 3rd
I enjoyed the trip on a train as the song says on the Galway Dublin train as I took in the beautiful sights of my home country. The leg room on the train versus the lack of same on the aircraft was hard to ignore. They had the same type of seats…just more space.
Not long after my arrival in Houston Station, Dublin I was met by Garvan Browne. I would be staying with Garvan for the next few nights in the area known as The Strawberry Beds, Garvan’s wife Cathy was working for the next few days so it wasn’t until Sunday that I would get to see her. With Garvan, I got to watch movie after movie on his great large screen setup and caught up on some classics including Marathon Man. I am embarrassed to admit that watching the opening credits of a movie sometimes has a deeper effect on my sleep pattern than any quantity of melatonin ever could and this would come back to haunt me. As I lamented the lack of a love scene with the leading lady in one of the movies we watched Garvan had to break the news to me that I had slept through it 🙂
Friday, Nov 4th
Dave Whyte came over to Garvan’s house early on Friday morning complete with Hob Nob biscuits and plenty of Cadbury’s. BUT he also arrived with the beginnings of a chart on a tune that I had in fact suggested for our collaboration “La Comparsa”. Usually this would mean that it would be me who would bring in a chart but Dave a) fell in love with the tune right away and b) knew instinctively that if he got into the driving seat on this project it had a better chance of getting past the starting blocks…and he’s right. It felt hypnotic as we slid into the groove. Dave was doing the heavy lifting on the head of the tune and I was enjoying settling into the beautiful, moving folk sounding song.
Dave very kindly drove me out to Louis’s house as memories flew back as we turned the corner off St Peter’s road headed for the corner I had etched in my memories. I hadn’t been able to make it back to Louis’s funeral and as many of you already know, I wrote about that elsewhere in this blog, but I did draw much comfort at the time from the comforting words from all those who clearly felt badly for me.
I knew there would be some emotion for me when seeing Betty for the first time since. But…as close friends do, we picked right back up as if we had never left and only minutes into the visit Betty heard a knock at the door and it’s Tony, Katrina and their two beautiful boys James and Conor. These two boys recharged my batteries as by now I was missing my own two boys and wishing they were somehow able to join me on part of this trip. Conor cracked me up as he raised the bar higher and higher “Look at me Dave!” and he reminded me of someone in my household. Meanwhile, I saw James in the room I had spent so much time in with Louis as he strummed the open strings of a guitar on a guitar stand. I knew at that moment, he has the curiosity about the instrument and would be curious to see how that plays itself out. Betty and I had so many laughs from the memories we have together over the years and I felt proud to be able to share the loss felt by American musicians over Louis’s passing. I have no better way to state this than to say that I was amongst family! Betty called a cab for me and as I chatted with him he reminisced about his own experiences of Louis. When Betty called he didn’t seem to remember at first but then started saying “Oh STEWART!” Initially I wondered was he just trying to cover for himself but then he said that he used talk about fishing with Louis and how Louis ad loved fly fishing but had never really done any salt water fishing from the beach. They had made plans to go together and these plans fell around the time Louis had gotten sick. He had left a note for Louis and wondered why he hadn’t heard from him and now was deeply saddened to hear he had, in fact passed away. I enjoyed my trip into City Centre with this down to earth Dub. We parted with a handshake.
Saturday, Nov 5th
This section could be called Bernard and the Steak and Kidney pies.
For 10 years now Bernard Brady has indulged me while I talked about the old Denny’s Steak and Kidney pies that came in a can.You took the lid off and cooked them in the can they came in. They are probably lethal for you but they taste oh so good, and then there’s the nostalgia… I arrive at Bernard’s, dropped off by Garvan on his way to work and I have some said S&K pies with me to make dinner while we settle in for a night of Irish TV. We argue over the oven conversion temperature and then watch through the glass as the puff pastry rises before our eyes. I thought we had cooked them to perfection – Bernard later slags me by telling Garvan “He burdened the Jimmy O’Dea out of it” 🙂
Sunday, Nov 6th
Sunday was the day when myself, Fintan, Paul, Dave Fleming, Stephen O’Keeffe, Myles Drennan and John Daly (called up at the last minute) would play a short set on the night of tributes to Louis. I had decided to play two tunes Louis had written, for starters. I took down Eveline, and A Little Cloud (Stephen had transcribed the changes on that one) and Stephen reminded me of the Stanley Turrentine Louis used to play with Dick Keating called “A Subtle One” – so we played that and closed out with a blues head that Paul Dunlea played. It was great to see so many faces of people I hadn’t seen in so long and have missed through the years. Very moving for me was what happened when Honor Heffernan had just stepped off the stage I was about to step on. Honor gave me a big hug and that great greeting she always has and then leaned in as she asked with full concern how my son Finn was. Honor and I are both animal lovers and she had been so supportive and concerned at the illness, and subsequent passing of our beloved pet rabbit. She asked me to pass a message to Finn which I did verbatim, and he was moved by this. My boys know the name Honor Heffernan as their daddy has often told them of her kindness t me when starting in the business. Honor showed all this compassion when she and Hugh Buckley
had just given a performance where they, as we say stateside “killed it”. An expression for a particularly inspired performance. Thank You Honor!
Shannon Airport, Mon Nov 7th
I had the joy of dealing with a United desk clerk in Shannon a month earlier who delighted in charging for being slightly overweight in the baggage dept. This time around I encountered a gentleman with an English accent who went out of his way to make sure my guitar got on board safe and made me feel I as being looked after. This continued through to the flight attendants who made the flight such a joyful trip. I fell asleep for much of the flight but was beginning to feel like I was coming down with something and hoped that if I slept I could keep it bay until after the week at the Irish Arts Center. John Daly had kindly driven me down to the hotel in Shannon Airport where I could avoid him having a sleep deprived day had he gottenup to drive me from his place to the airport. John’s hospitality is such that he would have done that and then faced a day teaching after that so this seemed the best option to me, for both of us.
IRISH ARTS CENTER WITH CASSANDRA AND LIAM
New Jersey Mon Nov 7th
My plan was to see the boys and then head to the city to get to work on the Cassandra/Liam project, Jetlag? What Jetlag! Or so I thought. As I began to relax Cassandra was texting me steering me towards rest which is ultimately what I ended up doing. Tomorrow would be another day.
