I was unable to attend Sunday night’s benefit concert for Dick Sudhalter because St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York is 3000 miles from Rifftides world headquarters. Friends who went, some of whom performed, sent reports. By their accounts, the event was a success on all fronts.
Richard M. Sudhalter, as many of you know, is an invaluable jazz historian and a respected cornetist and trumpeter. His biography of Bix Beiderbecke is the benchmark work about that genius of early jazz. His biography of Hoagy Carmichael is a modern classic. Sudhalter’s monumental book Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz 1915-1945 is balanced, objective, and brilliant. Many of its detractors, once they saw its subtitle, read no further or read through lenses of bias and launched vicious attacks accusing Sudhalter of racism. To anyone who knows him, that would be laughable if it wasn’t so untrue and unfair.
For a couple of years, Dick has been in the long aftermath of a major stroke. He is also battling the effects of a rare condition called multiple system atrophy (MSA). His current debts and prospective medical costs are huge. Allthough his speech and movement are limited, his brilliant mind and ability to write are not. The trumpeter Randy Sandke and the clarinetist Dan Levinson organized the concert to help with expenses. Dick’s companion Dorothy Kellog executed the planning. Judy Kahn, Bill Kirchner’s wife, was the stage manager. The Jazz Ministry of St. Peter’s cooperated in the presentation. The friends honoring and supporting Dick played to a full house. The review that follows is an amalgam of reports from Jill McManus, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Randy Sandke and Bill Kirchner.
This is not a short posting. I hope that it gives you a sense of the evening.
Sandke sets the scene and provides the lineup:
I thought it was a warm and very touching tribute. More than 70 musicians offered to participate. Because of some airline snafus, a few couldn’t get in on time, but below is a list of the musicians and groups who did in fact play at St. Peters last night:
OPENING REMARKS BY DAN MORGENSTERN – Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies
ED POLCER’S GANG FROM 54th STREET Ed Polcer – cornet, Tom Artin – trombone, Joe Muranyi – clarinet, Harry Allen – tenor sax, Dave Frishberg – piano, Bucky Pizzarelli – guitar, Frank Tate – bass, Jackie Williams – drums
DAVE FRISHBERG (piano solo: “Dear Bix”)
DAN LEVINSON’S LOST CHORD SEEKERS Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet, Orange Kellin – clarinet, Dan Levinson – C-melody sax , Brad Kay – piano, Jeff Healy – guitar/vocal, Brian Nalepka – bass, Kevin Dorn – drums, Molly Ryan – vocal
DARYL SHERMAN (piano solo/vocal); one tune with Joe Wilder, trumpet
CAROL SUDHALTER BAND Carol Sudhalter – sax, Dick Katz – piano, Jim Ferguson – bass, Jackie Williams – drums, Keisha St. Joan, vocal
STEVE KUHN – piano
DAVID OSTWALD’S GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet, Tom Artin – trombone, Joe Muranyi – clarinet , James Chirillo – banjo, David Ostwald – tuba, Kevin Dorn – drums
JACKIE CAIN with Steve Kuhn – piano
HEALY’S HAPPY HARMONISTS Brad Kay – cornet/piano, Dan Levinson – clarinet, Jeff Healy – guitar/trumpet/vocal Scott Robinson – bass sax, Kevin Dorn – drums
MARIAN McPARTLAND with Frank Tate – bass
THE BIAGI BAND Jordan Sandke – trumpet, Carol Sudhalter – sax, Sam Parkins – clarinet, Andy Stein – violin , Chuck Folds – piano, Bill Crow – bass, Giampaolo Biagi – drums, Francesca Biagi – vocal
SY JOHNSON vocall and piano
BILL KIRCHNER TRIO Bill Kirchner – soprano sax, Armen Donelian – piano, Jim Ferguson – bass/vocal
RANDY SANDKE’S BIXOPHILES Randy Sandke – trumpet, Dan Levinson – clarinet, Scott Robinson – C-melody and bass sax, Mark Shane – piano, Marty Grosz – guitar, Nicki Parrott – bass, Rob Garcia – drums
LOREN SCHOENBERG BIG BAND
Dr. Bob Litwak (a semi-pro drummer greatly supportive of the jazz community), chief of thoracic medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital for many years, got up and spoke about Dick’s condition. There were some handouts along with the printed programs that also explained a bit about MSA. Most touching, though, were Litwak’s words of encouragment to Dick…for instance that despite being sidelined on the horn, he’s vital still with his writing ability. He mentioned Dick’s working on the Red Nichols reissue package for Mosaic–that he’s available for more writing gigs but should still keep his lip ready. And most moving, at least for me, was Litwak’s eloquent way of lauding Sudhalter as one of the great thinkers.
