Photo by Aiden Grant
It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got Vince’s swing
As music industry icons of the jazz age who keep the sound jumping in the here and now, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks whale out the big swing sounds on recent 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s films like Woody Allen’s “Café Society.” Giordano’s exquisite scores were also the lyrical tiara topping off HBO’s Boardwalk Empire for five years, (the show’s first soundtrack won him and the band a Grammy – he acted and performed in the series as well as in several films).
You can get your arms around Giordano’s big sound of joy when he and his kick-it-out-of-the-box band, 11 musicians, with Judy Carmichael as special guest, perform on April 20 at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Along with Allen and Martin Scorcese, (“The Aviator”) his many film music collaborations also include the new Amazon series, “Z: The Beginning of Everything” about Zelda Fitzgerald and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” (Broadway baby Sutton Foster recorded with Vince and the band.) The multi-talented musician who plays bass sax, tuba and double bass, is also a musical curator for these periods, meticulously storing vintage recordings and memorabilia as well as over 3,000 piano rolls, 31,000 pieces of sheet music and 60,000 band arrangements in his two homes.
He lives in one and stores most of his collection next door in another.
The Brooklyn native and resident was recently featured in the documentary “Vince Giordano – There’s a Future in the Past,” an hour and a half film that probes his life on the road and dedication to preserving the upbeat, glorious music of the times that lifted people’s spirits during the Depression and a World War. Giordano recently spoke to the Long Island Advance by phone.
Long Island Advance: I understand young people make up your audiences as much as the older audience.
Vince Giordano: We’ve had a lot of young people coming to the band over the years and there’s been a renaissance with this music with a lot of young musicians from Canada and Los Angeles to play traditional jazz and early swing. I feel the young people are coming to this because it’s not their parent’s music or their grandparent’s but great their great grandparent’s music, so that seems to be where the rebellious resistance stops.
LIA: Talk about what happens when you start playing, I suspect it’s like a musical avalanche. You begin, draw in the crowd, they start nodding, then wiggling in their seats, dancing out of place.
VG: The music we play is jazz related music but the word jazz means a lot of different things to different people. It’s over 150 years old. So it can be ragtime Dixieland, ragtime jazz. I feel the jazz we play reaches people because they can grab the melody. The rythms are fun and syncopated and not overwhelming and when we play we try to put people in a good mood because they come to be entertained and uplifted. We get a lot of comments like `when we came here we weren’t feeling so great and then after an evening with you and being with other people we got in a better mood’ and also, `this is better than going to a psychiatrist.’
LIA: During that era, everyone could have pulled the cover over their eyes and stayed there. What made these musicians gather and reach out?
VG: Watching the old films from that time, people were different. They were very excited about life and they hadn’t done everything yet and grabbed onto every piece of fad that was out there. It was just the way people were. The only thing keeping you home then was the radio, there was no television or Netflix and you went out to socialize. It was part of the whole culture, you had a good time, there were dances, you went to a bar, restaurant, club. With the Depression, people had to cut back but I think the music was what got people through. They had these songs, they were there to entertain or make people forget, like there’s a new day coming, not to get religious, but it was like that. So people sought out entertainment as an escape. Not only was the music fantastic but also the illusions on the screen. I’m just blown away because they didn’t have technical machines and did it all. Folks had less but they really had more.
LIA: What instruments make up a jazz band?
VG: Our band is made up of 11 men, sometimes there’s a lady in there. It’s more of a small dance orchestra. We have two trumpets and a trombone, three saxophone players and they double on clarinets and a guy who plays a violin also plays C soprano sax and sometimes we have four for the rhythm section, a person who plays piano who doubles on guitar, a banjo player and a drummer. I play the tuba and bass sax. Judy (Carmichael) is the producer of the show and is producing the jazz series and will be sitting in on a few numbers
LIA: I read that you were drawn to the music when your grandparents dragged out the Victrola on holidays and played old 78s. You were growing up in the 1950s then.
VG: It’s been close to 60 years ago that I remembered listening to that music; my grandmother had 2,000 old recordings some people left from previous parties. My grandparents had moved on to later music but my parents would peek in on me and ask `why are you playing this?’ but I was also influenced by coming home listening to the music from “The Little Rascals,” and the Warner Brothers cartoons, they were playing that syncopated music. I would hear it from friends `oh there he goes with that Little Rascal music or cartoon music.’ But those were the things that kept my inspiration. It was a fight. It wasn’t old enough. If I went after Mozart, it would have been different, but the attitude was `he’s into this roaring 20s music,’ so it wasn’t a comfortable life.
LIA: Talk about one of the musical greats you spoke to
VG: A fellow who lived on Long Island in Massapequa, Bill Challis, I studied with him as a teen. He was in the 70s and worked with big bands from 1920s to the 1940s like Paul Whiteman’s, Artie Shaw’s, Bix Beiderbecke’s. He knew all these great musicians when they weren’t household names. He was a very humble fellow and our Saturday lessons were one hour of theory and two hours of recollections and advice, of things that happened to him in the business, people who went down the wrong path, so I learned a lot from him.
LIA: First time in Patchogue?
VG: Yes. We haven’t played Long Island too often. We did play the opening of the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. Judy has an arranger and he’ll put together a couple of tunes. We’ll get together to rehearse at the theater early.
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