Tues Nov 8th
The call today was for noon and I pack up the car with a number of instruments hoping to cover whatever bases I can in anticipation of the tunes we’ll be playing. By now I know that Cassandra and Liam have worked on An Raibh Tú Ar An gCarraigh? (Were You At The Rock?). I wasn’t familiar with this one but was looking forward to hearing what they had come up with. I arrive before noon and meet Liam and chat a little and Cassandra arrives just behind me and after we all chat for a bit, we head into the theater to get to work. They share what they did the day before and it sounds amazing. Right off the bat I can see that Liam has a very wide palette to draw from him. I quickly imagine that he’s the type of musician who lands in a country and almost immediately a significant part of their unique culture has found it’s way into his own way of creating music. It sounds like a natural absorption as opposed to a conscious acquisition. He sings An gCarraig with the authentic sean nós that I have heard him do before but it is the 2nd sean nós song that he sings that gets my attention right away. It was in the key of G ad I didn’t catch the name but it started my engines of curiosity working. We break for lunch and head around the corner to an Italian restaurant where we talk about everything under the sun…back to work. Cassandra looks at me and says “OK David, Drive the bus!” I confirm with both of them that, that is what they really want – I suggest a few tunes that are on our Irish recording project and Cassandra says no, she wants to keep those for our project and I start to veer towards a mild panic inwardly when I suddenly remember the ‘air in G’ Liam had sung before lunch. I asked him if he had been influenced by Sean O’Riada (at this stage I had not gotten his CD Rian where that is addressed on the liner notes by Liam). I told him I had heard a strong influence n that air and we both discovered right away that we had both had a VERY parallel experience with Sean O’Riada’s music. For me it was his mass in the Spiddal Gaeltacht and I believe Liam’s was also in the Gaeltacht but in the West Kerry Gaeltacht where Sean himself had gone. Liam also was exposed to this music by both his parents and attended an all Irish speaking school where the students had the opportunity to play a number of different instruments.
I play a version I had recorded with the Celtic Jazz Collective years earlier of Sean’s Beannaigh Sinn A Athair and having asked Liam if he knew An Pheadair, Sean’s setting of the Our Father in one of his three masses and far and away a huge favorite of mine growing up. Liam told me he did and not only that but he had recorded a version of it and sang it, Cassandra now entered the mix with a Yoruba Prayer that I think translated to Dear Mother after I had suggested maybe doing a Spiritual. Fro this moment I now felt I had stepped on a magical train of creativity that would not end until we ended it 6 days later!
I was still concerned that Cassandra might want to do some repertoire from her earlier recordings and finally expressed this. She said to me “Brandon (and Lonnie) will cover that”. When she saw I was surprised the Brandon Ross was coming in she mentioned thatch thought she had told me…She had in fact but I thought she was referring to an Australian tour that she had received an enquiry about and didn’t think the Irish Arts Center because it was a smaller project and therefore we would have to keep numbers down. Inwardly I breathe a huge sigh of relief asBrandon is on a lot of these recordings. I love collaborating, it’s part of being narrater but I wondered would Brandon feel the same as I did, not having met him yet. I asked Cassandra was he ok with me being there and she said emphatically, Yes. I hear Liam talking about Justin on keyboards and ask if it’s Justin Carroll. It is, and Justin and I have been trying to get together on some projects for a few years now and lo and behold, here we are!
Wed Nov 9th
After hitting crazy traffic on the NJ Turnpike I make it just a few minutes late. As I walk into the theater the first face I see is, in fact Brandon and we introduce ourselves and all I can say is, that when he greeted me with his warm smile I knew there and then, that we were going to working as seamlessly as we ended up doing. We were now joined by Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Justin on keys, Liam by now is playing low whistle, has had an Irish Harp delivered to the stage and Casandra mentions that we have ‘a trombone’ coming in the next day. I remember Liam asked me if I knew a trombonist from Brooklyn called Curtis – I ask Curtis Fuller but no, it’s Curtis Fowlkes. I had heard Curtis years ago with the Jazz Passengers and then discover that he is very close friends with so many Irish musicians I know. It turns out Curtis has been playing with Glen Hansard for a number of years. Another connection…Fowlkes is also Cassandra’s maiden name and her people are from Virginia as well as Mississippi. Curtis is from Virginia too. During rehearsal and tech. rehearsal with John handling the microphones Cassandra sings on the mic for the first time and I am floored by the power she can communicate even when singing ‘sotto voce’ – Justin and I smile at one another when she first sings, the kind of acknowledgement that we are in the middle of something very special happening. I am struck several times during this project at how we are all working together so well and everyone seems to know when to move or hang back. By now I am playing either the Veillette High Tuned 12 string guitar or an acoustic 6 string while Brandon is playing either electric or nylon string. He also has a 6 string banjo that is designed for guitar players but Brandon has tuned it differently, he and Cassandra have been using different tunings for years now, and they help give a unique timbre that we hear on their recordings. We finish around 5 and go for something to eat.
I skip the ‘In Conversation’ portion of the talk so I can catch up with my boys at home. I wish I could be present for the talk as I always enjoy that setting but I also feel I should leave them to it. Christine Tobin was in attendance and told me the next day how much she had enjoyed it and she would later hang out with them.
Thurs Nov 10th – Sunday 13th.
Today sees the band rounded out by Alvester Garnett on drums/Djembe and other assorted percussion and also the first day that Curtis arrives. Apart from a few times when we are getting bogged down in details that time won’t allow for such a delay we are now headed for opening night tonight, 8pm. The sound of Cassandra and Liam’s voices are starting to take even further hold of me as I get that same feeling you get when the the announcement says “The Captain has put on the sign to fasten your seatbelts” I know this is going to be special. Liam and Cassandra decide to be onstage when the people are let in to the theater, already playing, as if in their living rooms. We will then join in one by one, in no particular order. It’s funny to see how long it takes some of the audience to realize that the show has already begun and feels like friends are arriving at your house, for a dinner party.
And so it was for the next few nights. I will refrain from reviewing our own gig other than to say that Cassandra and Liam’s deep gifts took me on a musical journey, the likes of which I have never experienced before. I believe the combination of many of my musical loves is what made this a unique experience. I want to express my personal thanks to Cassandra and Liam for the wonderful musical journey they took me on, to ALL at theIrish Arts Center for creating a vibe where this type of creativity can flourish, unimpeded. To the Consul General and Mick Moloney for their kind words on the last night. To Andy Breslin (gave me my first NY City gig as a leader when I moved here) and Colm Clancy, we go back to the Shades days, to Emily and Jeff Elyshevitz, Fintan O’Neill all of whom came to support us. My two boys Finn and Sean and their Mom Jennifer who took them on a school night to hear their Daddy perform on a gig I didn’t want them to miss. Mrs Barbara Jones, the Irish Consul General couldn’t have been nicer to these two boys when they brushed pass her to hug me…minutes later I a witnessing the Consul general hugging both my boys at the front of the stage.
I can’t forget the hospitality of the staff at Crispins who reopened their closed kitchen for us on our last night, we had been there pretty much every night after the gig and it was so great that accommodated us on this last night.
I hope the above gives you some of the enjoyment we experienced making this music over the past few nights and in my case weeks.
Limerick Jazz Festival/Fraternal Tour
This story begins with a near 3 hour delay on the runway at Newark Airport where the blow had been softened by a pint and a snack in the terminal with fellow guitarist and good friend Phil Robson, who was also on the same flight. We arrived and I’m knackered, bollixed and grumpy and through some confusion probably generated by the flight mishaps our pickup is not there. When he does arrive, he is apologetic to a degree that shows clearly this kind of thing does’t happen and soon I am enjoying the warmth of my first exposure to Limerick hospitality. I had not yet met John Daly who organizes the Limerick Jazz Fest along with a committee of devoted jazz lovers and indeed musicians. John and I were due to perform together and I had enjoyed a few phone conversations leading up to this but oddly enough, we had never met. Many of my friends stateside know John and raved about the hospitality they received and even with that …even I was blown away. I arrived in with a gig as Artist In Residence and left having gained a friendship – more on that later.