Jill McManus, the pianist and composer, was in the audience:
The concert was wonderful – such an affection for Dick from the 350 or so people there, educators, musicians, friends, most of them there until the end. Dick in a wheelchair, beautifully dressed, listening intently to all the various bands, from old style to swing, nodding. He got up front to say his own brief “thank you,” then called on his friend Terry Teachout to read something Dick had written, very touching, literate as ever. Dan, of course, set the warm tone of the evening with his opening comments.
Great and unsusal chance to hear Frishberg on piano in the kickoff group, Ed Polcer’s Gang from 54th Street, doing “Sometimes I’m Happy.”
Then Dave did his wryly moving solo thing on “Dear Bix.”
My favorite group name, Lost Chord Seekers with Jeff Healey on guitar (he also had his own set and made a huge hit) and Brad Kay on piano, featured Molly Ryan singing “I Never Knew” (which included a lovely verse I never knew).
Healy is a triple threat on guitar, trumpet and vocal. He’s blind. Came by
himself from Toronto, Canada.
It was perfect that I should follow that group since I am one of the original lost chord seekers. With a nod to Sudhalter’s little known or heralded vocalizings, I did one of his staples (stolen from Bing Crosby), Hoagy Carmichael’s “Moonburn.” (Hoagy Jr was in the audience!) I also got a chance to play for Joe Wilder on “When I Fall In Love”.
Daryl and Joe played gorgeously together. Daryl reminisced briefly before her set – told a story of the night Dick’s horn was stolen from him.
Bill Kirchner relays the story:
About twenty years ago, Dick was playing a gig at the Red Blazer Too on Third Avenue and 89th. There was a front/side room where musicians would keep their horn cases, and he foolishly left his cornet in the case in that room. After the gig, he went out there to get it. It was gone. As you can imagine, he was crestfallen. The next day, he had to go out of town on a tour. So, he got in a cab and went over to the office he used to have in midtown. He had a spare horn there and wanted to try it, see if it was playable and take it on the tour.
He does that, leaves his office, goes down and hails a cab. About five cabs pass by, but he finally gets one. He gets in the cab, looks over on the back seat. There is his horn, sitting there in the case. He says to the cabbie, “This is my horn.” The cabbie immediately gets defensive: “No, no, no….” So, finally, Dick says, “Look, if I can describe the contents of this case, you can tell this is my horn.” He did, and the guy ‘fessed up that a couple of guys had hailed his cab up in the eighties and had this horn and sold it to him for fifty bucks. So, Dick says, “Okay, I’ll give you fifty bucks. I want my horn back.” Dick later went to somebody who was familiar with the art of odds-making. He determined that the odds of this happening were several trillion to one.
Dick Katz played intelligently and poignantly both in Carol Sudhalter’s band (Carol took a masterly laid-back solo, and Keisha St. Joan sang well, “Come Rain or Come Shine”) and with Loren Schoenberg’s smoothly melodic band at the end.
Steve Kuhn, Dick’s oldest friend at the concert, played a ballad. They were high school classmates in Newton, Mass. (another was Roger Kellaway, who wasn’t there).
Steve played “Old Folks,” (which I’d never heard him do before.) Masterful and ruminative. It was clearly a nod to Dick, with his penchant for Willard Robison–and particularly that song. There’s a collector’s item photo Dick has of one of the many Newton jam sessions in his basement. Kuhn with brushcut sitting just as erect as he does now at the piano, Kellaway at the bass (also brushcut) and Sudhalter with those nerdy black glasses.
David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band had a delicately swampy New Orleans-ish feel, with James Chirillo on banjo, and Joe Muranyi’s haunting clarinet. Tom Artin subbed for Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.
Chrillo was great on banjo with Ostwald. It’s nice to hear modern changes on that instrument.
Kuhn played for Jackie Cain. One of the vivid memories of the Hoagy Carmichael concert Dick produced for JVC around 1979 or ’80 was Jackie’s opening the evening. She came out alone and sang the verse to “Stardust” acapella. Sunday, she referred to that night, telling the audience how nervous she’d been. She chose not to do “Stardust” here and instead beautifully sang a touching song, “Music Reached Places,” by Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace (Fran’s recent collaborator.)
Steve comped beautifully for Jackie C. and played a lovely solo.
