Remembering Carol Leigh and Pensacola Jazz Parties

Musicians assemble at the 1990 Pensacola Jazz Party. Photo by Norman Vickers

Just received the sad news about death of jazz vocalist Carol Leigh (Whitman). She was one of the guest artists for the second of three Pensacola Jazz Parties (1989-1991) held at the (then) Pensacola Hilton Hotel. These were produced in conjunction with record producer Gus Statiras. Gus was a native New Yorker who met his bride during WWII and moved to wife’s hometown of Tifton, Georgia. Because of Gus’ connections to the music world, we were able to get a variety of jazz artists, many of whom Gus had recorded, for our jazz event.

Carol Leigh in performance at the Pensacola Jazz Party. Photo by Norman Vickers

Carol Leigh was a soprano who was particularly interested in early jazz. In fact, she frequently performed in 1920’s style dress. By the time she appeared at our 1990 event, her reputation was well established. She had married trombonist Russ Whitman of the Salty Dogs group. She had gained an international reputation and had traveled both to Europe and the Orient. She had recorded with GHB, Stomp Off and Arbors Labels. In fact, I called Rachel Domber of Arbors Records seeking a copy, but the supply was exhausted. Ms. Leigh had recorded up until the early 2000s. Because of demands of the many details of the Jazz Party, I didn’t have opportunity to visit with Ms. Leigh. But, at a subsequent event where I was a guest and she was a performer, we both had leisure time to visit.

This leads me to discuss our three jazz parties and why they didn’t continue. These weekend jazz events have been successful in various parts of the country. In fact, West Texas jazz parties have been continuous for more than 50 years. Our situation was suitable in that The Pensacola Hilton, now Pensacola Grand Hotel, had an ideal seating space with a large stage. As locals know, it was originally a passenger train depot and the hotel tower was added. It also had large lot for parking.

So, it was up to us in the Jazz Society to make local arrangements, advertising, and sound crew. Gus Statiras made the arrangements with the musicians and helped with the scheduling and announcing. We advertised nationally and held the event in January. This was beneficial since many tourists bound for South Florida for winter vacation would be coming through the area. We were successful nationally in that we had patrons from as far away as California and Maine. Cost for the three days of jazz events was about $200. Patrons made own arrangements about accommodations and meals but most stayed and dined at the Hilton. However, we had minimal turn-out from locals. In fact, I had one or two persons stop me and ask, “How can the Jazz Society justify asking $200 for a musical weekend?” My reply was, “That’s what our overall costs require; but, if you can put this on for less, we’ll let you produce it!”

Gus Statiras and Carol Leigh. Photo by Norman Vickers

Our third Pensacola Jazz Party lost a little money. It was held the weekend which began the first Iraq War and Eastern Air Lines died that same weekend! Gus had invited New York record producer and Commodore Record Shop owner Milt Gabler for a press conference. Gus had worked for Mr. Gabler as a young man and had interesting stories to tell. Of course, there were no press people attending since all personnel were out doing local stories related to security precautions at the military stations as related to the declaration of war. But Gus did the interview to the delight of many attendees. And, as a bonus, I had opportunity to interview him privately for a weekly publication, now out of business.

So, you might logically ask why the Pensacola Jazz Parties didn’t continue. The logic of our board was such that we felt that energies should be placed on building our local Jazz Society first. And this was the correct answer because we assumed full responsibility for Pensacola JazzFest in 1999 and this requires year-round effort to assure success. However, the Atlanta Jazz Party picked up where we left off and produced an excellent annual party for 27 years thereafter, closing in 2016.

Thanks, Gus Statiras and Carol Leigh. We still miss you!