First up I walked in on Norma Winstone rehearsing with the DCJO, didn’t realize that this was her only rehearsal due to a flight fiasco for her. After fish’n’chips with John at Luigi’s I went to the show and saw bari saxist Claire Daly performing the Gerry Mulligan charts and Norma singing the Kenton charts, all put together by Allen Smith (Jazz On The Terrace). Next it was over to Dolan’s to catch Phil and his band Partisans (along with Julian Siegal, Joey Caldorozo and the bassist whose name eludes me for now). Their demanding repertoire and tightness was amazing – the only who thought they weren’t tight were they themselves. The much used cliché of taking no prisoners was so true here. BTW Claire Daly was on her first Irish visit and lapping it up – she has been posting some amazing photos.
Nest day, the full Irish Breakfast sets me up for
#1, a live radio interview featuring John and myself.
#2, Music Generations – where I got to work with a number of youngsters – both John and bassist Peter Hanagan are very involved in this program. every kid played and I saw the fire in some of their eyes. There are some future players there!
#3 A radio interview for a jazz radio show on radio Limerick
#4 A jazz workshop for the adult musicians. Most arrived with out their instruments BUT they were treated to an impromptu performance with Paul Dunlea, Norma Winstone, Claire Daly (1) and Claire Daly (2) performing.
#5 a quick bite in Dolan’s with Claire where I can only make a dent in the meal because of a soundcheck/rehearsal due to happen for the album launch.
Launch gig where I am not feeling great until I drink about three bottles of water! Was I that dehydrated. Find out for The first time that tonight is the only night Cormac will be performing with us. Stephen O’Keeffe and Hugh Buckley sit in for a tune on guitars and meanwhile in the audience we have two Claire Dalys, Deirbhile Ní Bhrolchain who I had written to a few weeks earlier to say how much I loved her singing on her Gael Linn album. Gig and the music is very well received and then it’s off to Limerick in search of somewhere to eat. Everything seems to have shut down at 10. After I post this the next day I meet Val Dolan, Mick’s wife and true to form of amazing hospitality they are apologizing for not knowing, saying they could have sent out. I had to let these beautiful people know that this was not of their making – they are now right up there in my list of most hospitable venue owners.
Before heading out on tour I couldn’t help but be struck by the energy a very dedicated group of musicians and educators led by John Daly, are putting in to the preservation of and eduction of jazz as an art form in what appeared to me to be a city that has had to deal with the ‘give a dog a bad name’ syndrome for years. I go by the vibe and feeling I get from a place and I must say, I loved it from the start and in a strange way it reminded me of Red Hook in Brooklyn from when I lived there. I would love a riverside property in Limerick, with those amazing vistas.
Monday, and I’m hitting the road for Galway but as the days would unfold I would realize I hadn’t said goodbye to Limerick yet!
Deirbhile very kindly offered to meet me at the bus terminus in Galway where we then had lunch followed by a trip to ClareGalway where I was met by Kevin Ward, one of my longest standing friends. Kevin, Niamh and Joey are living the dream in my books. Away from it all, growing own veggies in their own poly tunnel, have their own hens and fresh eggs and made me a ‘Ruby Murray’ -that’s curry to the rest of the world that had me simply in heaven. We were so far away from any public road that the silence was deafening, as was once said to describe the silence after an equalizing goal was scored in a famous Ireland and England soccer game. I had one of the deepest nights sleep I’ve had in a long time.
Paul picks me up at a town Kevin and he figured was a good meeting point enroute to Sligo. This gig will be just me, Paul and Dave Redmond – a very different sound from the recording but it turns out it has an attraction all of it’s own, with a different level of intimacy given the tunes. Dave Redmond shines in the way he holds it all down on bass – rock solid. Kevin and Niamh came to the gig and finally, for the first time join a few years I meet Jim Meehan in the flesh. Brendan Doyle also came to the show as he was working nearby for a few days.
Paul has to get back to Cork that night and John Daly agrees to come get me near Limerick so I can stay wth him prior to the Belfast leg of the trip.
First stop on this road trip is to meet Paul at Port Laoise service center. The lads point out Moneygall’s Barack Obama Plaza to me. I smile as I realize how reluctant so many are in his own country to give him any credit and hear he has huge gas station and rest center named for him.
We arrive at McHugh’s to play the gig. Restaurant closes at 9, we finish at 9:30 so I already know food will be a problem. We have yet again another change of sound as the piano is gone and now we have Linley Hamilton playing trumpet. His very soulful style along with his versatility gives a very fresh perspective to the materiel and makes me wonder how different the album might have been had Jeremy Pelt been available when we were recording (he was out on tour at the time). I managed to find a dodgy kebab after the gig ate enough to take with my HBP meds – later a very kind drummer from Belfast Conor McCauley took us to a late night Chinese joint for take out. Back to the guest house where I passed out.
Headed to Dublin to play JJs and know I’m going to see a lot of friends at the gig, but nothing prepared me for the huge amount of reconnections I ended up having. Prior to that I meet Tony Stewart, Louis’s son for a lunch that extended well in to the afternoon. I have so many memories of Tony as a young boy, and like his two sisters were the cutest kids I knew (I know, I sound so American there) and here before me is this young man and I see for myself, why his parents were so proud of him. I can’t put in to words the closeness I felt upon seeing him but I’ll say this, I look forward very much, to my boys and his hanging together over there in Ireland and here when they come to these neck of the woods.
I catch up on emails and scheduling for the youth orchestra auditions asI take advantage of the wifi before heading out to walk around a bit. Walking across George’s Street I think I’m seeing things when India Mullen, one of the young stars of the only soup I watch (TV3’s Red Rock) is walking towards. I think about whether I leave her alone or say something. As she stalls in the Island in the middle of the street I say to her “I watch you on TV in America” and we both laugh. I found out later she’s quitting the show to try other parts – a brave young lady who knows what she wants and is willing to give up the security of steady acting work.
I meet Ronan Guilfoyle for a bite before the soundcheck at JJs. I first met Ronan on the queue for the Louis gigs at the Baggot Inn, where he and I would get there early to make sure we got a seat right up front. We play catch up before I head to JJs.
One tune in and they’re already letting people in. When the audience are all in and it’s time to hit – Paul Dunlea jokes that the audience look like my friend’s page on Facebook! I was delighted to catch up with so many people at this gig – school friends, childhood friends, more recent friends. At one point I looked up and see Deirdre Brady, one of the best flute players Ireland has ever produced and then realize Olga Barry, another friend who talked me through many a bout of homesickness over the years. Her words “sometimes to have to check in” really resonated with me and made me approach my need to set foot in Ireland regularly with acceptance rather than questioning it. Deirdre had brought me a bottle of a whisky liqueur called the Old Dubliner and while I don’t drink, that bottle is going to play a role in upcoming rehearsals for Cassandra’s gig at the Irish Arts Center. Mark my words, a day will come where we will all be on the same gig together Cassandra, Deirdre and yours truly. Why? Because that’s how these things seem to play out. I really feel I’m in my hometown that night – back in a month again 🙂
A highlight for me was my sister in law Rita and my niece Kerri, making it in to the gig even though I wasn’t even in Dublin for an overnight this time.
