'Paying homage' at Jazz in Caz

Russ Tarby 09/15/09More articles
It doesn’t get any better than this, people!

Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks deliver dead-on recreations of hot jazz and dance music from between 1919 and the mid-1930s.

The octet version of the New York City-based band will make a rare Upstate appearance at 9:15 p.m. Friday Sept. 25, at Jaz ’N Caz, at the Catherine Cummings Theatre on Lincklaen Street in Cazenovia. Suggested donation is $10.

There’s also a good chance some of the Nighthawks will participate in the 11:30 p.m. after-hours jam session at the Seven Stone Steps.

Recordings by The Nighthawks have been featured on television shows, radio broadcasts such as A Prairie Home Companion and motion pictures. In Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen’s 1999 pseudo-bio-pic about a 1930s’ jazz guitar genius, Giordano is typecast as a bassist.

Vince and members of The Nighthawks appear as Cocoanut Grove band members in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 film about Howeard Hughes, The Aviator. In the 2008 film Revolutionary Road, Giordano and his trumpet player, Jon-Erik Kellso, play members of the swingin’ Steve Kovac Band. More recently Vince played bass on Diana Krall’s version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.

Not only is Giordano a talented multi-instrumentalist (he plays acoustic bass, tuba, bass saxophone, banjo, rhythm guitar, piano and drums), he’s also a brilliant bandleader, big-band historian and an obsessive collector of sheet music.

Over 30 years as a bandleader, Giordano, who’s now in his mid-50s, has emerged as the authority on the sounds of 1920s and ’30s. “I just love the energy of the early jazz,” he says. “I wanted to recapture some of that.”

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks alight every Monday night at Sofia’s Restaurant, at the Edison Hotel, 221 W. 46th St., between Broadway and 8th Avenue, in New York City; visit, or call (212) 719-5799.

One of the band’s fans, Kentucky-based graphic artist Danielle Bennignus, loves the fact that Vince and his musicians love the music.

“The Nighthawks’ arrangements are of historic quality,” she says, “and the music is handled with great respect, not treated in a mawkish way at all. This wonderful band really knows what they’re doing, and it’s very clear that they have a real love for this incredible music.”

Last month, Eagle Newspapers interviewed Vince Giordano by e-mail.

Q: Could you please name a few tunes and the personnel you’re expecting to use on Sept. 25 in Cazenovia?
A: Here’s the band. We’ll be eight pieces from the 11-piece band we normally have:

Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Mark Lopeman and Dan Levinson (reeds),

Peter Yarin (piano), Ken Salvo (banjo/guitar), Rob Garcia (drums), and myself, Vince Giordano (tuba/bass sax/stand-up bass/vocals).

We will be playing Ellington, Bix, Goodman and others from the 1920s/30s!

Q: How many Jazz Age charts have you collected?
A: I have more than 40,000 arrangements: published stocks, originals from bands and then new transcriptions that my musicians and I have made of old records.

There’s also my 28,000 piano sheet music collection, more than 10,000 silent-picture music scores and 1,200 piano rolls here! Space IS the final frontier!

Q: Do you have a favorite or most valuable rarity?
A: Probably a 1928 hand-written arrangement by Harold Arlen of “The Man I Love.” He not only scored it but copied out each part for each musician and wrote personal jokes on each part too!

Q: Although your band plays from charts, there’s plenty of improvisation as well. What is the Nighthawks’ philosophy regarding improv?
A: The Nighthawks have many arrangements in our book where the musicians can play their own solos and then there are many arrangements where the original solos are written out.

My first idea of a jazz repertoire band came when I heard George Wein’s NY Jazz Repertoire Company in the late-1970s with the likes of Dick Hyman, Bob Wilbur, Kenny Davern, Warren Vaché and many others. They would recreate note-for-note solos from old recordings.

Q: What’s the reason for recreating solos?
A: Recreating solos is an old idea. Here are a few examples:

Ethel Waters recreating Armstrong’s solo on “I Can’t Give You Anything,” or Rex Stewart recreating Bix on Henderson’s “Singin’ the Blues” or George Orendorf playing a trumpet version of Armstrong’s scat solo of “Hotter than That” on Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders’ record of “Charlie’s Idea” or the Mc Kinney’s Cotton Pickers’ record of “Milneberg Joys” where they took Leon Roppolo’s solo from the NORK and wrote it out for three clarinets, Bobbie Hackett playing Bix’s solo of “I’m Coming Virginia” at the 1938 Goodman concert, and many more…

It’s called “paying homage.”

Classical musicians play Mozart, Delius or Gershwin pieces over and over note-for-note, and the jazz “composers” that I honor are Louis, Bix, Coleman and so on. Their notes changed the world. They were creating their great compositions on the spot.

I don’t think we just leave those melodies to be heard on old records only. They can be played, studied and enjoyed today!

Q: To a younger person unfamiliar with the Jazz Age, how would you explain what’s so great about 1920s music?
A: Yikes! This would take a volume to write! The best way to get acquainted with the Jazz Age is to listen to the records and view some of the early sound musicals of the late-20s/early-30s. Listen (online at to Rich Conaty’s Big Broadcast radio show on Sunday nights on WFUV, 8 p.m.-12 midnight, and to Andy Senior’s Radiola show Friday at 8 p.m. on WHCL-FM 88.7, from Clinton N.Y., streaming on the Internet at

The more you see and hear, the more you learn and get it!

Q: The Nighthawks are certainly a hot band but clearly capable of playing sweet if the occasion calls for it. As musical director and as a musician how do you view hot vs. sweet?
A: I think being a professional musician -- back in the 1920s/30s and now -- you must have the versatility to play different music for folks. There are concert gigs where you can play more jazz and then there are dance gigs where varied music is called for.

When we do film work (The Aviator, Finding Forrester, Cotton Club and so on) the director calls the shots. I have no problem with playing “commercial” music: bands like Fletcher Henderson’s had to wear Spanish garb for Tango night at Roseland, Mc Kinney’s Cotton Pickers recorded a few waltzes on Victor and so on.

Q: Here'’s a term you don’t hear much anymore, though it was apparently used frequently in the ’20s: “Freakish!” Do the Nighthawks ever indulge in "freakish" technique?
A: Yes, we do Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “The Mooche,” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Boogaboo” to name a few.

Q: How would you describe “freakish” to a neophyte listener?
A: Freakish music was done collectively with versatile jazz musicians like brass players Bubber Miley, Tricky Sam Nanton and others with their use of varied mutes, growling techniques and half-valve “slides.” Reed players would use heavy vibrato, long “slides” and so on. Drummers had temple blocks, gongs and whistles to add to the eerie and exciting music.

Listen to early Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Jabbo Smith records…you’ll hear some exciting freakish music !

TAGS: Vince Giordano, Nighthawks, Cazenovia, Jazz 'n Caz
EDITION: Cazenovia Republican

Rating: 2.8/5 (19 votes cast)

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