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Leo Russo Quartet

Joe Finn Trio + guests

Mike Canonico

Jerry Gordon

Mike Wicks w/the Joey Thomas Big Band

Joey Thomas Big Band

photos by Bill Delaney

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Polish Community Center
Albany, NY
April 29, 2007

by J Hunter

There was a lot to celebrate at the AMA's daylong gala at the Polish Community Center. This was the third straight year Local 14 was involved in Jazz Appreciation Month, and the current effort was the largest yet, with a raft of appearances at new venues like Troy's Revolution Hall. Deep down, though, the real success was in the awareness the Local's educators brought to area schools.

According to JAM organizer Peg Delaney, Greg Nazarian asked students at one session if anyone played saxophone. At that point, the teacher told him the students only had a “general music program” at the school, so the session may have been the first time the kids had even seen a saxophone. In addition to developing the next generation's understanding about jazz, Local 14's appearances at 10 secondary, middle, and high schools served as a bridge (albeit a temporary one) to those young people who have limited options when it comes to music education.

Sunday's event was emceed by WCDB's ebullient radio personality Bill McCann. McCann was one of a group of community members who have done their respective bits to keep jazz alive in the Capital Region. Others honored were musicians Paul Couch, Colleen Pratt, Mike Wicks, Joe Sorrentino and Mike Canonico, and Swingtime Jazz Society leader Jerry Gordon. All received certificates, and well-deserved praise, from Local 14 president Neil Brown.

Mulligan Stew was working through a sweet rendition of “Tea for Two” as I walked into the hall. Deeply steeped in the sound Gerry Mulligan made with the legendary Chet Baker, Couch's bari sax and Paul Supple's trumpet filled the air with a wonderful West Coast harmonic that got everyone comfortable. The quartet were decked out in black suits and shirts for this gig, and while it wasn't as over-the-top as the Modern Jazz Quartet's wardrobe of choice (Black tie and tuxedo), it overstressed a point their music made perfectly.

Patti-O & the Hip Hooligans played without pianist Nat Phipps, who was still recovering from the operation he underwent the day after the Rev Hall show. (Good news: Nat's doing okay, and should be back teaching at SCCC very soon.) Pat Melita - who broke everyone up with the assertion that “I sing songs in keys nobody plays in” - couldn't have had a better substitute than Peg Delaney, who slid into the Hooligans' trad vibe without missing a beat; the Hooligans returned the favor by covering Peg's great Latin comp “My Tuna.” The rest of the set was a mix of instrumental and vocal standards that kept the dance floor active for their entire set.

We went back to the West Coast when the Leo Russo Quartet came on. Whereas Mulligan Stew's primary soloists have a professional relationship, it was all about family with the Russo Quartet, as Leo's son Lee played tenor sax to his father's alto. The result was absolutely mind-blowing: If you closed your eyes, you'd swear you were hearing an overdub of the same player - same quality, same tone, same beautiful noise Paul Desmond wove around Dave Brubeck back in the day. Along with terrific takes on Mulligan and Lenny Neihaus, the Russos also blew out on “Kin”, a Leo comp that Lee included on his debut disc Trading Off (LRS, 2006).

The Joe Finn Trio played “in the lounge”, which translated to a corner at the back of the hall. The stage area needed to be clear to load in the Joey Thomas Big Band's elaborate bandstand; Thomas wound up the evening with a two-hour dance concert. Ever the professional, Finn and his trio joined up with a parade of different players for a hot jam session that put a cap on a good afternoon. Finn's guitar had a ring of familiarity after Pat Martino's Troy Savings Bank show, though Finn's passion and originality shone through, as usual.

A great show, and a great month: On both counts, everyone involved should be justly proud of the accomplishment. See you guys next year!

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.