At this point John Daly and I are joined at the hip. I was having a blast just going from place to place in the car with him. He even drove me to John Conway, a guitar maker where I ordered a bouzouki (I’ve wanted one forever, and playing on the one he made for Batty sealed it for me)
I can’t get past thinking of fortunate we all are that people like John Daly, Paul Dunlea and Linley put dos much effort in making sure that the music happens, and happens live. I feel the memory of George Mesterhazy and how he would die hours for a gig, some of which didn’t cover the cost of getting there! But…it was about making music and that’s what drives us all. Thank you to everyone for a great trip – back atchiz in a few weeks 🙂
Louis Pt 2
Moving in to the 90s and my early years in New York. In those early days the cost of transatlantic phone calls or ‘trunk’ calls as they were once called meant that I rarely spoke to anyone in Ireland outside of my parents and with me and many of my friends not avid letter writers I would soon lose contact with many people – Louis included. A mutual friend of Louis and mine, Bernard Brady came regularly to visit New York (still does) and I would keep up with some the news through him and others. Without going too deep into my personal past I had pretty much fallen in to almost the first pair of open arms I met and was soon engaged to be married. I hadn’t been involved with anyone for years so I fell hard. When this relationship didn’t work out I was crushed and took to phoning everyone I knew who would listen. I remember talking to Louis and he asked me if I was thinking of coming home and I sighed “I don’t know what to do Louis…” He got serious for a minute (he’d been trying everything to make laugh and cheer me up) and said “I know it would probably be easy to come back but I think you’d be better off sticking it out over there as they’re’ll be more opportunities for you”. I always appreciated that and indeed often thought about it. It was easier for me to move here (USA) than it was for someone to uproot his whole family as he would have had to do and I know, now that I have kids of my own the feeling of responsibility to provide for them shapes many decisions I make. That day, in that conversation, in his efforts to make me laugh, he told me how he and Jim Doherty were renaming musicals to tie in with the Gulf War “Call Me Saddam” instead of Call Me Madam etc I couldn’t bring out laughter in my pain but he understood.
For years the only time I would see him was in Cork and if I stayed on in Dublin for a few days. During one of those visits he played me an album he had recorded with the great Robert Farnon. I remember thinking there was nothing happening in the first track with Farnon having written string pads and just as I was about to say something stupid – this beautiful flow of counter melody, written as only Farnon could, emerged from the orchestra. That exposure to Farnon would change my life, again! right there and then.
Louis stayed with me in the mid 90s when he was over recording an album with George Shearing and a new version of his famous quintet. This time the band included Dennis Mackrell and Steve Nelson – some of the best in the business and I must admit, I love that recording. Great tunes and great playing. I was in my first apartment in Manhattan and I think Louis was taken aback by the darkness (one relatively ineffective window) and also, probably my lack of domesticity! I remember having some frank conversations with him about how he managed to deliver such a high level of performance when playing with musicians who might have been, let’s say not in the same zip code as him. He confided in me that he could shut out any problems and play with an imaginary rhythm section which I thought was great but Louis again confided that he was worried that he might have desensitized himself for those situations when he got to play with a great rhythm section. Well…I remember meeting Dennis Mackrell in Laura Hartmann’s house when we had dinner there. Laura is Steve Wilson’s manager and Dennis remarked how quickly he and Louis found their groove together so Louis need not have worried about losing his sensitivity. Steve Nelson also talked about it. Louis told me how amazing it felt to be collectively so far behind the beat on some of the tunes and how scary it could be…listen to the recording, they phrase so beautifully!
A few years later I saw Louis play with Shearing at the Blue Note opposite Tommy Flanagan’s trio this time and me and Fintan O’Neill were so proud that one of our own was up there. It may well have been at that engagement that Louis became friends with Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Years later, Louis, Betty and a few other friends were over in Bernard Brady’s house (after Bernard’s Dad had passed) and it was getting close to Cork. Louis didn’t know who his band was going to be and the organizers were trying to figure it out. I told Louis that I had Lewis and Peter playing with me and with some careful scheduling it could work. I remember Louis in his gentle voice saying “That would be great, would you mind Dave?” Of course I told him I’d be delighted. When Cork got in touch with the lads before I had a chance to, they showed me the courtesy of seeing was I ok with it and I said to Lewis that I absolutely was while Peter I decided to have some fun with. I told him No, I didn’t want him playing tired on my gig and he said “F@#$ You I’m doing it!” and we both laughed. Peter would have the last laugh on me when Cork made out his plane ticket to Kenny Washington and at JFK they wouldn’t change it unless I could get someone from Cork on the phone – this was midnight Irish time. Finally, I had to buy a NEW ticket and the same Aer Lingus staffer who was not budging asked Peter, can you give a contact person in the event of an emergency? and with a straight face Peter replied “Kenny Washington”!
Louis played the Vanguard with both Peter and Kenny Washington and Richard Wyands on piano and had many musicians showing out to see him. He was to come back to New York and play the Jazz Standard but the untimely loss of his daughter Catherine had taken the kind of toll on the family that we can only imagine and hope that those close to us never experience.
I am completely out of sequence with this one but I was brought to Wrexham, Wales to teach on a jazz camp and for some performances. Louis was there along with Betty and Mundell Lowe, Howard Alden and organizer Trefor Owen. I remember one fun pre gig dinner with just Louis and Mundell in a pub near the concert venue but my biggest memory from that weekend was going down to Louis and Betty’s room in the hotel and catching up, just like old times.That night stands out to me for the feeling i had and ye, someone like me who tends to remember things in detail (when I do remember something) have very little memory of what we talked about – I just remembered the feeling of a reunion.
The final memory in this offering comes from my conversation with Louis when he was in hospital. I am forever grateful to Jim Meehan for getting hold of me to let me know, and I knew it was being kept quiet then. Much of what we spoke about was private between both of us, but I will say this. For two Irish men, we shared our feelings for one another in a way that I will cherish forever! While talking to Louis, and I had been on for quite a while, the staff came in to either give an injection or IV and he told me that was happening. Me: “I better let you go Louis, you’ve been very good to stay on with me this long…” Louis: “No hold on Dave, this will only take a minute”. I didn’t hear much other than Louis thanking the Doctor/Nurse and my eyes welled up they way they do when my own kids have to have a shot and I wish I could take it for them. Louis came back on the phone and started continue where we left it and I started to joke with him, really so I could shake off my momentary emotional lapse. Me: “Ah, you’re a real fucking jazz musician now…needles!…and you even have someone bringing them to you” We laughed together that day,talked about Pat Martino and Johnny Smith. I told Louis that while I always have love and respect for the legends of jazz guitar that came before us (me and him), that in my own simplistic way I viewed him (Louis), George Benson and Pat Martino as being like the three wise men, three brothers… however you want to look at it and that I felt especially privileged to call all three of them my friends.
