This Place

Returning to my wife Ellie’s family farmstead always feels like a pilgrimage. 

It’s beautiful, to any eye; but singularly precious in how our family sees it.

The 1797 house sits in a hollow among rolling ridges, home to dairy farms, wild turkeys, prosperous weekending city folk and commuters to busier places, and to folks working hard out on the edge. It is home to far more cattle than people.

Coppery waters, streaked with silver, flow through it, racing or wandering to the Mohawk. Its roads, now, are in full flow also, with roaring trucks large and small carrying silage and cut corn from fields stripped to stubs, revealing wooded hills the tall stalks masked all summer. 

The farms here are growing, consolidating, like every business. 

As the bigger ones get bigger, some smaller, faded ones find new life and energy in the busy hands of Amish families. They hang laundry on long lines from homes grown younger through repairs and paint, long deferred. They work wide fields with horse teams; their teenage boys race the roads in stripped down sulkies. They auction fruits, flowers and vegetables in a vast wide-roofed building where restaurateurs feed their menus, bidding quietly as a barker amplifies his offers in staccato shouts.

Ellie and I married on the lawn before that house, so did her brother Mark; her sister Trish married in the ca. 1835 church down the road; Nick Brignola’s jazz quartet played the reception, in the barn. Our daughter Pisie married in the same church, just before the plague changed everything.

One of the comforts of being here is the sense that some things have not changed much at all.

Farming has become more technological, though probably no less back-breaking. A retired teacher tutors the children of workers in a home that was old before they came here and the farm where they work grew to more than 1,000 cows.

My in-laws – maybe the greatest ever in that much maligned function – lie under a stone engraved with their names and dates, on a now-wooded hill overlooking the house.

Our son Zak watched the early-in-every-visit ritual when my father-in-law invited, “Would you have a scotch?” I would, and we would then enjoy the best conversation of that visit. Zak learned to drink scotch just for that, seeking that feeling of sitting down together and talking.

And we do.

The Nowadaga Creek runs behind the house, behind the barn. And last week, I placed there some ashes of my late and very great friend Greg Haymes. When his wife Sara gave me a slim, black paper packet of him, I knew there was only one place for him.

In this place. 

Walking around the block takes nearly an hour

No, this isn’t the church of our two family weddings; Sir William Johnson built this one three years before our family farmstead

This Place

Jazz on Jay No. 14: Joshua Nelson Quartet, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021

The music warmed up more than the weather Thursday as young alto saxophonist Joshua Nelson delivered a confident, crowd-pleasing straight-head show; not that there was anything wrong with the sunny afternoon, either.

The former Schenectady resident brought downstate band-mates, but happily greeted family, friends and mentors from the tented bandstand. 

In his first number, from his debut EP, Nelson displayed a pleasing tone but soon went from mild to wild. Throughout his 90-minute set, he resourcefully explored even the most mellow tunes to discover and express their excitement. Studying with saxophonists Brian Patneaude and Ralph Lalama, he emerged from SUNY Schenectady and SUNY Purchase with the full package as composer/arranger, soloist and accompanist and leader. His talent also confirmed how well the Jazz on Jay youth movement is working.

Nelson used repetition and scales to build tension in tunes from his “Live” EP and an album under construction. But his strongest playing Thursday – both most lyrical and most outside – came in the classic “Body and Soul.” 

First, however, imaginative originals earned applause on his solos and everybody’s, plus crisp old-friends unison playing. Like Nelson, pianist Jack Redsecker warmed into full flight in their opening number, and got to show off more than bassist Ronald Gardner and drummer Joshua Simpson. All were solid, at least; but the powerful way Simpson made a big sound from a small kit was a treat of invention and strength.

After the mid-tempo “Cadence” cruised in waltz-time, Gardner’s Latin ostinato built into “5/13” (the date Nelson wrote it), an early high point. Fiery piano fed directly into Nelson’s own solo, as if he came out of the elevator on the top floor, then kept climbing. 

Of course, the ambulance siren that distracted from the music screamed past on State Street during the quiet ballad “If You Love Something Enough,” but the band kept its momentum anyway. In Nelson’s solo we could hear the syllables of the title, as if sung as lyrics, and feel its emotion in the melody. 

Things climbed after that. Redsecker’s jaunty unaccompanied piano intro invited the band into a breezy mid-tempo tune where Nelson’s solo repeated riffs to get to the heart of things; it elevated from happy to joyful. Then Nelson played alone to introduce “Sunday” with a jagged cadence that resolved through cascading scales into a charming waltz.

