Bringing back two cherished institutions…

The Sunnyland crew got a chance to knock of some rust this morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the re-opening of the Suffolk Theater on Main Street in downtown Riverhead.  (I’ve seen a couple of facebook photos begin cropping up already.)  It was a wonderful event with lots of old friends from the community turning out to support what certainly is a keystone event in the revitalization process.  The theater interior has been beautifully and carefully renovated and restored by Robert & Dianne Castaldi, who along with Executive Director Bob Spiotto (also a great performer) and events coordinator Kim Folks create a veritable dream team of skills to make the Suffolk Theater a centerpiece of Riverhead’s downtown for years to come.

Another cherished institution was temporarily postponed due to Superstorm Sandy – the annual Howard Hovey Day of Tuba & Euphonium!! For many years, this event was led by Bill Troiano – a frequent “sub” with Sunnyland.  Bill moved to Texas, but I’m hoping he may grace us a visit since we were cheated out of a proper farewell four months ago.  The “opening act” for the event for many years has been myself & John Klumpp along with Howard’s two sons – Art Hovey on helicon/tuba and Bob Hovey on trombone. Both of them are extraordinary musicians – Art as a vital part of the famous Galvanized Jazz Band in Connecticut, and Bob playing with many diverse groups and musicians including the Blues Collar Band, King Scallop & the Oysterettes, the Protruders, Dominic Duval and Teddy Charles. The pre-show festivities begin at 6:45 PM at the Bellport Middle School in Bellport, 35 Kreamer Street (just west of Station Road).  Hope to see you there!!

And now for some good news…and yes, that’s plural!

Happy to be posting a couple of happy items…

First, I took 2nd place in a songwriting contest through the internet’s Free Music Archive to attempt to supplant the copyrighted Goliath of birthday songs, “Happy Birthday to You” – whose owners charge $10,000 a pop for use of the tune in public media venues such as national restaurants, movies, TV, etc.  I submitted a hasty, late-night version recorded in the wee hours of the pre-dawn in my office only equipped with a portable H2 Zoom recorder and a small ukulele.  Since part of the intent was to have a tune that could be used royalty-free in the settings described above, I felt that it would be helpful to have some structural similarity to the familiar tune we’ve all been singing privately at home with our families for most of the last century; before concerns that the copyright gestapo might suddenly take a battering ram to our door and lay some legal process on the birthday boy or girl or whomever initiated its singing before seizing the cake into evidence.  At any rate you can hear my 21 second masterwork, the winning entry, and over 125 other entries by clicking the link below:

http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Happy_Birthday_Song_Contest/The_New_Birthday_Song_Contest/

(As a tip of the hat to a fellow competitor, I’d encourage you to listen to the submission of Chris Trapper, whose song was recorded with assistance from members of John Clark’s Wolverine Jazz Band of Boston – good friends of mine…and who I have a live CD coming out later this year with myself!!)

As for the second wonderful item, I was pleased and proud to find myself profiled in the Arts & Entertainment section of this week’s Dan’s Paper – the long-time, standard-bearer publication of the Hamptons and Long Island’s East End.  The article has not yet appeared in their online version, but I was enthralled sufficiently by the effervescent writing of Debbie Slevin that I clipped and scanned the article.  It becomes unreadable if I include it in a regular blog posting, but you can…

>>>> Click on this link and see it!!! <<<<

Thanks to Debbie Slevin, Dan’s Paper & all Sunnyland’s fans for your support!!

Missing Larry…

Played a lovely gig last night with the Isotope Stompers, shaking off some of the winter snow and cold, but something was missing…Larry Pearlstein.  If you check out the Isotope Stompers page on this site, you’ll find this photo of the band taken a couple of years back at the dock in Bellport.

The Isotope Stompers

Until a few weeks ago, this was the standard lineup – Frank Hansen on bass, Jerry Cohen on trombone, Artie Miller on clarinet, Ron Hammond on drums and washboard, Larry Pearlstein (holding sign) on piano, Ken Butterfield on trumpet, and myself on banjo.  Being the East End/North Fork members of the band, Larry and I regularly car-pooled together to gigs.  He taught at Mahattan School of Music in the past and gigged throughout the NY metro area for years, notably including a long stint at Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center.  He had an extraordinarily light touch at the keyboard, able to effortlessly transition from thoughtful accompaniment and punctuating rhythm patterns to technical and speedy solo passages.  Sadly, Larry passed away suddenly in mid-January.   The band and I greatly appreciated his musicality and sense of humor and we miss him terribly.

 

Happy Holidays

It’s been a busy winter season, and there’s only a couple of more opportunities to catch the Sunnyland Jazz Band at Bonnie Jean’s before the January hibernation (actually, going down to Florida to visit family).