Our collective grief as Irish Jazz musicians, fans and friends and indeed beyond are deeply moved that out hero, friend, mentor had the President of Ireland at his funeral. I am forever grateful that gesture.
Best to all,
August 25th, 2016
PS After I published this I realized I had omitted two brief memories:
1) During Hurricane Sandy, Louis called our mutual friend Bernard Brady making sure I was safe during the hurricane and in it’s aftermath.
2) John Phillip Murray put me on the phone to Louis without telling him or me who we were taking to. Louis greeted me with “You’re some bollocks!”… I had been in Ireland and hadn’t called anyone and he was upset with me but when I explained I had been going through a divorce he immediately shifted gears and became supportive, making sure I was ok. He would subsequently ask Bernard how we were all getting along on regular occasions, always making sure to know I was ok. I told him that day I would never again visit home without trying to see him or at the very least call him and…sadly, I never made it back to Ireland after that call.
My first encounter with Louis Stewart was back in the time when RTE broadcast ‘filler’ footage of some of Ireland’s jazz musicians. I didn’t understand the music they were playing but like a lot of people when they heard jazz for the first time it is the mastery of their playing that gets you. You also know there’s something much deeper going on but as a young boy that understanding was a few years away. What I did know however, was that my Dad loved this guitarist Louis Stewart along with pianists Noel Kelehan and Jim Doherty.
As I approached my mid teens I was searching for more meaning in music and wasn’t getting it from the music I was listening to then…various pop, folk, 60s although never gravitated towards the heavy rock sound or anything where the guitar sound was altered too much. I think the latter may well have been me embracing some of my Dad’d prejudices (years later when I wanted an electric guitar he told my mother “He’ll prancing around like those idiots on Top Of The Pops!) When I began to take a closer look at this Louis Stewart guy my Dad seemed pleased and even sent me ‘in to town’ to pick up “Louis The First” and soon after “Out On His Own” was released and I was despatched to get that one too. I remember my Dad loved the title because of an old Dublin expression (according to him) that Out On His Own was basically what me might say today as “In a league/class of his own” – and the double entendre – it was a solo guitar album. That album to this day has an atmosphere and Louis told me that many people would say that very thing to him throughout the years. George Shearing sought him put and hired him after hearing Out On His Own!
By now, Louis was in Ronnie Scott’s band and my Dad said he would go to Ronnies on an upcoming trip to London and see if he could meet him for me – I was excited but alas that trip never happened for some reason or other. In a few years I heard Louis was going to play a lunchtime concert at the Trinity College Students Union – I got this info in a tiny record shop called The Music Inn in Gaiety Green (old Dandelion Market) that was run by the late Mick Fagan. I went up and spoke to Louis that day. This was a big deal! I told my Dad “Dad, I TALKED TO LOUIS STEWART” Having been blessed/cursed with a detailed memory (no, I don’t remember everything BUT when I do, it’s in great detail) – I introduced myself and in my nervousness asked him if he ever recorded on acoustic guitar (Why I asked that is beyond me even now). He told me that yes, on his upcoming album Milesian Source there was one track on acoustic guitar. A few weeks later, that album was out and I got it along with Ronnie Scott’s album where Louis was burning on it.
Mick’s shop turned out to be the place where I would often hear when Louis was due back and I would go and see him at the Baggot Inn – mostly a rock venue BUT he was packing the place, with a queue all the way out the door. It is on the queue that I first met Ronan Guilfoyle and we asked one another what instrument we each played. Some of the older audience members (anyone over 5 years or more older than me seemed old then) would remark how the front row was either guitar players staring transfixed at Louis or drummers doing the same thing with John Wadham! We would have to queue up so early that we often got their before the Wad’s big green car arrived with him driving and Louis and his wife Betty in it. They were like super stars arriving. I was in a new world of discovery now. I would buy albums by people I read about on other people’s albums that I owned and I was finding out that many of the greats were already dead, died in poverty! Around this time, some other musicians from Malahide had formed a band and their bassist Adam Clayton, who was on the other side of a few pints was saying – outside the old Wimpy Bar in Malahide that if music didn’t make money, lots of it etc etc then it was no good. I freaked out on him and yelling stuff like “What about Mozart?” and even mentioned that we had Louis Stewart and how amazing he was and yet he had to struggle! In response to my Mozart question Adam, who by now was probably winding me up said “it (his music) mustn’t have been very good!” One of his friends Dave Evans (later known as The Edge) was chiming in that Louis Stewart was great. My punchline to Adam that night was “With your attitude you’ll never make it!” Louis used to get a kick out of that when I would tell him and of course, that band were U2. I had also formed a band by now with Lindsey Horner (bass), Frank Walshe (tenor), Bernard Reilly (vibes) and Conor Guilfoyle (drums) that we named after a tune that none of us could play – Giant Steps.
Louis was now making regular trips home and I had begun to try and talk to him whenever I could, even took to phoning him to ask questions like “What’s the correct way to hold a pick?” I was also going out to Ritchie Buckley’s house to get in a few tunes with him before the show band bus picked him up. It was there I met Betty and Louis’ kids (Kate, Tony and Gráinne) and on one of those saturdays was invited around to see Louis. I don’t know how but soon I was moved into another category. I was now showing up both unannounced and uninvited and, I was made most welcome. This ‘stalking’ would continue until my father saw me heading out and asked “are you going out to Louis Stewart’s” and I said I was. My dad asked me if had thought about maybe, just maybe, Louis’s children would like to spend time with their Daddy without someone else around. “Oh shit” is what I thought – there was no argument there. I sat twiddling my thumbs watching the saturday match, Saint and Greavsie and then the phone rang. It was Betty calling to tell me the kids were wondering where I was. I will NEVER forget the feeling I got knowing I was that welcome! I would spend as much time as I could with them, hoping that, as I mentioned elsewhere on a Facebook post that whatever he had, was contagious. Louis would play recordings for me of all the masters and real me what he loved about them, about their styles. I now realized he wasn’t going wave a wand and magically make me into a jazz guitarist OR indeed, show me directly anything, give or take a few little things here and there but what he would do – is show me where all the answers, or at least many of them could be found and by me. Louis had done some teaching in Capel Street and had stopped by the time I came along but I did take some lessons with Alan Grundy, who had studied with Louis before embarking on his path as a classical guitarist and he shared the notes Louis had given him along with all he could remember. These included a chord melody version of All The Things You Are. These notes shared by Alan (a friend of the late Barry Lawlor) where invaluable to me at the time as they helped to get me started.
