|Maynard's 75th Birthday Bash Alumni Concert.
Saturday, May 3rd. Ryle's Jazz Club, Boston.
By Matt Keller
I just returned from Boston this very evening and I hope to capture some of the residual excitement I'm still feeling from MF's 75th birthday bash before I go to bed. First of all, before I mention anything about the event, Frank Vardaros deserves HUGE credit for organizing this entire event. The MF Alumni concert was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had, and it wouldn't have happened without Frank. HUGE karma points for Frank from all of us MF heads out there.
Ok, now on to the specifics. I flew out to Boston with a friend of mine. On Saturday night (May 3rd), we arrived for the VIP reception around 5:30, and got in line outside of Ryle's Jazz Club. We hadn't been in line long when I realized that the two guys standing in front of me in line (Bob and Barry) were long time email acquaintances that have visited the MF Tribute Site several times. We talked MF for a while when a van pulled up to the street, and out came Alan Wise, Stan Mark, and Lin Biviano. Now, I'm only 28, and have never had the chance to see any of these guys in person. I was awestruck. I said to my friend, "a whole carload of legends just pulled up." Lin pointed out a sore spot on his lip to someone in line that he knew and said, "Can you believe this? Strictly middle register for me tonight."
Soon we were inside, and I was excited to find out that we were at a table right up front. In fact, we were right next to Maynard's table. The evening had many highlights, and I'll never remember which order they happened in, so I will tell as many stories as I can remember from that night, and I will try to approximate the order.
For the first hour or so, we ate and mingled. Soon, Frankie V. came out and welcomed us and introduced himself. He said a few kind words about Maynard and about the influence he's had on his career. Then, he introduced a 15 minute video segment that he and his girlfriend had prepared. It was a compilation of photos and alumni greetings set to a wide variety of Maynard music. It was very professionally done, and it was great fun to watch. Even better was watching MF watch the presentation and make jokes about it. He laughed at the photos of himself as a young boy, and laughed even more at his hair in the pictures from the 70s. Following the video, a few people spoke about the occasion. Linda Maertz, from Maynard's office, spoke kindly of Maynard the human being, rather than the musician. Ed Sargent, Maynard's tour manager (of the "last 120 years," according to Maynard) spoke about his youth when he started the band, and mentioned that when he joined on he had hardly ever left Tennessee, but that all of the years on the band had "certainly remedied that situation". It was clear immediately that Maynard has been more than a boss to both of these individuals.
Sal Cardello of the Leblanc Corp was there, and he presented Maynard with a brand new gold-plated engraved MF Horn, which brought shouts of "Play it! Play it!" from the audience. Maynard then pulled out a brand new mouthpiece and pointed out that Dave Monette, who makes all of Maynard's mouthpieces, was in the audience tonight, and had presented him with a brand new mouthpiece that very evening. Adding his usual humor to the situation, Maynard joked that he typically tells his trumpet players that they shouldn't try out new equipment at an important gig, and here he was with a brand new trumpet and mouthpiece. He played them both, and he sounded great, of course. After playing a few notes, Maynard held up the horn and said, "Ok, what's the first bid?" Sal Cardello's presence also allowed Maynard to make several mafia jokes, proclaiming that when Sal Cardello offers you a gift, you accept it! Next, Frank presented Maynard with the Internet E-Birthday card with all of the signatures and messages on it (thank you to all of you visitors to this site that helped to sign it).
Soon, it was time for the alumni band to take the stage. This truly was a dream line-up. There were so many trumpets there that they had to rotate the section. I know that I will forget someone, but the band included: Rick Petrone on bass; Dave Mancini on Drums; Earl MacDonald on Piano; Chip McNeill, Mark Colby, Mike Dubaniewicz, and a local player whose name I didn't catch on sax, Reggie Watkins and Tom Garling on trombone (with a special appearance by Slide Hampton), and a large rotating trumpet section that included Stan Mark, Alan Wise, Lin Biviano, Carl Fischer, Brian Thompson, Frank Vardaros, Mark Van Cleave, Patrick Hession, and a special appearance by Charles Schlueter (Principal Trumpet, Boston Symphony). I know I'm forgetting a trumpet or two here, I'm sure someone in the forum will help me out.
The band kicked off, of course, with Blue Birdland. The band had only a few hours of rehearsal time in total, but the alumni seemed to slip back into the groove of Blue Birdland like it was a comfortable old shoe. My table was right in front of the rhythm section, and Rick Petrone and Dave Mancini seemed to be having fun all night. Rick, in particular, was a kick to watch, and amazing to listen to.
Early in the evening, Slide Hampton was introduced, and he strolled up to the solo mic in a dark blue suit, where he helped the band faithfully recreate Stella By Starlight.