Then came “Body and Soul,” slow and sweet from Redsecker’s stately piano intro to Nelson going all Charlie Parker to get deep into this classic.

His own mid-tempo “Portraits of a Smile” brought a strong finish including Simpson pumping at his funkiest at the drums and Nelson again building up and easing off in the shape of a pyramid.

Impresario/host Betsy Sandberg and fan Karen Ciancetta took turns shading Simpson from the sun as it migrated around to splash into the rear of the tent over the players. But the guy gave lots of heat and light himself in an upbeat, fun set.

Jazz on Jay concludes Thursday, Sept. 23 with tenor saxophonist Awan Rashad’s Quartet.

Jazz on Jay No. 11- Claire Daly Quartet

“Funk in the Deep Freeze” was a wishful thinking song title Thursday as baritone saxophonist Clalre Daly led three local heroes at Jazz on Jay, an over-heated endurance contest the band only narrowly won.

Playing baritone sax with any fluency at all takes as much lung power as it does arm strength to tote one. Filling that imposing heavy horn is hard work even in good weather. In the 90-degree heat and swampy humidity on Jay Street Thursday, the band had to take a break 40 minutes in “to dry off,” said the black-clad Daly, and they shortened their scheduled 90 minute set a bit. 

A 1980 Berklee grad, Daly fashions her playing and makes her song choices in a respectful way that reflects a love for 1950s hard-bop, pop, R&B and show tunes. She recorded a full album of Motown covers in 2016 and has guest-played with jazz traditionalists including George Garzone and Giacomo Gates but also with the eclectic bluesman Taj Mahal. 

Her opener “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and a name-that-tune challenge later,“Secret Love,” reached back to 1950s show-tunes. The locally-based band assembled for this show – pianist Wayne Hawkins, bassist Pete Toigo, drummer Michael Benedict – know that stuff inside out and started playing here in the big shadow of our own baritone sax giant Nick Brignola.

They were ready for this, in other words; so things fit and flowed.

Mostly, they launched from a straight-on statement of the melody, then Daly’s baritone or Hawkins’s piano soloed first in a round-robin journey before Daly brought things back home. In Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” – Daley dubbed this “a good idea” – a jagged odd-time intro flowed into a groove everybody rode. While “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” found Daly reaching into her upper register, she went the other way into authoritative low-down runs “Let’s Cool One.” After Hawkins soloed and Benedict and Toigo swapped fours, Daly re-stated the main melody. 

In Garzone’s raffish “Chooch” – Daly said she was tending bar in Boston’s Michael’s Pub the night Garzone introduced it there – respect didn’t immediately translate into expression. Early on, she seemed uncertain as to what she wanted to do with it. In short order, she found her direction and soon everybody was cooking on the same recipe.

Hawkins was especially sharp in “Secret Love,” crisp in a Latin arrangement with Benedict’s cymbals moving things along toward Daly’s high-register arpeggios at the recap.

Daly cited the multi-reeds-at-once fireworks of Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a leading light. She introduced Kirk’s wandering “Theme for the Eulipions” with exposed solo-sax runs before the band came into this space-bossa with her and helped it sing.

“Funk in the Deep Freeze” strolled easy into happy bebop, running through stop-and-go cadences before a spiky return to where they started.

Only one full-slow ballad eased things: the venerable “I Want to Talk About You” – built, Daly said, by Billy Eckstine on the “Misty” chords. Wherever it came from, it felt sweet, though maybe too short.

Hawkins varied the tone, attack and decay of his notes throughout, shaping the feel. While Benedict’s band features bassist Mike Lawrence, he and Toigo were rock-solid Thursday in straight-ahead tunes, reconstructed show tunes and the hard-bop energy everybody on the bandstand likes – and easily sold to the subdued, overheated crowd.

The Jazz on Jay series of free noontime shows continues Thursday, Sept. 2 with guitarist Joe Finn and his Quartet. 

Mister Charlie

The Immaculate Percussion

Until recently, I greeted news of every death with the hope that it wasn’t COVID. This was a strange superstition about how our dreaded plague somehow drowned out the possibility of anything else deadly happening around here.

Not so, obviously.

Am I more pissed off that John Prine died of COVID than that Charlie Watts died, at all? 

I truly don’t know. Both hurt.

Charlie’s passing hit hard. 