I was once described by Mark Whitfield’s son Davis as “teaching kids how to swim and then throwing them straight into the Atlantic Ocean” – this was in reference to the performance driven approach we use t the Jazz Standard Discovery Program. As I look back now, I realize THAT is precisely what Louis did with me and many others. We found ourselves on a gig with him when we were nothing close to ready. How were we going to learn? By DOING IT! First engagement for me was about 4 nights back to back of duets in Gerald Davis’ Gallery on Capel Street. First tune, Have you Met Miss Jones? and Louis hands me the first solo – every guitar player will remember that feeling of relief when you make it to the end of the form without getting lost and I did…BUT 🙂 Louis said “Take some more!” and now the safety harness was removed. I was two nervous to have enjoyed most of those nights but it was a step in the process. Next, Louis was out of action after a cortisone shot for tennis elbow (“Thank God it wasn’t tennis MICKEY!” he quipped) and he put me in, in his place at last minute notice for a lunchtime concert at the Peacock Theater. My brother got word from my Mom and was on the queue where he heard people say “I hear Louis is not playing” Who is? “Some guy called David O’Rourke” – “Never heard of him” Louis came out on stage and apologized for not being able to perform and very graciously introduced yours truly and I remember that performance as one where I was conquering some of my nervousness and also the feeling of being honored that he chose me. Around this time Louis also sent me in as a dep/sub to the Harp Bar when he was a guest with Jim Doherty’s Trio – I remember being terrified on that gig but having a blast on it nonetheless!
Next up for me was my first trip to the US – New York in particular. I had made the finals of the RTE Young Musician Of The Future and as a result come to the attention of Aer Lingus who offered me free travel to London weekly to take lessons – my response – “What about New York?” I remember one of my conversations with bassist and long standing friend Dave Fleming when we talked about people using Louis’ contacts or dropping names without consulting him and how annoying it was or must be for him. I was determined not to put Louis in that position and days before I left on my first trip – a month long trip Louis said “I can give you some phone numbers if you like?” How kind was that? He gave me a few names and numbers and for the purpose of highlighting their effect on me I will equate their name to the effect they had:
Bucky Pizzarelli – invites me to sit in with him at the Hotel Pierre in his Nat Cole style trio and in so doing I make my NYC jazz debut. A lady introduces herself to me and tells me she is “Helen Ward and I was Benny Goodman’s first girl singer”. Months later Bucky tried to get me a 6 night a week gig in another room in the Pierre, not realizing I needed work papers.
Wayne Wright – a left handed rhythm guitar who was a good friend of Louis. Wayne called me back and left a message inviting me to join him on a trip to Les Paul’s House. Les was reclusive at the time so this was a big deal. On that trip also was Martin Taylor who in turn had me join him on the guest list at the Vanguard to see Jim Hall (with Harvie S) and that’s the night I was greeted with a hug from Woody Shaw! Also in the car,a legendary beatnik era DJ called Jazzbow Collins.
Dan Axelrod – I never connected with Dan. Louis had met him and liked him in a music store on 48th street and he told Louis he had studied or was studying with Tal Farlow.
As you can see – these contacts above all led somewhere. Bucky’s manager Dick Ables, tried so hard to help me get work papers and Wayne taking a 22 year old to Les Paul’s house had me thinking “If this can happen after two weeks what would happen if I moved here?”
I had a concert organized to help me go back to the US to try and study with Barry Galbraith (a Bucky connection too) and I have many memories of this. The late Gerald Davis had the idea of putting on this concert but got busy and would send me down to book the hall etc This became problematic when either the Irish Times or The Indo called and asked who was putting on the concert and the Liberty Hall people said they didn’t know. When asked who booked the hall the journalist was aghast “He’s hardly organizing his own benefit, is he?” The jazz community came together to help me go back to the US and I remember I played with Noel Kelihan, Louis performed, Honor Heffernan performed and even enlisted Dermot Morgan (then a rising star) to be one of the MCs.
I wrote to Louis after I met Pat Martino – there was huge mystique around Pat in those days and we were all anxious to hear anything about him. Louis wrote me a warm letter back. My first gig that I attended upon my return to Ireland is now etched in Dublin Jazz Legend/Lore. It’s the night where Jimmy Reed and Louis notice the pints are off and Paddy Slattery makes the mistake of asking “What’s wrong?” What follows is almost Joycean in it’s composition. Jimmy made comparisons between the “Guinness and Stevenses Ink – you’d write a letter to your Aunt in America with this stuff” and upon being offered to “I can put a head on it?” by Paddy Slattery, Jimmy: “A new hat never cured a man with a bad heart!”
Due to my parent’s illness I dropped off the scene for a few years and was playing very little and not very motivated to play. It was a call from Louis to put together a band of 5 guitars that turned that around. That period was one of my most joyous times with Louis, Hugh Buckley, Bill Brady and Mike Nielsen. Pete Ainscough and Bill McCormack were the rhythm section and sometimes Ritchie Buckley joined us.
After the 5 guitars Louis would feature me in duets, or as a 2nd guitar in a quartet and sometime two guitars/bass and Honor (I believe that was the last gig I played in Dublin prior to heading to the US)
The above takes me up to 1989 when I left for the US – more thoughts will follow
I haven’t written a blog in quite some time…as I often seem to say so this is definitely the time to break out. I have for over a year and a half had a project on my desk(top) that had a lead time that was longer than any other project I’ve been involved, with the possible exception of the Pat Martino collaboration. That will be the subject of a blog soon, I promise 🙂
This project is one featuring Tadd Dameron’s music featuring Terell Stafford on trumpet, Danny Grissett (piano), Peter Washington (bass) and the leader/drummer Ferit Odman. We are joined by some of the finest string players on the scene, violinists Antoine Silverman, Diane Munroe and Tamara Dement, violist Chris Cardona and cellists Emily Brausa and Clarice Jensen. The arrangements are by yours truly and at time of writing 6 out of my 7 are completed while I am working through the 7th (Smooth As The Wind). There will be one trio recording which I am not arranging.
Having this much lead time meant that I had the luxury of taking my sweet time while Ferit seemed like someone who would like to have much of it done way earlier, my guess is because he has been thinking about the project for so long and…it’s his baby! I also became very aware that much of Tadd’s work sadly neglected despite the fact that it is that perfect combination of genius and sing ability. Typically for me, when I begin a project where I have time to think I get The feeling sometimes that I’m knocking on a door. That door goes unanswered, tap the windows, try another door and then BOOM! The door flies open and I enter to open armed greeting or so it feels, at best. Now the exciting part begins as I find myself writing whenever I can, often in bursts. So how do I get there?
