Local Rhythms – Bad Government

I try to stay away from politics in this space.  But a recent announcement compels me to go once again into the breach.

It’s no secret that big media interests like the RIAA and the MPAA pay handsomely for elected representatives to do their bidding.  Judging by the results, they’re getting a bargain. 

Since the mid-90’s, Congress passed a flurry of laws designed to strengthen their hand.  Thus empowered, their lawyers file lawsuits with reckless abandon; persuade Internet companies to spy on their customers and more. 

Recently, they got Comcast to block ALL peer-to-peer traffic, good or bad.   

These culture mavens spend more time in courtroom than the recording studio.  Therein lies the problem.  Suing teenagers and degrading broadband quality isn’t going to win many hearts and minds

Enter our government, with a solution to this vexing public relations problem. 

I can just picture the meeting that led to the “Intellectual Property Enforcement Act,” introduced last week in the U.S. Senate:

“See, the problem is we do all this work, and then everybody hates us.” 

“What if we could get federal lawyers to do it for us?”

“Yeah – no one likes the government anyway.” 

“It’ll cost us less, too. Boffo!”

That’s this bill in a nutshell.  It creates a special division of the FBI to go after media-mad miscreants.  The Justice Department is then responsible for filing cases and collecting damages.   

But copyright crime’s bad, you say.  They should be going after these guys.  Well, they do – in criminal court.  Where, coincidentally, fines aren’t assessed.

Bereft of new ideas, these guys are only interested in refining old ones.  Ever wonder why there are so many sequels and reunion tours?  There you go. 

The bill’s a rehash, too.  Essentially the same legislation failed three years ago, when it was called the PIRATE Act.

Even the Justice Department doesn’t like it.  “These cases are hard to win,” they said of the PIRATE Act, “and besides, don’t we have better things to do?  Like, uh, I don’t know – terrorism?” 

Lest anyone think I’ve an ideological axe to grind, I’ll remind you this is a bipartisan bill – Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX) signed it.  It’s equal opportunity stupidity.

This law needs to be shut down faster than a bad movie. 

On to more entertaining subjects:

Thursday: Cold River Ranters, Sophie & Zeke’s – This band should fill a void left when the Spiral Farm Band stopped performing.  They call their music “hot gonzo primitive folk jive.”  If Leon Redbone shared a moonshine-soaked night with Daisy Dukes, their love child would sound like this.  I haven’t seen them live (they’re on yellowhousemedia.com), but I’ve gotten emails telling me they’re a must-see. 

Friday:  Upper Valley Bluegrass Festival, Lebanon Opera House – It’s a great weekend to be an Americana fan.  Tonight, mandolin wizard Sam Bush shares the stage with the Greencards, who feature Nickel Creek-like harmonies.  Tomorrow, Del McCoury picks and grins, while Crooked Still reinvents songs from the public domain.  Sadly, the show is Rushad Eggleston’s second to last with the band.  Tristan Clarridge will replace him on cello and Brittany Haas will join on fiddle next month.

Saturday: Lisa McCormick, New England Youth Theatre (Brattleboro) – One critic said of this Vermont singer-songwriter, “in a perfect world, she’d be the talk of the town.”  With her latest, “Talisman Groove,” she may get that chance, with top flight players like T-Bone Wolk helping out. Tonight, she celebrates the release with a full band show (typically, she’s solo).  Her songs are smart, edgy and hum-able. 

Sunday: Juke Joynt, Parker House – Take one part Foghat and one part Buddy Guy, mix it with a bodacious X factor that results from the chemistry of three players who do itinerant in several other local bands, and you have Juke Joynt.  Dave Clark, Jed Dickinson and
Terry Diers focus on original music that channels the blues when they were real and classic rock before it got cheesy.

