Friday, November 23, 2012

Jazz comes over the Blue Horizon - by George A. Borgman

A bit of old New Orleans is featured every Friday evening at the Foundry in the Liberty Village Mall, Route 27, Walpole
Exactly at 8:30, Stan McDonald raises his soprano saxophone or clarinet to the playing position, he stamps his left foot to the snappy tempo - counting out loud, "One, two, three, four" - and the Blue Horizon Jazz Band hits the downbeat of its first tune of the evening. 
Everyone plays a few bars together, and then the frontliners begin taking solos - first, McDonald, followed by the trumpet and trombone, each instrument providing counterpoint to the soloist's melodic line, while the rhythm section, piano, banjo, bass and drums keeps a steady beat. 
Jazz fans come from all over New England to enjoy the traditional jazz and early swing and the restaurant's fine cuisine. 
The diners and the bar patrons have a good view of the band, and there is an area for dancing. The acoustics in the high-ceilinged room are excellent. 
Bandleader McDonald, whose daytime job is Liberty Director at Framingham State College, is considered to be one of the best reedmen in the world. He is a disciple of Sidney Bechet, the famous soprano saxophonist and the clarinetist from New Orleans. 
Stan McDonald & George A. Borgman
According to Alan C. Weber, who wrote the notes for the band's 1982 record album, it is the "consensus that no living reedman plays so effectively in the Bechet manner - full, rich, tone, pronounced vibrato and long, lyrical melodic lines." 
McDonald led the New Orleans Jazz Doctors from 1954 until 1960 and also performed with the New Orleans Six and the Historic Jazz Band. 
In 1971, he was one of the founders of the New Black Eagles Jazz Band. He travelled with that group to festivals throughout the United States and Europe. He made numerous recordings with them. He left the Black Eagles and formed BHJB in 1981. 
Trumpeter Walter Miller, with a Harvard Ph.D. in anthropology and a retired expert in street-gang sociology, is a trad jazz purist of the Louis Armstrong school. 
Miller played trumpet with Buck Clayton in Paris, Lil Armstrong and Lee Collins in Chicago, and J. C. Higginbotham on the college circuit. In Boston, he performed with bands at such clubs as Storyville, Savoy, and Mahogany Hall, and he was also in the Historic Jazz Band with McDonald. 
Miller has been with the band since 1982, when McDonald talked him into coming out of the musical retirement.
McDonald and Miller also do vocals. McDonald's vocal style is reminiscent of Jack Teagarden's. He does well on "You're Such An Ugly Child" and Jelly Roll Morton's "Don't You Leave Me Here." Miller enjoys singing "After You're Gone" and "Sweet Lorraine." He is particularly good on "Makin' Whoopee." 
Retired engineer Ken Parsons, the trombonist, is a self-taught musician. He sometimes played in McDonald's Jazz Doctors in the 1950s and also played with traditional and contemporary jazz groups in central Massachusetts before joining BHJB a couple of years ago. 
Pianist Phil Hower has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and is research director at an electronics firm. 
Hower played with groups on the West Coast in the sixties, and he had his own quartet in San Francisco. He later played at bars in Pittsburgh before moving to Boston, where he developed a good reputation as an authentic trad jazz pianist. He joined BHJB in 1983. 
Royce Anderson, also a Ph.D., who teaches marketing  at the Graduate School of Management, Clark University, Worcester, came on board with BHJB as a guitarist about a year ago. He formerly played the blues, folk music and bluegrass on the guitar, but recently converted to a six-string banjo. 
"It's just like playing the guitar," Anderson explained. "I sometimes bring a guitar to a gig, but the banjo has that nice, percussive sound. There were some banjos with six strings back in the early jazz days. Johnnie St. Cyr played one in Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven." 
Swiss-born Hans Brack, the youngest member of the group, is taking a Ph.D. in chemistry at Brown University. He played bass with several bands in Boston before joining BHJB in 1985. 
Drummer Don Russell, a machinist, joined the group in April. He said, "I don't like at all what is called jazz today, but I've always loved this music. I like happy people, I like happy music and I like the New Orleans jazz." 
BHJB played steady gigs at Ephraim's in Sudbury, Bogart's Milford, and the Sherborn Inn. It has had many one-nighters, including the Sticky Wicket in Hopkinton, the Jazz Revival in Beverly and in Cambridge at the Regatta Bar of the Charles Hotel. 
The band was featured at the Manassas Jazz Festival in Virginia in 1984, the Downeast Jazz Festival in Camden, Maine, in 1988 and in 1990 at the Pennsylvania Jazz Society's celebration of the 100th anniversary of jazz. 
Through the years, BHJB has issued a cassette and two record albums. A CD is currently in the works.  

(George A. Borgman is a freelance writer.) - The Daily Transcript, October 24, 1991.

Stan McDonald and his Blue Horizon Jazz Band is still playing up a storm. George's widow and son Eric went to see them play at the Sherborn Inn on November 20th! Apart from band members not much has changed with McDonald and his music.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Boston Jazz Chronicles

George's article, "Boston's Grand Old Man of Jazz," about Sabby Lewis, which was printed in The Mississippi Rag in 1994 was cited in the bibliography of the 2012 book; The Boston Jazz Chronicles.

The author of the book, Richard Vacca, spent seven years researching the Boston jazz scene for the period between 1937 to 1962. For more information on the book check out Troy Street Publishing.

When George A. Borgman relocated to the Boston area after retiring from the military he started hearing about the jazz pianist Sabby Lewis. Firstly, from his wife Janet who grew up in Dorchester and would hear his band on the radio and secondly from New England area musicians.
George enventually caught up with Sabby; went to his performances; interviewed him; talked with him on the phone, and would end up absolutely adoring him. He commented that he, "cried when he died." Sabby Lewis passed away in July of 1994 shortly before the story about him was published in The Mississippi Rag.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"The Bench" - Lost Film

Here is a "lost" silent film segment from the feature comedy film The Man in the Movie in which George actually played two roles. That of a silent comedy "heavy" and/or "drunk" and a cranky movie theater patron.

In this segment I call The Bench George appears as the silent comedian who's had one too many. He basically made up his actions on the spot.

This film was shot on the corner of the Boston Public Garden. At one point a bus load of Japanese tourists stopped at the light at the corner. The tourists saw George playing his part and what seemed like a hundred cameras began clicking away! He used to proudly say that pictures of him were all over Japan.

Also featured in this film are George's son Eric Peter McClymer who plays the man who finds the money and Gregory DiGregorio the one who sits of Eric's coat tail.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Mississippi Rag - November 2007 Issue

The November 2007 issue of The Mississippi Rag is the second to last issue ever printed.

In it can be found an examination of some popular trombonists Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Miff Mole, George Brunis, Cutty Cutshall, Lou McGarity, and Brad Gowans.

Joe Boughton's annual star–studded Jazz at Chautauqua is covered in a photo display, and ragtime pianist, ex-Soviet citizen, Larisa Migachyov is interviewed.

Two great British jazz festivals, Whitley Bay and Keswick Jazz Festivals, are also, extensively covered as well as an in depth film analysis by William Schafer, of the 1986 independent jazz film, "The Gig," which feastured Warren Vache, Jr.

George's Yankee Jazz Beat column is located on page 28.

Here is the November 2007 online edition of The Mississippi Rag. November 2007 Excerpt from the film The Gig.