THE ELECTRIC CITY JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH CONCERT: TRIBUTE TO SAM FARKAS
Proctors Robb Alley
April 17, 2011
by J Hunter
Notes from the Schenectady Musical Union’s latest contribution to Jazz Appreciation Month (now in its 10th year of celebration):
IN MEMORIAM – I never had the pleasure of meeting Sam Farkas, or seeing him play guitar, but he was one of the names you had to know about the Capital Region jazz community. His footprint on the scene was as big as that of Jack Fragomeni, another friend we lost too soon. In announcing a fundraising effort for a scholarship fund in Farkas and Fragomeni’s memory, Joe Barna described them both the same way: “A teacher, a father, and an educator.” Emotions ran high all afternoon long, especially when union president Mark Anthony presented a memorial plaque to longtime Farkas friends. Forget “He will be missed.” Sam Farkas is missed.
TAKING RISKS – One thing that kept coming up was how Farkas had no problem with taking it out on the ragged edge in concert. Terry Gordon went out on the edge on this afternoon, though it wasn’t ragged – at least not in the “nasty” sense. After an eye-popping set that let guitar wizard Joe Finn go where he’s rarely gone before, Gordon augmented his quintet with a string quartet for “Contemplations”, which Gordon dedicated to Farkas. The piece itself was both beautiful and intricate, and all participants did well. However, in the face of the Gordon Quintet’s electric power, the un-mic’ed strings were practically inaudible beyond the first row. Still, Gordon gets points for trying to go the extra mile on behalf of a friend and peer.
BOPPIN’ OUT – Gordon got further points only a few minutes after his own set: Bopitude trumpet player Chris Pasin was somewhere on the New York Thruway when it was time for Mike Benedict’s new band to take the stage, so Benedict beseeched Gordon to pinch-hit. Five minutes later, Gordon was on the front line with saxman Brian Patneaude as Benedict counted in Dexter Gordon’s “Cheesecake”, and Gordon did stellar work until Pasin showed up mid-set. As you’d expect, Bopitude’s focus is on hard bop, so choices like Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’”, James Williams’ “Alter-Ego” and Bobby Watson’s “Heckle & Jeckle” were right on point. But Benedict surprised a lot of people when he pulled out a Gary McFarland piece called “Circulation.” Arrangements are everything, but the fact that McFarland had gone the bop route was a real eye-opener.
OLD FRIENDS – Wicks’ group may have been a pickup band, but in many ways, their set was the warmest of the afternoon: Farkas had played with almost everyone in the band (particularly Wicks, who regaled us with several Farkas stories throughout the set), and Finn returned to essentially take the role of Farkas on pieces like Farkas’ own “Absolutely Not” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” Finn did that hollow-body thing he does SO well, but his biggest contribution was two riveting compositions – the appropriately-titled “He Had an Edge”, and “For Seth and Allysa”, named for Farkas’ children. This group had serious guts, and would have been better with a little more sharing: Tenorman Kevin Barcomb and trumpeter Steve Lambert had big potential as a horn section, but because their one mic seemed to always be inside Barcomb’s bell, Lambert could only be heard during his own solo spots; the rest of the time, he may has well have been playing in Amsterdam.
NEXT GENERATION – “You ready to get your boogaloo on?” Joe Barna asked the crowd. “Shake that thing? Now’s the time to do it!” Still buzzing from their gig at Professor Java’s the night before, Sketches of Influence absolutely cleared the decks during their closing set. Saxman Adam Siegel was broadcasting from another dimension, particularly during the Coltrane-esque “The Purpose”, and guitarist Michael Louis Smith’s axe welded stainless steel onto the music’s already-strong spine. They gave the show a blistering good-night kiss with “The Gift”, a Barna original inspired by Art Blakey and Cedar Walton. For all the well-deserved love Farkas got from everyone who spoke this afternoon, Sketches’ performance hammered home one of the biggest messages of the day: While Sam is gone, the music remains, and the greatest tribute anyone can give is to take all Farkas’ many lessons and apply them to the future.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.