Soon came the moment that, honestly, stole the show. Alan Wise came down to the mic for an absolutely dead on rendition of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." He mentioned that he always wanted to play that song with the "great Stan Mark on lead." I can't say enough about this performance. He absolutely crushed that song. He retired it. I was sitting about 10 feet in front of him as he performed and I was truly entranced. The first time I saw Maynard was in 1992, and listening to Alan play I thought to myself, "Oh…this is what it was like." The crowd was stunned at this performance, and we were on our feet when it was over. Oh, and while the song was being introduced, Stan remarked from the trumpet section that the tune was "recorded but never released". If that tune is lying in a Columbia vault somewhere unreleased, that is truly a crime against trumpet fans.
Great renditions of Got The Spirit and Superbone Meets the Badman (featuring Tom Garling on valve trombone) were also performed. Stay Loose With Bruce/Morgan's Organ/Glen's Den was also performed, and Dave Mancini dubbed it "Frank's Tank."
Next, to the surprise of many of the fans in the crowd, Jay Chattaway was introduced. Long time fans will remember that Jay Chattaway (as a composer and arranger) was instrumental in shaping MF's sound in the 70s. For example, he co-wrote several tunes on the Conquistador album and even arranged "Gonna Fly Now" for MF. Jay got up and told a great story about a very spiritual piece of Indian-tinged jazz that he and Maynard wrote for the Conquistador album, until a young Columbia Records executive suggested that they go see this "great new movie". On a whim, they arranged the theme from Rocky and recorded it instead of the Indian tune, and jazz history was made. Jay mentioned that they also recorded the theme from Star Trek on that album, which came full circle for him because he's been writing music for Star Trek for the last 14 years. Jay then conducted the alumni band through a brand new Maynard-ized arrangement of Happy Birthday.
Stan Mark provided another show-stealing moment with his performance. Before he played, he spoke a bit about his (almost) 10 years on the band, and how they were some of the happiest times of his career. He expressed gratitude for all of the things he learned from Maynard, both professionally and personally. He read a couple of birthday letters to Maynard, and then played an absolutely gorgeous trumpet arrangement of The Way We Were. His tone was gigantic and warm, and we were on our feet with the last note. Stan was clearly emotional, and his sincerity and love for Maynard were truly touching.
The climax for Maynard fans came at the end of the show, when the band played a version of the MF Hit Medley, including Chameleon (featuring all of the trumpets playing at the mic and some killer Rick Petrone bass), MacArthur Park, and Hey Jude, which allowed all of the trumpets to spread out throughout the audience. I'll tell you what, off of the mic, some of these guys have POWER and VOLUME. Carl Fischer's sound was gigantic, filling up the entire club. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about Carl's playing. I've never found any trumpet player on Maynard's band to be as interesting to listen to as Carl is. I'm absolutely engrossed in every solo that Carl plays. The best way to describe it is to say that I continue to forget that he can really scream in the upper register. When the band was out playing Hey Jude, Carl sounded like it was absolutely no big deal to play that ridiculously high melody line. It was loud and clear without a mic. But I never think of him as someone who has that kind of range because he's just such a great soloist. He's one of the most well-rounded trumpet players that Maynard has ever had on the band. That's not to slight any of the other players there that night. Alan Wise and Mark Van Cleave had no trouble peeling the paint off the walls during that tune, either. At the end of Hey Jude, all of the trumpets on the floor played the melody line in unison, and it was like nothing I've ever heard. There were probably 8 or 9 trumpets out at that time, and it was something to behold. Again, Alan Wise was a standout in the section, handling many of Maynard's parts in the section, with a gigantic fat tone in the upper register.
After it was all said and done, and the fans were dazed, Maynard and Big Bop Nouveau took the stage for a surprise performance. They played a couple of songs and we were all reminded why MF is called The Boss. The fans couldn't have asked for a more appropriate birthday celebration for the Boss. The show and atmosphere were great, and I had the opportunity to meet many fans who were familiar with the web site, including fans who traveled from Virginia, California, Maryland, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, The Northwest Territories (near Alaska), Japan, and even Thailand (way to go Rusty!). It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I didn't waste it. I made sure to meet as many legends as possible, and was a little surprised at how approachable and friendly they all were. Stan Mark and Alan Wise were extremely personable, and it was a great joy to be able to tell them how much I've enjoyed their recordings with Maynard over the years. It was also great to be able to see Tom Garling and Carl Fischer again, two of my all time favorite Maynard alums.
Thanks again to Frank Vardaros for the blood, sweat and tears that were sacrificed in order to make this event happen. I will never forget it.