Before I can answer that, I used to spend time sitting around waiting on the muse to kick in, coffee followed or joined by cigarettes and eventually I’d get going. Break for more coffee and cigarettes but my head was still in character. Just like an actor I found I would staying character until I got finished writing. But…that was years ago. Nowadays I still have the coffee, I quit smoking years ago, before my kids were born. I am now juggling my writing between duties as the short order cook for two boys, two years apart who love one another to the point of making me wonder if I’m a referee in the WBC or the UFC 🙂 Drive one here, the other there. Shop for food and plan dinner, cook it and then watch them try to not eat as it takes time away from video games. Only cure for games is to take them out to parks, playgrounds, trips etc So when do I write? WHEN I can is the answer. I have to accept that waiting on the muse is like waiting on a train during a rail strike. Years ago I read a quote, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” Being a single parent means I have to structure my time (definitely not a forte of mine) and often times I’m playing gigs just to keep my hands in. Chops wise, it feels like I get ‘winded’ at time but the compositional/arranging process seems to bring an interesting slant to my improvisations – this becomes more apparent when I play with the kind of players that can leave you no choice but create, and I am lucky to I have lots of those musicians in my life. One connection for me with Tadd came when I wondered how he wrote such amazing inner line movement on “Smooth As The Wind” whilst in prison for narcotics offenses – with no access to a piano. Did he really hear all those harmonies and lines without a keyboard? Well…He DID have access to a piano. The piano in the Warden’s house. Add it turns out was a great cook and somehow the warden discovered this and had him cook for his family. They had a piano and he, upon recognizing Tadd’s musical genius allowed him to use the piano. Tadd may also have taught piano to the warden’s kids but I have to check that in Paul’s book. Upon learning that Tadd was cooking and quite good at it gave me a connection in a funny way. I have two boys almost 7 and 9 years old and I do the vast majority of the cooking for them, actually pretty much ALL of the cooking with the exception of food ordered in. In a conversation in Harlem last night with Gerald Brazel he recounted how several musicians we love and are legends, actually weorkwds as short order cooks including John Coltrane.
Back to Tadd, I felt a lot of pressure as I knew I was representing but I cannot say enough about the enthusiastic support I got from Don Sickler (trumpet/arranger/Second Floor Music) and Paul Combs who wrote Tadd’s Biography. Don and Paul shared sheet music with me and gave encouragement when needed. How? When faced with multiple versions of some tunes I spoke to Paul when I wondered what to do when a (harmony geek warning) melody had a natural 5th in it against a minor 7th chord in one version and another had a flatted 5th, both by Tadd. Paul assured me this was quite common as he often changed his mind after he filed the copyright by the time they were in the studio. Paul said, you’ll just have to pick the one you like best. What to do? It’s not my project but Ferit said “I’ll leave that up to you” With a bit of pressure he said his preference and it happened to be mine too. With Smooth I transcribed the sections Don had omitted (presumably because he was adapting for a non string ensemble) and fixed some harmonic differences of opinion. Having the road map from Don’s chart saved me lots of time when I set out to go bar by bar.
Now we are just a few days from the session and I can’t wait to hear the music. My good fried James Lafferty is helping me with the taping of parts as we head down the final stretch. All this has happened in a week when I had a joyous return to playing with Seleno Clarke’s band Harlem Groove in the original lineup (minus Rogers – Roger Coles who we all miss). Playing with Gerald Brazel, David Lee Jones, along with Seleno of course and drummer Wayne Henderson who used to sub for Rogers – this felt like a real homecoming. What a week 🙂
August 14th at the Bunker Studio.
With a 10am start time and me not wanting to deal with an early morning drive grappling with the Lincoln Tunnel and then the Billy’sburg Bridge I decided to take a couple of nights in a hotel. I found some great prices for Manhattan, even Lower Manhattan but Brooklyn…the prices were ridiculous. I decided to touch base with Steve Tarpin of the famous Steve’s Authentic Keylime Pies and see if there was an inside line on hotels in my old ‘hood. Having mentioned a few he finally said “There’s also Hotel Tarpin where you might even get a cup of coffee in the morning” This is what I ended up doing and it added a joyous reunion to the recording. Make that reunions plural – I got to see not only Steve, but Victoria and Derek AND Steve’s Mom Diana and his sister Loretta. Seeing Red Hook now 10+ years later was a revelation. Red Hook and how it has changed is worthy of a separate blog post.
I start the day by punching in the Bunker Studio address BT I use Steve’s Red Hook zipcode and long story short I find myself in Park Slope and not where I needed to be in Williamsburg. According to the GPS I can still make it just on time. By this stage Antoine Silverman (violinist extraordinaire) has texted me to say the L Train is not running but they should still be “on time-ish”. This is a relief as I am in danger of being ‘lat-ish’ and I have all the music!
Before we know it we are tuned up and recording On A Misty Night and listening to beautiful analog playback and right off the bat I am loving how it all sounds like the great vinyl recordings I was raised on. Ferit’s planning has made it possible for the session to run really smoothly and other analog factors are eliciting a ‘different’ style performance…with tape you can’t just drop in one note where you feel like it – you have to take a whole passage where you can get in and out without ‘destructive editing’.
In the planning stages Ferit and I have decided we will avoid multiple takes on ballads. Apart from the demands on Terell Stafford’s chops I have long felt that complete takes of ballads are best if limited to one take unless something major needs fixing. In the case of each of the three ballads we are treated to sheer beauty by the soloists Terell, Danny Grissett (piano) and Peter Washington (bass). I am particularly excited by the sheer taste and command of Danny’s comping. I had begun to quietly enter that almost curmudgeonly zone where I believed that comping of this was even was a dead not dying art. Having experienced the way the late Mulgrew Miller comped on string arrangements I had written on Jeremy Pelt’s Close To My Heart album it was moving to a point I have difficulty elucidating in words when I heard Danny effortlessly weave in and out of the harmonies. Two interesting points here: a) Ferit approached me about this recording because Close To My Heart is one of his all time favorite albums and b) when Ferit asked Mulgrew about which of the younger guys stood out to him Danny Grissett was the first name he mentioned.
On the day, Terell’s playing blew us all away. His taste, groove and sound (wait ’til you hear his AND Danny’s solos on the blues Just Plain Talkin’!) along how game he was on Smooth As The Wind where he had to assume the role of two trumpet players – on the original recording Tadd uses strings and horns and the lead trumpet line is played by a separate player while Blue Mitchell takes the solos. The lead is quite high, not screaming high but in a range that is quite demanding to play with control while going back and forth in improvised solos. Peter Washington’s pocket locked in with Ferit’s drumming reminded me of how I come to depend on having Peter there when doing a project like this (look out for us on a special Sinatra celebration coming up later in the year!) Violinists Antoine Silverman and Diane Munroe both showed what can happen when you cast someone as a featured performer rather than a background supportive role. Tamara DeMent who played 3rd Violin mentioned to me how surprised she was at the degree to which a third violin part was featured in the forefront. The latter I believe comes from my love of the great Robert Farnon where the contrapuntal component even when subtle makes sure that the only time you write a pad is when you truly hear one.
A special mention to my good friend James Lafferty who ALWAYS helps me over the last fence when it comes time to print and tape pages together.
With album slated for a vinyl and CD release in the fall it is my sincerest wish that you, the listener will enjoy this as much as we did making it!
Best for now,
I haven’t written a blog in a few months and now it’s time to dip my feet in the murky waters of the topic of Jazz Education 🙂 I have found myself teaching in various settings throughout my career ranging from one-on-one guitar lessons to jazz clinics, arranging masterclasses, string writing workshops on through the singers workshops in Cork in last year’s festival and the upcoming one on a week or so. I just lunch in a local Chinese/Thai restaurant and my fortune cookie read “To teach is to learn twice”…
What I didn’t mention above was my 15 years(?) running the Jazz Standard Discovery Program and most particularly the youth orchestra component we call the JSYO. We are not a conventional jazz educational program, in the main because we focus on patting our young musicians work it out on stage with guidance from sand our guests. BUT 😉 there are jazz educators who are doing a remarkable job with young people who have figured out that we make a wonderful supplement to the work THEY are doing. Mr Bill Stevens, Director of Jazz Studies and Vice Principal at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts is IMO, one of our best examples of how our program can be of benefit to and benefit from another jazz program.
