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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jazz Capsule

From the Vault Dept.: Albany’s small but fanatical jazz scene has boasted a similarly small number of stars over the years, and five of the best-known were brought together for a 1987 concert (my review is below). Most of the performers are still working; Fats Jefferson died early in 1988; Nick Brignola in 2002. You can find Lee Shaw’s schedule here; here’s Skip Parsons and here you’ll find Doc Scanlon.


YESTERDAY’S SALUTE to area jazz artists, an afternoon “Jazz Fest” at the Palace Theater in Albany, couldn’t have occured on a  more beautiful day. Which probably explains why the cavernous hall was so empty.

Lee Shaw and Nick Brignola in the 1990s
Photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk
But, for the hardy folk who sat throughout the four-hour affair, it was a display of a lot of talent and very little planning.

The Palace would be my last choice for a jazz concert. It’s too large, too impersonal; better to pack an audience in a small house and achieve the sense of unity the artists need. Pianist Lee Shaw, peering out over the throng, put in a futile request that we all sit together.

At the heart of the proceedings was a tribute to Fats Jefferson, the Albany-based entertainer almost as old as this century, still cooking like a house on fire. He’s what Bobby Short would term a “saloon pianist,” giving an Earl Hines-ish punchiness to the standards which he also sings in a voice that proves that style can be everything.

“Blueberry Hill,” of course; that’s his trademark. He also sang and played “Georgia on My Mind” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

The Albany Friends of Jazz awarded him a plaque and signified that a scholarship in his honor will be awarded to deserving music students through the College of St. Rose.

The tribute to Jefferson was somewhat marred by the set-up occuring simultaneously onstage as Stan Shaw’s drum set was erected with a barking of loud orders. In a show of rotten programming, Lee Shaw followed Jefferson – with five acts on the bill, couldn’t the pianists have been separated by another group?

Shaw is a tremendously talented artist, bringing her unique sound to numbers as diverse as “Secret Love” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” She worked with bassist Ed Green and her husband on drums, although his drumming sounded like the vicious slaughter of a perfectly good set of traps.

Fats Jefferson
There was an attempt to highlight each performance with spotlighting, which in lagged behind each change of solos. And there was no consistent lighting setup for the stage itself.

The set changes were interminable, making little use of the Palace’s broad proscenium. And the whole thing was, of course, amplified to the threshold of pain.

Why Skip Parsons’ Riverboat Jazz Band needs miking is a mystery: Dixieland got its start well before electronics. Parsons and friends opened the concert with a set of their usual fare, antiques from the land of the Moldy Figs that included “Wolverine Blues,” “Winin’ Boy” and “Royal Garden Blues.”

As the audience thinned (oh, that sunshine sure beckoned), the show came alive with Doc Scanlon’s Rhythm Boys. Theirs is a more theatrical performance, better suited to the setting, and sparked by fine musicianship. This is Louis Jordan’s Tympani Five with some Ray Charles thrown in, brought up to date with the black shirts and skinny ties demanded by the fashionable ‘80s. “Caldonia,” “Flying Home” and “Caravan” were among the numbers, and the house jumped.

Which set the stage nicely for Nick Brignola. This man should have long ago achieved pop hero status: he’s cool, he’s insolent and he blows with fire and anger.

With a trio of young musicians on piano, bass and drums, his set included “Sophisticated Lady,” “Tenderly,” and a solo by pianist Kevin Hayes on Cole Porter’s “I Love You.”

A jam session was scheduled to follow, but by this time (close to 5 p.m., four hours after the start of the show) the sunshine had called me, too.

This is promised to be but the first in an annual series. Let’s hope for some more benevolent venues and better planning in the years to come.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 27 April 1987

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