As a holiday treat of sorts (for me), I’m including a photo taken this past Friday of the trio with a special guest – our friend and one of my early banjo inspirations, Harry Gustafson.  As you can read in my bio section, Harry was part of the first band I was ever part of , The Singing Banjos, and was also the person who introduced my dad and I to the Long Island Banjo Society.  Harry’s still playing and singing in his 80′s – even jamming with his son at a night spot down in North Carolina!  Go Harry!!

La-de-da, de-da-de-da, ’tis autumn

October began Sunnyland with a small flurry of activity like swirling, falling leaves – a community apple picking party in the Hamptons, the annual Riverhead Country Fair, and a reprise of Jeff & Joel’s House Party in Guilford, CT.

Along the way, we re-connected with old friends and associates – Jeff Barnhart, John Clark, Fred Vigorito,Vince Giordano among others, and met some new friends at the house party.  Pam Pamejier is the drummer for the New Black Eagle Jazz Band – a New England institution for over 40 years.  I’ve been a long-time admirer of their great sound and eclectic repertoire, and Pam proved to have some solid washboard skills as well.

Another musical discovery was Genevieve Rose, a phenomenal bassist from Massachusetts.  She has played in a variety of groups and styles and showed amazing adaptability, quickly mastering  unfamiliar tunes within one chorus…and within minutes, confidently gliding into a beautiful solo.

I was also surprised and excited to meet in person Michael Steinman, host of Jazz Lives – my favorite topical blog (it was one of the first I included in my “favorite links” on this site…check it out over in the right side column).  He is all one would expect after following the blog – an intelligent and witty commentator with insightful perspective driven by his passion for the music and it’s social environs.  He’s also an English professor.  (Don’t be caught dangling your participles!)

On a more bittersweet note, the farewell tour and accolades have begun for Bill Toiano, one of our long-time tuba associates, who is moving away to Austin, TX – soon to become the next center of the tuba universe.  Bill performed at the Riverhead Country Fair with us and was given all kinds of well-deserved accolades and proclamations honoring him for years of dedicated musical service to the community.  He also gets one last grand hurrah – completing his stint as founding director of the Howard Hovey Tuba Day on Friday, November 2nd.  This year’s festival will be held at Connetquot High School at 7 PM.  As usual, the festivities begin with a pre-concert performance by myself and John along with Bob & Arthur Hovey.  Thanks Bill, on behalf of all the students and musicians you’ve inspired over the years!  Austin’s tuba revolution begins in December…

Oh…The trio is still running strong at Bonnie Jean’s – with slightly altered hours.  The band performs is featured every Thursday from 6 to 8:30 PM – along with a fried chicken special.  Farm-raised, served hot, not too greasy – and the chicken’s not bad, either.

 

Back in the old routine….

After a family wedding (my daughter) kicked off the month, we’re back in the swing of things with  performances at Bonnie Jean’s on the Main Road (Route 25) in Southold on Thursday the 13th and Thursday the 27th from 6:30 til 9.

In between, I’m happy to be performing once again as “special guest” of the fantastic Galvanized Jazz Band.  For any interested parties in western CT, we will be playing at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford on Sunday, September 9th from 3-5 PM.  Also appearing with the band is trombonist Jerry Zigmont, a well-known figure of the New York City jazz scene as member of Woody Allen’s jazz band (led by my old pal Eddy Davis).  I’ve heard and admired Jerry’s playing for some years now, and pleased that this will be my first opportunity to work with him.

Next up, the Isotope Stompers will be playing a concert the following Sunday the 16th at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Libary on William Floyd Parkway in Shirley from 1 to 3 PM.  It’s a great (free) opportunity to see Long Island’s premier and long-cherished classic traditional jazz band.

On Thursday night September 20th, the trio will be on hiatus from Bonnie Jean’s for a special cause.  The Sunnyland Jazz Band is playing at a benefit dinner for Heidi’s Helping Angels – named in honor of Heidi Behr, a member of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance corp who died in an accident while responding to an emergency several years ago.  In her memory, a fund was created to benefit those volunteer emergency workers in our community who encounter unexpected difficulties.  One such case is past EMT leader Ron Rowe, who was seriously injured in a car accident earlier this year requiring significant medical attention and surgery.  To help defray his expenses and raise money for the Heidi Fund, a benefit dinner is being held at the Riverhead Polish Hall on Marcy Avenue beginning at 5:30 PM.  Advance tickets are necessary, available through Heidi’s Helping Angels, PO box 911, Riverhead NY 11901.  $35 per person buys a full steak dinner with all the trimmings, but tickets are going fast (250 as of this writing!).

