I'm Having A Good Time (Kyran Music)
by Jeff Waggoner
Before reviewing Jack Fragomeni’s CD, I’m Having a Good Time, (Kyran Music), full disclosure: I was his worst student.
But the great thing about being merely being Jack’s bad student, he made it possible to see what it took to make good music. It’s not a code I’ve completely cracked. I still don’t know how Jack managed to get a fat, full sound out of a box and strings. To me, the guitar is a source of frustration, but in the right hands, it can have the orchestral capabilities of a piano and the expressive possibility of a horn. That’s what you’ll get when you listen to Jack.
The philosopher says “follow your bliss,” and Jack did that. His three big loves in life were his wife, Roswita, jazz (especially jazz guitar) and fly fishing. Unlike many of us, he didn’t allow the mundane in life get in the way of his passions. When he wasn’t playing jazz, he was teaching it. When he wasn’t fishing, he was working with other fishermen at a sporting goods store.
For those that didn’t know Jack, who died in 2009 at 57, it can be helpful to know who he played with: Nick Brignola, Atilla Zoller and Bucky Pizzarelli, among other jazz headliners. It helps you get bearings on where he stood in the musical firmament. But for those of us who knew Jack, his fans and his students, Jack was the center of his own planetary system.
“You played with Jack? You must be good.”
“I’m Having a Good Time,” was produced by Jack and Roswita with the help of Mitch Seidman, another great guitarist who grew up in the Capital District and now teaches at Berklee College of Music.
Thank you, Roswita. Thank you, Mitch.
The release of “I’m Having a Good Time,” is a welcome drop of medicine to the hurt caused by Jack’s departure. When I listen, I imagine he is
showing me a lick in the teaching studio.
But this 8-cut CD isn’t just a keepsake for those who crossed paths with the artist. I would recommend it to anyone who loves jazz guitar.
Unsurprisingly, Jack matches himself with two exceptional musicians. The drummer Jeff Hirshfield, who has played with Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Tal Farlow, Bill Frisell, and many others, and double bassist Michael Formanek, the director of the Peabody Jazz Orchestra.
These are three seasoned musicians who abide by the First Commandment of Tasteful Music. Never draw attention to yourself. The egos were left at the door of the recording studio, when the three laid down these tracks in 2002 at the Northern Track Studio in Wilmington, Vt.
Jack, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a kind of purity in the way he approached the guitar. The Zen of One Note. That’s what he wanted more out of me than anything. Just play one note right. Not sure I ever did.
Fortunately, though, Jack got well beyond one note, and knew how to put together single notes and chords in a lush, gorgeous fashion.
Four of the song
s on I’m Having a Good Time, are Jack’s own compositions, “Una Buccia Di Limone,” which gets its name from a Italian lemon liqueur; “All the Things You Ain’t;” “What-A,” and “I’m Having a Good Time.” The titles reflect Jack’s acute sense of humor, which ensured he was Having a Good Time most all the time.
Listening to Having a Good Time, you immediately hear that the good times come with some reflection and conflict at the same time. Angular single note lines alternate with fat chords. The good times are not without some bumps.
The remaining four pieces include two classics, Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?” and Guy Wood’s “My One And Only Love.” Each done as elegantly as you’ll ever hear.
The last two songs were written by a couple of people close to Jack: The too-often overlooked guitarist Attila Zoller’s “Another Xanthippe,” and Nick Brignola’s “Like Old Times.”
The song selection provides a good clue to Jack’s depth as a musician, both as a composer and an interpreter.
Listen to it. You’ll have a good time, too.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.