CD Review: ‘Cartoon Bebop’ – The 14 Jazz Orchestra

CARTOON BEBOP
The 14 Jazz Orchestra
Dabon Music
Release Date January 15, 2021

This interesting and unique CD crossed my desk recently and I was intrigued. This is a CD with eleven tunes, but none were familiar standards. The music was arranged for a 13-piece orchestra and all have been associated with the Miami musical community either as faculty of the Frost School of Music or having performed in the Miami jazz scene. Another aspect which will be of interest to our readers in the Florida Panhandle is that pianist Mike Levine is a frequent performer in this area, as he is a frequent part-time resident in our Port St. Joe area and when that occurs, Panama City’s Gulf Jazz Society engages him to perform. I’ve been privileged to hear and meet him there. Another appeal is that the CD is dedicated to Miami musicians who have passed away this year, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and studio musician Mark Colby. Sullivan had appeared in our area on several occasions and was beloved by this jazz community.

The 13-piece band provides back-up for excellent solos by the various musicians. Most of the arrangements are by Dan Bonsanti with compositions by, among others, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, and has used motifs by Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

The accompanying information sheet explains that Cartoon Bebop contains two of Corea’s compositions “Got a Match?” and “Duende.” Bonsanti was inspired to write the title tune “Cartoon Bebop” after hearing a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, favorite of his. He used piccolo and tuba while adding Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk motifs.

In essence, an interesting and fun recording. It will be available online on January 15, 2020. For additional information: 14jazzorchestra.com and facebook.com/14jazzorchestra.

When Gus and Bunk spent the night together

Willie Gary “Bunk” Johnson was an early New Orleans trumpet player. There is uncertainty about his actual birth date. He gave his birthdate as 1879 but it is supposed the deliberately gave an earlier date so that his claim of performing with Buddy Bolden, an early New Orleans bandleader and trumpeter.

He performed in New Orleans from 1915 to early ‘20s both locally and traveling with minstrel shows and then moved to New Iberia, LA. He was a farm worker and sometime trumpet player until he lost some teeth either due to decay or fights. In the late 1930’s he came to the attention of some jazz writers who put him in contact with Sidney Bechet’s brother, a dentist, who repaired his teeth so that Bunk could resume his trumpet playing.

Bunk returned to New Orleans and performed with another older jazz clarinetist George Lewis. Their band played both in New Orleans and also to New York City, San Francisco and Boston.

Record producer Gus Statiras, a New York City native who made Tifton, Georgia his home after WWII told of his encounter with Bunk. Gus was visiting in New Orleans shortly after the end of WWII. He searched out the jazz events and made acquaintance with Bunk. Since Gus was visiting and had not secured lodgings, Bunk invited him to spend the night in his home. Gus reported that Bunk’s house was in the Treme’ district, elevated on short brick pillars. It was the kind of wooden house with space underneath for the dogs to rest. It was such a cold, windy night that Bunk’s home became unbearably cold. Consequently, Gus and Bunk “bunked” together for the rest of the night!

Editorial Note: The late Gus Statiras was a good friend to Jazz Pensacola. When we planned our three jazz parties ’89 to ’91, he supplied contacts for our visiting musicians and advised about certain technical aspects of our event. He also brought his recordings and sold them at our events. He also came to some of our later Pensacola JazzFests and sold his recordings. Gus subsequently sold his recording interests to late record producer George Buck in New Orleans. And, when Jazz Pensacola started its Jazz Room collection at downtown West Florida Public Library, we engaged George Buck and Gus Statiras to advise during the first couple of years on that collection. Perhaps it was jazz guitarist Marty Grosz who put it best, “It is impossible NOT to like Gus!”

Book Review: ‘Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz’ by Lew Shaw

Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz
By Lew Shaw
AZtold Publishing, Scottsdale, AZ

Lew Shaw is a multi-faceted writer, having a dual career as both sports and jazz writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our paths crossed when we were both active in The American Federation of Jazz Societies and both had served as president of that organization. He was an organizer and served as president of Arizona Classic Jazz Society in Phoenix.

Shaw has written for jazz publications “West Coast Rag,” “The American Rag” and, for the past few years, “The Syncopated Times.” His first book, Jazz Beat, Notes of Classic Jazz was a collection of his columns from “West Coast Rag” and “The American Rag.” His current book, Jazz Beat Encore, is a collection of forty-three columns from the past few years.

