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Joe Finn Quintet

John Menegon & Tom Finn

The Jazz Voices

The Jazz Voices

The Jazz Voices

photos by Albert Brooks
click to enlarge

Marriott Hotel, Colonie, NY
April 30, 2006

by J Hunter

Looking forward while looking back.

That pretty much sums up both the Smithsonian's Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians' 2nd annual celebration at the Marriott. I remember the trepidation in AMA President Neil Brown's voice when he called last year's event the “first annual Jazz Appreciation Month celebration.” Local 14 hadn't been involved in JAM before 2005, so there was no track record to show whether people would be back, or would be involved in any future activities. Brown needn't have worried. Once again, people filled the Marriott ballroom to see pieces of the jazz community's history, as well as a possible glimpse of the future.

The present wasn't bad either, by the way. Both the ballroom and the hallway were filled with sounds ranging from the Dixie Sweet Hots' old-time rag to the classical approach of the Adirondack Saxophone Quartet. There was plenty of trad to be had, too, courtesy of the Rennie Crain Quartet, the Linda Brown Jazz project, Vortex (featuring Brown and fellow JAM committee members Jim DeForge and John Shipley) and two other groups I'll talk about in a moment.

This was the culmination of a month-long series of events around the Capital Region, ranging from afternoon concerts at various locations not associated with jazz, to a video presentation by Albany's leading jazz educator/archivist, Hal Miller. According to JAM Committee chairman Peg Delaney, events were being booked right up until last week, which featured education sessions at both Albany High School and Giffen Middle School. Brown wanted everyone to know that 190 students attended the Albany High session and “Everyone was very respectful. You need to know that.”

This year's honorees featured legendary radio personality Bill Edwardsen. AMA President Emeritus Tommy Ippolito fought back tears as he talked about the late deejay's commitment to playing big band jazz in the face of a radio industry that demanded he play more popular music. “When the music changed,” Ippolito declared, “he refused to change!”

“This was his music,” Edwardsen's wife Jean agreed in accepting the award. “This was why he was on the radio.”

Other honorees included musicians Skip Parsons, Bill Fuller, Helen Pratt and Dale Foster (He gave Delaney her first job), and educators Bill Meckley, Leo Russo and Nat Phipps; Phipps was also involved in the Albany High session. Earlier in the afternoon, Brown presented a Certificate of Tribute to Joe Finn's son, Tom, as an Outstanding Jazz Musician of Tomorrow. “I stand corrected,” brown added. “He's not a jazz musician of tomorrow. He's a jazz musician of today.” He said that because Tom had amply demonstrated his skills as part of the outstanding-as-usual Joe Finn Quintet.

The longer hair and the un-tucked button-down shirt may have given Tom the air of a busboy on a break (We kid because we love, Tom…), but the chops he showed at last year's Hudson Valley FOJ tribute to Nick Brignola have increased exponentially; his ripping solos on Monk's “Rhythm-A-Ning” and Sonny Rollins' “Solid” impressed both musicians and civilians alike. (“I'm getting older,” Tom's father joked. “He's getting better.”) Tom rides a scholarship to the New School in Manhattan this fall, and we wish him the best.

One group I wished I could have seen more of was Jazz Voices. They're back together after a prolonged break, but you couldn't tell by their performance. The chemistry Theresa Broadwell, Colleen Pratt and Jody Shayne have is rock-solid, and their vocalese on standards like “Fascinatin' Rhythm” and “Seven Steps to Heaven” was downright breathtaking, even in the face of continuing sound problems. The Peg Delaney Trio did a stellar job backing them up, and Broadwell added some tasty violin to a slinky version of “Straighten Up & Fly Right”.

JAM is a worthy effort, and I applaud the AMA's ongoing involvement. I would like to see more emphasis on education sessions, though; “drive-by” concerts are not as effective - or as welcome - as an established concert series (i.e. Jazz On Jay), and jazz festivals nationwide are using education as a way of growing their audience while integrating with the community. With no consistent presence on any mainstream media, the only way to expand jazz' reach in the Capital Region is by developing the grassroots. If we can learn anything from the example of Tom Finn, it's that there are young minds out there that are waiting for this music. They just don't know it yet.

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), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.