The Bumble Bee's View of the Garden:
Opinions on Jazz and other topics
The Bumble Bee is happy to announce the reopening of a particularly luscious corner of the local Jazz garden.
Good News! The Friday evening jam session at the Rolling Green Hotel, on Rt. 133 in No. Andover has resumed. In case you do not know of this continuing Jazz party I will give you some of its history; well, at least my recollections.
About ten years ago trombonist Walt Elmore and some other musicians started the jam session. As I remember, it started around 5:00 or 5:30 PM and went until 9:00 or 10:00. On any given Friday you could hear some of the very best jazz musicians in the Merrimack Valley and often from the Boston area as well. True to the generous spirit of modern jam sessions, there was always room for serious amateurs and developing players of different levels, but thanks to Walt's careful management, the entertainment level always stayed high and people came back week after week to unwind with good music played in a relaxed atmosphere.
At some point in the mid-nineties, Walt moved away to Vermont and Brad Thorp took over. Little changes happened, like moving the location of the bandstand and relocation of the entrance to the lounge, but the balance of musical quality with room for amateurs to play, as well, continued. For various reasons I was never a regular at these session, but it did attend periodically over the years and I always had a great time.
Last winter the hotel changed hands again, as it does from time to time and, as I understand it, a new Food and Beverage Manager was hired. The person was not a Jazz fan and did not seem to understand the extraordinary nature of this Friday evening gathering, and after a run of almost ten years, canceled it. The piano was replaced with a pool table which, presumably, was going to attract more costumers than this very popular event. However, a combination of public outcry and pressure from the wait staff, who missed both the music and the business, resulted in the reinstatement of the Friday night Jam Session just a couple of months ago.
The session is now run by singer Barbara Buls and her husband, drummer Al Beaudreau. Al and Barbara have been running other very successful jam sessions in the Cape Ann area, so they know how to make something like this work. Currently the sessions start at 7:00 PM and go on until 11:00. In addition to the fine singing and drumming of Barbara and Al (Al is one of my very favorite drummers) the house band includes such superb pianists as Tony Zano and Jack Senior and bassists of the caliber of Berklee professor Mark Carlson. If you love Jazz, or want to get to know it better, or if you just want a nice place to unwind on a Friday evening, drop by the Rolling Green on Rt. 133 just east of I-93.
Lately I have been intrigued and delighted by the requests I get from relatively young people, say under 30. Recently, at my regular Friday night gig in the upstairs lounge at Smithwicks, a young woman asked me for several great tunes which she had come to know from the singing of Nat "King" Cole. That same evening a young man, about the same age, requested "Lament," a beautiful ballad by the great Jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson. On another occasion, as I started to sing Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl Form Ipanema," a young woman let out a squeal from the middle of the room which was followed by the comment: "I was just thinking of that song!" At the restaurant where I played on New Year's Eve I was again surprised by the quality of the requests, often from folks not older than 30 or 35.
Since, as I have said before in this column, the mainstream broadcast media, commercial TV and radio, ignore Jazz (and Classical and Folk music as well) I am curious about the ways in which the music I play reaches new audiences. My own theory is that people in their twenties are approaching Jazz with fresh ears, since most of them probably grew up with Rock ‘n' Roll in their homes. It is also possible that all the Jazz band programs in the schools have brought this music to the current generation of young adults; and someone suggested to me that the young musicians studying at places like U. Mass Lowell are looking to Jazz for a solid foundation on which to base their own artistic growth, even if the music they want to make has more in common with Rock. Whatever the reasons I hope this trend continues.
All this brings me to the Tuesday night Jazz at the Worthen House, in Lowell, which generally features young musicians, many of whom are studying at U. Mass Lowell (my most recent alma mater). The Worthen House is located at 147 Worthen St., near City Hall and behind the Haffner (It Kick's) gas station.
And speaking of U. Mass Lowell, the Merrimack Valley Jazz Society has launched two scholarship drives for aid to music students at the school. One will be for a small one-time-per-year scholarship, starting this year, and the other is for an endowed scholarship in the name of Dr. Rawn Spearman, who taught for many years at the College of Music, as it was known then. The endowment drive has to raise $10,000 before the scholarship can be established, so it will likely take a couple of years. Please watch and listen for news of a benefit concert for these programs which will take place at an as-yet-undetermined venue, probably in Nashua. The concert is planned for mid-April.
Since we made it into the "millennium" without catastrophe, I hope you will all get out regularly and support your local artists, musicians actors and dancers. Until next time, when I will tell you of my adventures in New Orleans and beyond.
Paul Combs, Vyü Magazine, vol. 3