Each column features a jazz musician, or group, along with a photograph and occupies about four pages. Most of the artists are American born but also feature clarinetist-bandleader Adrian Cunningham of Australia and pianist Paolo Alderighi, a native of Milan, Italy.

Of special interest to will be featured artists who have appeared for the Jazz Society of Pensacola events: guitarist Howard Alden, saxophonist Harry Allen, trombonist Dan Barrett, clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter Duke Heitger, vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, The Midiri Brothers, and clarinetists Ken Peplowski and Allan Vache.

Also, as a bonus, cartoonist Bill Keane’s Family Circus cartoons related to jazz were included courtesy of Jeff Keane, son of the late cartoonist.

This book, as well as Shaw’s previous one, will grace the shelves of our Jazz Room at the downtown West Florida Public Library. It awaits your reading. The book, of course, is available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Norman Vickers featured in Syncopated Times

Norman Vickers, Jazz Pensacola Volunteer Executive Director Emeritus, is featured in the August 2020 edition of The Syncopated Times, a popular publication for fans of jazz, ragtime and swing.

Norman Vickers is known as a harmonica-playing physician who was a pioneer in his field in his adopted city, and who for the past 40 years, has been the jazz ambassador and moving spirit behind Jazz Pensacola, one of the country’s more active jazz societies,” reads the article, with the headline “Norman Vickers: Jazz Doc and More.”

Read the complete article here or via the PDF below.

vickersarticlesynctimes

Remembering Bucky Pizzarelli and the joys of jazz parties

I recently received a delightful note from Joe Galetovic of Denver, Colorado. He is a jazz friend who I first met in the 1980s while we were both attending the famous Dick Gibson Labor Day weekend jazz party in Denver. We have kept in contact and he and his wife Linda are now more active than I in traveling to similar events. Consequently, he updates me on their activities and comments about the performers.

He had recently attended the San Diego Jazz Party and kindly sent me the program. Interesting, duo pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi were among the performers. (I’ve blogged about this couple and saw them a week or so later at the Ragtime Festival in Starkville, Mississippi.) Interestingly, some of the other performers at the SD Jazz Party had performed for us previously in Pensacola. They include saxophonist Harry Allen, trombonist Dan Barrett, vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and guitarist Frank Vignola.

Painting by Nina Fritz of jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, left, and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, based on a photo by Norman Vickers.

Longtime guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli was a recent death, along with his wife, both victims of COVID-19. Bucky was a wonderful person and a wonderful jazz ambassador. Bucky was a regular performer at the Gibson parties and jazz host Dick Gibson always would schedule a duo performance along with jazz violinist Johnny Frigo. There is a Nina Fritz painting in the jazz room at our downtown West Florida Public Library depicting Bucky and Johnny. It was painted based on a photo I took of them rehearsing — each had their instrument in hand. In five minutes, they would discuss songs and keys and then perform them for one hour.

We had Bucky and Johnny perform for Pensacola JazzFest but separately, as their schedules did not mesh. Frigo came with Frank Vignola and, a few years later, Bucky came with Nicki Parrot. Both duos were marvelous.

I want to quote the tribute that Joe Galetovic wrote me about loss of Bucky and wife to the virus:

“Linda and I were left breathless — like losing a member of the family. Over the years Bucky was a regular at Summit Jazz in Denver, so it was Bucky who ‘took us’ to San Diego Jazz Party first time. It was Bucky who made us go to West Texas Jazz Party, Bucky was ‘the reason’ we went to Atlanta Jazz Parties. Bucky introduced us to Matt and Rachel Domber and Arbors Jazz parties. He also took us to Elkhart and Cleveland … not to speak of all the times we went to New York to listen to him; tape new CDs ad NOLA studies, heard him at 92nd Street Y, at Symphony Hall on the West side, in Cavatappo; at Hotel Carlisle, Feinstein’s at Regency etc …”

Yes, Bucky will be greatly missed, but his son John is carrying on the legacy.

So thanks, Bucky for brightening our lives and leaving loving children to honor your tremendous musical legacy. Also, thanks Joe and Linda Galetovic for your friendship and enthusiasm for jazz. Keep us in the loop!