For context, the first show-biz death I truly mourned was Nat King Cole, Feb. 15, 1965; and I never got to see him sing except on black and white TV.

I’ve only seen three Rolling Stones shows; and the last one, at Albany’s Times Union Center in Sept. 2005, was by far the best. 

That was right after Charlie beat throat cancer, and relief at this reprieve uplifted the whole band. That feel, that unified force they projected, proved how central he was to their sound, their energy, their power.

In all three of those shows, though, Keith visibly relied on Charlie not just for the groove but for everything. He often drifted back on the stage to stand facing Charlie and away from the audience. He’d sync his rhythm guitar slams with Charlie’s snare or kick-drum, deep in the pocket. 

Imagine digging the Grand Canyon with two hands and two feet: That’s what Charlie did, every night.

Charlie, Ringo, Earl Palmer from New Orleans then the Wrecking Crew in LA and Clyde Stubblefield in James Brown’s band; those guys are IT in rock and roll drumming.

Music Haven Reopens in Shortened Season of Free Concerts

Bluesman Albert Cummings Rocks the (happy) House, Wyld Blu Opens

Each concert venue reopening in this second plague year brings its own particular joy – a general feeling of relief and reunion, but spiced with its own particular atmosphere and energy.

At Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park Sunday night, it was diversity, dancing and an almost dizzying uplift of shared exultation. We were together again, in a well-loved place. I met folks I hadn’t seen since the last show there, two summers ago.

Before Wyld Blu started the music, impresario Mona Golub started the feeling. She issued a happy welcome, thanked the series sponsors, encouraged raffle-ticket buying and announced this was her birthday party. Also mine, but I digress. Her father Neil interrupted in the best possible way, presenting her a bouquet and birthday wishes, there at the mic – but the show was a gift to all of us.

Shrugging off some opening-night nerves, Wyld Blu set the table with a feast of mostly mid-tempo shuffles. They played blues as good time tunes, revved to blow away bad times with rocking riffs. 

The quartet twice represented our region at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and was Blues Artist of the Year at the 2019 Eddy Awards (when I won as Music Journalist of the Year, but I digress). So they hit the stage with growing confidence in their original tunes, sturdy songs welded together of familiar elements in western boogie, big-city R&B and crunchy power glide grooves.

Alana Wyld sang center stage in tall boots, wyld (excuse me) hair and fuzzy scarf behind a guitar she kept busy with spiky solos and supportive chording under Rick Surrano’s harp honks and wails. Longtime drummer Phil Nestor locked on the one with (new) bassist Mike Persico. “Set Me Free” peaked their 45-minute opener, simmering from an easy amble, slower than most of their tunes and with a good Wyld guitar solo. But then an upshift into their more customary shuffle tempo brought an even better one.

By his second song, sweat gleamed in the V of headliner Cummings’s western shirt, and he sang without words as if the feel out-ran his lyrics. While Wyld Blu played things fairly short to introduce as many original songs as possible, Cummings put the stretch on. 

Looking like a beefier Woody Harrelson under a black stingy-brim, he took his tunes to the gym and worked them hard. Like Wyld Blu, he built his songs of time-tested materials. And he declared his intentions right up front, in the blistering blast of “I’ve Got Feelings Too.” Like the essential paradox that singing the blues makes you feel less blue, this statement of vulnerability was as much muscle as misery. And his solo speared into outer space, past the half moon peaking through the clouds.

Cummings also made moves to engage the (very big) crowd. He rewarded an impromptu singalong in his opening number with a second solo that soared higher than the first, gas on the fire.

“Barrel-House Blues” rolled and rolled, stretching so fast and far it seemed to cause doubt for a minute. “You guys OK with this?” he asked. Again, he took spark from his fans’ applause, climbing behind the wheel of “500 Miles” to drive and drive, singing of a hoped-for reunion. 

Drummer Warren Grant really revved here, coiling on his stool like a cobra, grinning in incandescent glee that powered shoulder-high snare shots. Bassist Scott Sutherland played less flashy all night, maybe one note for every five, or fifty, Cummings blasted into the night; but they were the right notes. Son Zak recognized before I did when Cummings solo drifted out of his lane like an over-excited trucker into Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do.” Cummings explained he’d been recording at Frampton’s Nashville studio. 

For all the happy anticipation of “500 Miles” and the jokey moment of “Feel,” Cummings sang most often of betrayal, of love shaken by disillusionment.