After our most recent round of auditions I heard many versions of Billies Bounce and Now’s The Time, but when I asked some kids to play a slow blues – some really accomplished youngsters admitted to me that they wouldn’t know how (!!!) I asked to hear even a well known spiritual or maybe gospel song and same answer. Some of the older ones can very skillfully play changes and even solo in a post be bop intervallic and modal style but can’t play the blues! They have youth as an excuse and this this is where part of my job comes in. I, a guitarist born in Ireland must make them aware of this music’s history but again, I must do that in a way that doesn’t shackle them from their own experimentation and development. This is where my blog title comes in, we will focus strongly on history but must be careful not to drive whilst only looking in the rear view mirror or we’ll quickly crash. My job is to provide opportunity for all perspectives including their own (please note I avoided using the term book ends as their very nature is to bring and end to a continuity even if it is owning too many books on one shelf!)
All our educational goals are carried out while putting on a weekly performance and letting the kids put together their own show. We have workshops from visiting musicians and our players are guided by many who lend their talents to us, like Antoine Roney, Nick Finzer and then in matters of non musical challenges Emily Elyshevitz. Our young players mentor one another, win scholarships to colleges and various jazz educational camps in Europe.
Final thoughts for this post:
When I was growing up in Dublin my Dad played Mahalia Jackson, Miles Davis, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Louis Stewart records for me and that was just the jazz. He explained to me about the oppression people of color faced in the US and indeed the world while he played me the protest songs that led u to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez…and all this whileI got Mozart piano concerti, his beloved Russian composers and so much more. I feel I must introduce the roots of the music to our program when I find myself aware that the youngsters haven’t yet addressed it. Before I leave for Cork I will post a blog on my thoughts and approaches to the workshops I do there and the role I feel I have in relation to each individuals goals. That’s it for now… 🙂
Yes! You read it correctly. Now let me explain…
As we come close to the concert that will pay tribute to the late George Mesterhazy I thought you might like to know some background to what makes this year’s concert different. In a word strings and you could add woodwind to that word. We have a live chamber orchestra and I say live because George never did get to write for real strings. He provided memorable string arrangements via keyboard for Shirley Horn’s grammy (was it a winner or nominated?) album May The Music Never End and his piano playing was always so orchestral and that’s what seems so unfair – he never got to write for a real orchestra. He came close a few times and we all know by his exquisite taste and harmonic choices that he would have written pure beauty – ALWAYS. Furthermore, he loved arrangers and he and I (BTW not just me) talked for hours and hours with him about various arrangers mostly Robert Farnon, Johnny Mandel and more recently Vince Mendoza who George loved. Two years ago George’s good friend Barry Miles, the legendary pianist/arranger/composer mentioned that maybe we could do a concert with strings at the MAC Center in Cape May and we talked about the challenges involved with that – but we also sowed the seed of some ideas that are now about to bear fruit. It was fascinating to me how he and I, and later we would find also Vicki were on the same page with so many ideas. One recurring one was finding a way to take George’s piano notes and orchestrate them for strings and we discussed some ideas about that.
The next year passed quickly and I never heard from Barry as funding hadn’t been raised and I was on tour of Ireland with the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra and would be traveling back to the US on the same day as the Cape May concert was set to happen. It was later that summer (last summer) that I stayed with Vicki at the Merion Inn and she began discussing the string idea again. I tossed some ideas at her and we both began to get excited and then Vicki seemed to panic for a minute as she abruptly stopped further discussion as she wanted to talk with Barry Miles about this and wanted to make sure we didn’t get too far down the road making plans. Barry had been music director of these concerts since George’s passing and I remember Vicki asking if I thought we could work together on it. I love collaborating and I must admit, even I wasn’t prepared for the enjoyment this concert and preparation for it would bring. I made a 2nd trip down to Cape May and joined Barry, his wife Elaine and Vicki at the Merion where we had a meeting and a pasta dinner upstairs from the Merion. My two boys were with me and were too excited to settle, making their mattress into a trampoline and making it almost impossible to have a meeting. Elaine played with them a bit and they would seem to settle and then … off again. We did, at that point get an early framework for what you will hear on June 8th. Barry has a clarity about how he puts a project together that has taught me so much. Sometimes I feel I take the ring road around some areas where I could have taken a more direct route and can always benefit from the kind of cogent planning Barry brought by way of his experience and leadership.
I don’t want to discuss specific songs that are planned for performance as it may take away the element of surprise but for anyone who knew George – you’ll know his love affair with the Great American Songbook meant he could draw on many eras with well known and not so well known songs. With great vocalists like Paul Jost and Paula Johns singing, pianists like Barry and Dean Schneider and then add in one of George’s longest standing collaborators Joe Barrett on clarinet. Joe told me that George played many instruments with him – he was the bassist on a couple of gigs and knowing George he probably played guitar in some gigs too. All of the above makes me feel that between all of us we have helped George reach a dream – he has finally written for strings and we have the privilege of bringing this dream to fruition!
The chamber orchestra consists of a small string section and three woodwind players. The great Diane Monroe from Philadelphia, one of the finest violinists on the scene will lead the strings and I’m particularly delighted by that as we have worked together quite a few times with Steve Wilson’s project. Diane has put the section together while the woodwinds are made up of Bob Rawlings on flute/alto flute/clarinet, MaryLou Newman on flute/alto flute and clarinet and my good friend Doug DeHays is playing an impressive array of doubles with bass flute/alto flute/bass clarinet. George’s long standing rhythm section of Bobby Shomo and Tim Lekan on drums and bass respectively will bring back many memories for anyone who went to ‘Jazz Night’ at the Merion over the years.
Playing at the Mac Center brings us to one of The most beautiful seaside towns on the Eastern Seaboard – of course I’m talking about Cape May, New Jersey. A hotel room in Cape May in summer season is like gold so to get to spend time in this beautiful part of the world adds to the joy of our visit. As always the drive down conjures up many memories for me of driving down to the Merion to play with George, Timmy and Bobby and like all of us onstage that night I am reminded of how much I miss my friend.
PS I thought of writing this after I’d already gone to press 🙂 George and I would occasionally dream/talk out loud about how great it would be to write a project together like they did in the old days and be so busy that one might start a chart while the other finished it – we had heard the stories of Marion Evans and Don Costa doing that and crediting the arrangement to Don Evans. What would George and I have done? George O’Rourke? or David Mesterhazy? Well, we have a new team as Barry, without knowing George and I often talked about this, suggested we do the finale tune together and we did! WHAT FUN that has been and while I’m at it – one of my charts is really a joint arrangement of George’s and mine. Just like we always talked about…