The Sunnyland site & blog have been dormant for a while, only in part due to the unusually harsh and extended wintery weather.
Over the winter months, I’ve been helping my mom & uncle who have each had major health issues. I am pleased to report that both are stable and well at this writing. Much happier home front news came in February with the arrival of Natalie – our first grandchild!! Our daughter Samantha and her husband (and primo blues guitar-slinger) Josh are the proud parents.
This past October, I also lost a great friend and supportive musical mentor, Bob Greene. Bob was an incredible writer and historian who was known most widely for his deep understanding, expression and interpretations of the music and style of Jelly Roll Morton. I was privileged to play with Bob numerous times, including multiple concerts and presentations at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall. Before my Dad passed away in 2007, he recalled Bob over fifty years earlier playing at the Central Plaza in Manhattan when Dad was a college student. Since this entry must be brief owing to time, I will make a more comprehensive posting about Bob and some of his affect on me in the near future.
Musically, I’ve been playing lots of places other than eastern Long Island and with a variety of musicians other than my regular Sunnyland colleagues. In and around New York City, I’ve had several gigs working with the talented and beautiful Barbara Rosene. Her band regularly includes pianist/musical director Conal Fowkes (Grammy winner), renowned violinist/bari sax player Andy Stein (another Grammy recipient) and more recently….me (or in the audience’s word “who?”). Moving out of state, I’ve played with my old pal Jeff Barnhart at the Essex Winter Series in Connecticut performing rarely heard tunes of the immortal Fats Waller with an all-star band including Gordon Au, Kevin Dorn, Vince Giordano, Dan Levinson and … (who again?). Back in January, Sherrie and I traveled to Florida to visit our moms where I inadvertently discovered a great jazz band playing about 5 minutes away from my mom’s place. The band was led by trumpeter Bobby Tess along with great players including tubaist Howard Smith. I’m looking forward to reconnection with Bobby’s band again on my next trip down.
Finally and most recently, I just returned from the North American International Banjo convention (NAIBC) in Dearborn, Michigan. I was picked up at the airport by the festival’s director, Brian Newsom. Brian was an excellent host and along with his wife Vickie, Richard Shinske, Bob Ervin, Amy & Jerry Reutlinger – in short, the entire team made the festival comfortable, entertaining and friendly. Shortly after arrival, I had a great lunch and did some catching up with my cousin Joanne Rice – who lives right in the area. The display rooms had plenty of instruments to ogle. It was my first opportunity to meet Wayne Fairchild and play some of his instruments including a flat top tenor guitar with cherry back that left me wishing I could somehow get an advance on summer gig money. Another discovery was Michigan luthier Jeff Branch, who was extremely helpful, knowledgeable and friendly and brought a stockpile of unique accessories and parts along with a nice mix of affordable banjos and guitars.
Of course, there was a FANTASTIC ARRAY of music and musicians that make it hard to include everyone. My banjo-uke buddy Mel Collie from Canada is such a joyous and engaging entertainer that he belongs on TV. Debbie Schreyer and Tom Owens are polished performers who make the audience feel like extended family members invited into their living room. Mike Moe and Mike Vignola are “relatives” of mine from the LIBS family tree (they’re both named in my bio/history pages) as well as New England banjo “cousins” Steve Caddick and Paul Poirer. I met Mal Cooper, a wonderful and genial banjo player from Tennessee who is always tasteful and also a talented songwriter. The Chiodi family from Pittsburgh were a revelation, too – a tight family, fine musicians and just the most wonderful and genuine people. Another new acquaintance was Toledo piano titan Ragtime Rick with Banjo Betsy who tore it up on Saturday nights show. Linda Lehmann, John Ruskinoff, Al Allotta – all fantastic. I didn’t even mention Johnny Baier yet – he’s just the editor of AllFrets, director of American Banjo Museum…and a heck of a banjo player. He and Bob Alexies (bass) kindly helped me along through my featured set. Finally and CERTAINLY not least, I got to play multiple times with another great friend and musical hero, Buddy Wachter. If you have never heard him, check out any of the innumerable YouTube clips, instructional videos or superb recordings of this masterful banjo virtuoso. Buddy is an ideal for stringed instrument players – he uses the instrument as a set of parallel chromatic keyboards through which he can express harmonic, melodic and rhythmic nuances of interpretation that are rare…especially on banjo. It’s inspirational to perform and jam with a musician of such tastefulness and quality.
I know I’ve forgotten more than I remembered (as usual) but it was a great time – hoping to come back next year!