Monday: B.J. Thomas, Billy Joe Royal, Verizon Wireless Arena – This is a benefit for the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire (PFFNH), called “Raindrops and Boondocks.”  Of course, the first refers to Thomas’s biggest hit, though I’m partial to “Eyes of A New York Woman,” and the second is a reference to Royal’s “Down in the Boondocks.”  Most folks know the song, not the name.  Tickets are a reasonable $20, which is why I’m breaking my arena ban – plus it’s for a good cause. 

Tuesday: Tegan & Sara, Calvin Theatre – I don’t know what to call this quirky pair – “punk folk? Whatever – they sport an infectious sound, with bouncing rhythms and popping harmonies.  You probably haven’t heard them on the radio, but they’ve been all over TV shows like One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy and Veronica Mars.  They even appeared as themselves on “The L Word” – most bands are content to be on the soundtrack.

Bill Wightman – For the Love of the Gig

In the summer of 1992, Bill Wightman and his friend Rink Mann hatched the idea for “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon.”  They were hoping to re-create the atmosphere of the great New York jazz clubs during the heyday of bebop, when performers like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald reigned supreme.

Rink was in a band and Wightman, a Berklee grad and longtime area pianist, was recruiting players to jam with.  “I was into jazz, but I wasn’t doing only jazz,” says Wightman.  “Rink said, ‘let’s make it only jazz.’” 

“It was slow starting,” Wightman says.  “We were doing it because we loved it.”

16 years down the road, the venues have changed – from its start the Lake Sunapee Country Club to a five-year run at the Newport Opera House, to JOSA’s current home, the Center at Eastman.   

But for Wightman – musician, teacher and jazz lover – the story remains the same.

“I’m doing this for me, and all the musicians that I work with.  I’m not making a lot of money,” he says.  “I do it to play.” 

In keeping with the session spirit that spawned the series, Wightman’s house band, the JOSA Ensemble, has changed and evolved over the years.

The current lineup – John Hunter on bass, percussionist Tim Gilmore and reed man/flutist Richard Gardzina, with Wightman on piano – has the requisite instincts to follow a wide-ranging vocalist like Shawnn Monteiro, an inventive horn player like Greg Abate or a dynamic duo like saxophone player Fred Haas and singer Sabrina Brown (all of whom will perform during the current season).  

“They’re just so solid and dependable,” says Wightman.  “The variable is that we play with people we’ve never played with before, the featured artist. So to have a real solid rhythm section is a real advantage.”

Such sentiments also motivate him in his day to day life. 

Wightman taught off and on for 10 years at Proctor Academy; now he’s their full-time music director.  In that role, he’s shepherded students to Boston’s Berklee School of Music, his alma mater. More important, he’s refined what he calls an “experiential” method of music instruction.

“If art becomes academic, it’s no longer art,” he says. During his classes, “we jam, we get a groove going.  We listen to each other.  Do I conduct? Yeah, to get them going, but then I step out of the way.” 

“I do a lot with improvisation, and with understanding … the chordal structure of a song, as opposed to just giving them a sheet with notes on it,” he says.  “We work on what is the form, how do you solo.  Everybody solos; everyone has a lot of fun with it.”

The goal is to help each student find their place in the group, and “communicate through playing,” says Wightman. 

“That’s what I’m teaching, and is in fact the joy of playing music.”

JOSA’s season opener brings together these many threads.   Al Alessi, who also opened last year, is a longtime collaborator of Wightman’s.   This time around, Alessi is bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who’s making her marquee debut.  The 16-year vocalist, however, has performed quite a bit, performing with her dad’s band, and also singing with Wightman. 

“She sang at JOSA at the Opera House,” said Wightman as the pair sat down following their regular first Friday appearance at Sophie & Zeke’s in Claremont.

“She scatted with Lady Eve and was right next to Big Joe (Burrell),” notes Alessi, adding that the then-12 year old “had a lot of composure on stage, and some real interesting young chops.”   

Wightman compares her to a young Norah Jones; he asked her to play JOSA after backing her during a fundraiser in Woodstock, Vermont.

“She was fabulous, really quite something,” he says.  “We had a great rapport together.” 