We finish out the month with a happy return to Bonnie Jean’s…you can only miss the Thursday night fried chicken special for just so long…

 

 

Lots of playing as we move into August…

I’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up this month – lots of chances to hear some great trad jazz with a variety of groups.

On Tuesday, I close out July by playing again with the Empire State Jazz Band at the Kismet Inn on Kismet Beach on Fire Island.  There’s great food, a friendly bar & staff, and an excellent band which generally features Peter Ecklund, Matt Koza, Bob Hovey along with other fantastic players.  Playing time there generally runs from 7:30 PM until just before the final ferry of the night leaves.

Meanwhile, the Sunnyland Jazz Band will have recurring gigs at opposite ends of Long Island.  In addition to our regular Thursday nights at Bonnie Jean’s in Southold, we have picked up three dates at Ralph’s Italian Ices in College Point, Queens – located at the Whitepoint Shopping Center.  The shopping center is located on 14th Avenue at 132nd Street.  We are scheduled for three dates – Friday 8/10, Friday 8/17 and Wednesday 8/29 – each from 6 to 9 PM.  Great opportunities for friends and family on the western end of the Island to catch us!

There are also several upcoming public performances with the Isotope Stompers.  On Friday August 3rd, the group will appear at the Bellport bandshell (by the beach) from 8-10 PM.  Two days later on Sunday, the Stompers play from 7-9 PM at the Stony Brook post office building (under the clock with the eagle which flaps it’s wings each hour).  Then on Saturday the 11th, the Isotope Stompers play for the annual Lobster & Clambake at Christ Church in Bellport…contact the church for ticket availability.

It’s also my great privilege and pleasure to play two gigs (on one day!) with the great Galvanized Jazz Band on Saturday the 18th.  The first one is private, but the second will be my first performance with any group at Connecticut’s well-known Music Mountain (usually a more classical venue) in the northwestern corner of the state.  Follow the link above for more information on the amazing and accomplished group of musicians in the GJB.

A couple of updates…

On Thursday July 12th, the trio will be playing at Bonnie Jean’s once more.  It’s a bit emotional for me as it may be the last time I get to have my mom visit a gig before she departs to Florida.  She will be returning in late August for my daughter’s wedding, but I will miss the occasional “surprise” appearances she’d make at our performances and the friends who frequently accompanied her.  On the other hand, it will provide me with a chance to visit her in winter months on Florida’s sunny west coast…perhaps during the Suncoast Jazz Festival in November??

The following Thursday, Sunnyland will be on a one-day hiatus from Bonnie Jean’s while I am playing with the Isotope Stompers at the gazebo in Westhampton Beach.  It’s always great to have a musical excuse to return to the area where I grew up and see what has and hasn’t changed while seeing some old friends from the neighborhood.

RIP Uncle Lionel Batiste

I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of Lionel Batiste – known to everyone in the Vieux Carre as “Uncle Lionel” – one of the most colorful and recognizable figures of the neighborhood.  Always superbly dressed and with an almost regal carriage, he was a kind of ambassador of the Quarter – whether greeting folks with the tip of his hat, a warm and enthusiastic handshake, or stopping by for an impromptu “sit-in” as guest vocalist with a band at the Palm Court.  Uncle Lionel was strutting on the street in front of the first band I ever jammed with down in Jackson Square when we were first introduced. It seemed almost inevitable that I would cross paths with him at some point on every subsequent visit I made to the city.  In a city with a history filled with notable nicknamed characters, Lionel Batiste always offered encouragement to players and bands, surely becoming a symbolic “Uncle” to many who will never forget him.  As they say, “He was a good-timer…”.Photo of Uncle Lionel

June is busting out all over…with Sunnyland

A brief missive to inform our followers of a flurry of activity this coming weekend.  Thursday is the regular night for the Sunnyland trio at Bonnie Jean’s in Southold.  We’ve been happy to see so many of our steady fans showing up to support us and enjoy the great food, too!

If you can’t get out to Southold on Thursday, then come on down to Friday’s concert for Riverhead Townscape.  The performance takes place behind the East End Arts Council at 7 PM, and features an expanded lineup with John Pinto on saxophone and Henry Newberger on trombone.  It promises to be a great night of music & fun – don’t forget to bring your chair.

Finally, for those on the South Fork, the Sunnyland Jazz Band will be performing as we have for many years at the Sag Harbor Yacht Club holiday fireworks.  While this is properly a private affair where we perform for the yacht club, there are plenty of people who come to sit within earshot of us by the bulkheads nearby, enjoying the music until the grand fireworks display takes place over the harbor.  Every year I am astounded by the quality of the fireworks show put on by the SHYC – it’s the best on the East End for sure.

There will be still more Independence Day celebrations the following week….more later!

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