Marian McPartland has been in Dick’s corner for many years and she really came through for him last night. She’s been in constant pain with arthritis and knee problems and it was a huge schlep for her to make this–but there she was looking and sounding splendid with Frank Tate on bass. Of course, she played Carmichael: “Heart And Soul” and “New Orleans,” weaving her spell and beautiful colors as only she can do. It was a special moment for me to dig all the piano players standing around in the back reverentially digging her.
The Biagi Band, led by drummer Giampolo Biagi and vocal by Francesca Biagi (no relation), had Andy Stein on fiddle; Sam Parkins, clarinet; Chuck Folds, piano; Bill Crow, bass, who brought his wife and was the most consistent listener of all the musicians present. You know how it is with hanging out backstage.
Sy Johnson played a blues tune I never got the name of and also sang “Skylark.” His piano playing and harmonization on that one were particularly lovely.
The Bill Kirchner Trio with Armen Donelian on piano and Jim Ferguson singing and on bass gave a moment of such grace that the whole place fell silent and the musicians were at rapt attention.
Jim Ferguson played and sang Willard Robison’s “Deep Summer Music” accompanied so sensitively by Armen Donelian and with an especially evocative soprano solo from Bill Kirchner. Sudhalter taught it to me years ago, and beneath the elegiac simplicity is a tricky melody and harmony that makes you walk on eggshells when you play and, particulalry, try to sing it. The song could not have been better served than with Jim’s treatment – a real highlight for me. In fact of all the lovely vocals last night his was my favorite -although bassist Nicki Parrott did a great job singing as well as playing “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” with Randy Sanke’s band. Gotta hand it to these bass players particularly since Jay Leonhart’s song laments that it’s impossible to sing while playing the bass.
Loren’s band was so terrific. Wish they had a steady spot somewhere. Barbara Lea sang the title song from her new CD (wonderfully recorded with the band and Loren also on piano), Ellington’s “Black Butterfly.” Loren had the advantage of being able to use many of the ‘veterans’ like Randy Sandke, Scott Robinson, Dick Katz, Eddie Bert, but he’s really done so well finding new younger musicians who really seem to take an interest in this music.
They did Mark Lopeman’s lovely chart on Dick’s tune “A Dream Deferred.” It was written especially for this occasion.
Scott Robinson was heard on bass sax with Jeff Healy’s Happy Harmonists, on C melody sax with Randy Sandke’s Bixophiles, on tenor and clarinet with the Loren Schoenberg Big Band–great as usual on all his horns, but what a job to carry all that stuff! The big band, celebrating their new CD, also did “When Lights Are Low” (featuring Jon Gordon’s alto), Gerry Mulligan’s fine early Krupa chart on “If You Were the only Girl (announced as ‘Goy’) in the World”, with a splendid trumpet solo by the underrated John Eckert. Also heard from was amazing trombonist Eddie Bert, looking great now that he’s let his hair be its natural white. The band finished the night with a rousing “South Rampart Street Parade” (Scott R. on clarinet). Kevin Dorn did a nice job on drums–one of the youngest musicians on hand.
Afterwards, in the “parlor,” I was talking with Dick, he being quiet but gracious, and I mentioned that I was getting tired standing, yet I hurt from sitting through this magnificent concert. He got up out of the wheelchair and offered me his seat! Never missed a beat! I loved that. (I’m not ready for a wheelchair myself just yet!!) He said that he never felt that people had admired him, that he had a very small audience. Perhaps, I said, but what an audience of jazz history-knowers! In his writing, how arduously careful he had to be with the facts, and he was the most meticulous of almost anyone.
I was surprised to witness the huge turnout from both musicians and civilians. There was an outpouring of respect and admiration for Dick. After hearing from him for so long that he feels invisible and doesn’t even know himself anymore, believe me, this was the best medicine.He’s really overwhelmed by all this now and I sure hope it helps him to fight harder, cause he’s gonna need it.
Furthermore, it is a wonderful testament to the devotion to this music. Through acknowledging Sudhalter’s contribution as fervent champion in print as well as on horn, it unifies the collectors, musicians, writers, fans and believers all over the world who have dedicated their lives to this aesthetic. And interestingly enough, they all seem to know each other, if not personally, then by reputation. From Dave Frishberg to guitatist/collector Jeff Healey in Toronto to Enrico Borsetti, an ardent fan from Italy who helped initiate this benefit for Dick, it really seems like a special brotherhood (with a few sisters,too.) It may be a pinhead of the population at large, but the passion never dies.
What made it special, I think, is that everybody who was there wanted to be there for Dick, not just to hear some music.
The concert is over, but Dick’s need is not. Contributions to the Sudhalter medical fund are being accepted at
Richard M. Sudhalter
Post Office Box 757
Southold, NY 11971