TRIBUTE TO JACK FRAGOMENI
Proctor’s Robb Alley
April 11, 2010
by Tom Pierce
The Schenectady Musical Union treated Capitol Region jazz lovers to an exceptionally memorable concert at the Muddy Cup in the Proctor’s Arcade. It was an altogether fitting tribute to Schenectady’s own Jack Fragomeni, as well as serving as the 4th annual Electric City Jazz Appreciation month gala event staged by Local 85-133.
It was fitting not only because of the five bands’ consistently high musical level, as was Jack’s own outstanding career; but also because so many of the artists selected had close, long-term personal and professional relationships with Jack. They were able to not only play songs that were special to him, but also provide meaningful insights into both the man and the musician.
The extraordinarily well planned & diverse program got off to a fine start with vibraphonist Michael Benedict’s quartet playing an interestingly conceived set of tunes composed or associated with renowned vibists. Using the four-mallet technique, he sustained an exquisitely rich sound, which was serenely complemented by Lee Russo’s relaxed, pithy approach on tenor saxophone. The tunes included the classic Milt Jackson’s “Bags Groove”, and “Little Sunflower”, recorded by Freddie Hubbard, a Cal Tjader version of “Poinciana”, Gary Burton’s composition “The Boston Marathon” and Burton’s take on “The Midnight Sun”. Bassist Mike DelPrete and drummer Mark Foster ensured that a loose, but moving, groove was maintained throughout the set.
The second band reflected the delightful pattern that existed all afternoon, of providing contrasts in instrumentation and type material from the preceding set. Here, well-regarded composer-pianist Yuko Kishimoto led an invigorating trio that featured six of her own intriguing originals, as opposed to the standards played by the previous band. Her piano was forcefully but elegantly engaging, meshing with bassist Mike Lawrence and consummate veteran Pete Sweeney on drums meshed as the song tempos varied nicely. Although she doesn’t yet have her own CD, her compositions have been recorded and performed live by several musicians, such as Keith Pray and Michael Benedict.
The quartet of Capitol Region jazz stalwart Brian Patneaude, who was a student and colleague of Jack Fragomeni, did a relatively short, but energetic set, that provided many in the audience their first opportunity to hear the highly intelligent and moving pianist Armen Donelian. Patneaude’s commanding & well-controlled tenor sax at times seem to channel the cavernous sound of Sonny Rollins, especially on the ballad “Out of Nowhere” and the haunting standard, “Invitation” that he first (of many times) played with Jack at his college recital. As was the case with all the rhythm sections on Sunday, bassist Mike Del Prete and drummer Danny Wechel (both frequently favored by Patneaude in his recording and live dates), supplied the pulsating underpinning that kept the audience’s toes tapping.
Steve LaSpina has been a nationally known bassist for over 35 years and also a teacher at the College of St Rose, like his friend Jack Fragomeni, who he spoke of very affectionately. He led a special “Fragomeni Tribute” trio, with Armen Donelian on piano (who was heavily applauded) and Mitch Seidman on guitar. They very expressively performed two tunes Jack liked: a medium tempo “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and an intense “Softly, as in a Morning’s Sunrise”, as well as an enchanting 3/4 tune Steve recently composed for an upcoming recording, temporarily entitled “Jack’s Waltz”.
Lastly, drummer Joe Barna led a rendition of his “Sketches of Influence" band that showcases his diverse and passionate original material. This very direct and soulful group was the only quintet on the program, highlighted by the popular and powerful alto saxophonist Keith Pray, the spirited & sophisticated trumpet and flugelhorn of Dylan Canterbury, the moving & versatile pianist Dave Gleason, and rhythmically reliable bassist, Lou “Country Time” Smaldone. The five original selections were each inspired by a particular musician Barna admires. This songlist included Barna’s warm two-part “Suite for Jack (Fragomeni)”, one part of which featured a very touching Keith Pray solo. It did not go unnoticed that Barna and band all wore jackets, as their own silent way of showing special respect for Jack Fragomeni.
Bassist Steve LaSpina marveled at how it “did his heart good to see the outpouring of appreciation and love”; and offered that Jack Fragomeni would have been very surprised, but very happy to see so many of his friends, fans, colleagues and former students out to pay tribute to him.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 8 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.