Al pointed out that “Biz” (her nickname) was busy finding her muse these days. She’s writing songs on the piano and working with a voice coach, and she recently discovered Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” period.  She wasn’t exactly keen on sharing the stage with Dad. 

“She’s probably regretting that she said she’d do this,” Alessi says, “but Bill asked her and she can’t say no to Bill.” 

“We might do a duet,” Al says.

Responds Wightman, “well, I hope so.” 

Al laughs it off.  “We might do “Cheek to Cheek” – Louis and Ella did that,” he says.  “We’ll come up with something.  Maybe, if she wants to.  I’m not gonna force it.”

Wightman smiles, looking sure that Alessi & Alessi’s performance will go without a hitch. 

He’s asked, “Is this the youngest featured performer you’ve had at JOSA?”

“Yes, I think it is,” he answers – at least with their name on the program.  For years, Wightman’s extended an open invitation to anyone with the gumption to get up on stage and jam, regardless of age.  

“That is one of the things about JOSA, it invites young people, any age, to sit in,” he says.  “For the audience, it’s just a major hit.”

It’s also a sweet deal, he says.  “If you come to play you get in free. It’s really a good place for kids to get experience with top notch musicians.  My guys are really good with kids.” 

Casting aside riches to excite musical discovery has always been a big part of Bill Wightman’s philosophy.  It’s what’s kept JOSA vital all these years.

Says Wightman: “I never went after the money. I went after the gig.” 

JOSA Returns December 9

The 16th annual Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon series commences December 9, and runs every other week through April 6 (except for a 3-week break after Christmas).

The shows are held at Bistro Nouveau at Eastman.  The restaurant’s award-winning appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts will be available for all performances, which begin at 4.

This season’s lineup includes familiar faces from past years, along with some exciting newcomers.   

Dec. 9             Al and Elizabeth Alessi – Jazz Vocalist & Entertainer and his talented   daughter. making her JOSA debut
Dec. 23          Jody Ebling – Captivating Jazz Vocalist
Jan. 13           Greg Abate – International Saxophonist
Jan. 27           Fred Haas & Sabrina Brown – Saxophonist & Vocalist Extraordinaire
Feb. 10           Cercie Miller – Jazz Saxophonist 
Feb. 24           Tiger Okoshi – International Trumpeter
Mar. 9             Shawnn Monteiro – International Vocalist
Mar. 23           Steve Marvin – Jazz Vocalist & Entertainer (Easter Show)
Apr. 6              Richie Cole – World-Class Alto Saxophonist (Season Finale) 


All performers are backed by the JOSA Ensemble:


Pianist, Bill Wightman, from Sunapee, NH, is the Instrumental Music and Music Technology Director at Proctor Academy.  He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and, since the mid 1970s, has been performing, teaching, directing and producing in music and theatre both in education and for the public throughout New England and New York.  

Bassist, John Hunter from the Portsmouth, NH area has performed from coast to coast accompanying such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson and Joe Williams to name a few.  His playing is always highly intuitive, his repertoire extensive, and he’s a great listener and all around human.  The Rockingham Gazette says, “[John is] fast emerging as one of the most respected bass soloists in the country.”

Percussionist, Tim Gilmore from Lebanon, NH, attended Berklee College of Music, and studied with both drum legends Max Roach and Alan Dawson.  Having performed with such jazz greats as Mary McPartland, Dick Johnson, and Warren Vache among others, Tim is a recipient of the Presidential Arts Scholarship.  He brings to JOSA an up-beat and delightful attitude, and is known for his occasional, intricate and sometimes epic (never to be missed) drum solos. 

Reedman and flutist, Richard Gardzina from Barnstead, NH, has a BA and MA. in music composition from both the University of North Texas and UNH.  His performances include dates in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New England with such jazz greats as Red Garland, David “Fathead” Newman, Little Feat, and “Blue” Lou Marini to name a few.  With two CD releases to his credit, Richard brings consistent freshness and innovation to JOSA with solos that support and compliment the performance of each featured artist.