Things got fierce in “Cry Me a River” and “Up Your Sleeve.” In these (and other) tunes, Cummings steered closest to the aggressive open-road Texas styles of Freddie King (the “Texas Cannonball”), Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose debut album was “Texas Flood”) and ZZ Top (self-styled “Lil’ Ol’ Band from Texas”). Cummings clearly likes those hot-pavement highways and this helped carry everybody with him.

Cummings hailed Glenville-based blues journalism giant Don Wilcock (first editor I ever wrote for, but I digress), crediting him for early career support and encouragement. Check Don’s review of the show on

As usual, mega-fan Steve Nover was among the first to filter up front through the crowd to dance among the photographers clustered below the stage. Soon others joined in, alone, in pairs and clusters. By the time Cummings closed with the obvious but compelling declaration “Blues Make Me Feel So Good,” folks filled the space between stage and seats. 

He sent us home hoping he’d given us “something to take home that you can keep.” This seemed to work just fine as happy people picked up chairs and remnants of picnics and headed home through the cool dark.

Liraz Charhi, who performs as Liraz, continues the Music Haven concert series on Sunday, Aug. 22. The Iranian (by way of Israel) singer-actress combines the musics of both homelands on two albums; “Zan” (Persian for “women”) is the latest. On these projects she collaborated with Iranian musicians clandestinely, as they are barred from working with Israelis. The Palestinian instrumentalist Firas Zreik, now based in Brooklyn, opens. He plays the many-stringed harp- or dulcimer-like kanun.

Jazz on Jay No. 9 – The Dadtet Thursday, August 12

They’re all dads: trombonist/leader Ben O’Shea, pianist David Gleason, saxophonists Brian Patneaude (tenor) and Dave Fisk (tenor and alto), bassist Mike Lawrence; and drummer Andy Hearn.

Their Dadtet band name signifies parenthood more than any oblique reference to Louis “Pops” Armstrong. It serves instead as a convenient, collective marquee label for these established area jazz cats. A prior name, the Ben O’Shea Quintet, confused a woman who came to a gig expecting an Irish St. Patrick’s Day vibe.

However, she stayed for most of that gig, just as everybody stayed for the Dadtet’s Jazz on Jay show Thursday under a pounding sun. And they did play “Summertime,” a song Satchmo famously recorded with Ella Fitzgerald.

Four of the dads – O’Shea, Gleason, Patneaude and Fisk – played regularly with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble before it went on hiatus during the plague. In Pray’s 17-piece crew, all adopted workmanlike personas. Thursday, however, O’Shea flexed his funny bone at times in a relaxed and self-deprecating way. 

This gave the noontime gig a cool, easy feel; not because it was too hot to play fast or hard but because the guys shared the confident flair of walking through the tunes together, swinging everything.

Meanwhile, fans arriving for the show fled the sun’s hot glare for the shady side of Jay Street.

“Summertime,” indeed.

The Dadtet’s slow, dramatic early-set take on this classic featured strong solos by Fisk, whose statement of the familiar melody launched from a higher register than usual; Gleason, with an energetic rhythmic authority, and Patneaude running the changes with his typical grace and aplomb. O’Shea modestly soloed last, and with clarity and drive, before Fisk took the tune back to the head.

“Summertime” followed “Filthy McNasty,” one of the great song titles and first song by or about Horace Silver in the Dadtet’s mostly upbeat, hard-bop-inspired set. O’Shea took the lead here in a mid-tempo swing mood that built like a storm surge to crest then signal short swapping riffs that set each player in turn against Hearn’s drums. Unshielded by the tent over the rest of the Dadtet, Hearn was rescued from the sun by Jazz on Jay chief Betsy Sandberg or one of her volunteers, holding a beach umbrella over the otherwise melting percussionist.

“Ladybird” kept things breezy; another swing-time stroll where Patneaude especially shone but Lawrence also made the most of his first solo of the day; again, solos flowed before riff-swaps stacked up brisk and brash short cameos.

After “Summertime” came “In Walked Horace” by J.J. Johnson – O’Shea made sure to let us know the composer was also an eminent trombonist – where Fisk’s alto led the way but section playing sparkled, too. This brought smiles all around, on the bandstand as much as in the crowd.

(Saxophonist/trumpeter) Benny Carter’s “A Walking Thing” started almost like a reprise of “Summertime” in its sassy stroll beat that soon picked up heft as the soloists ganged up on it. This felt too short since it swung with such charm, especially when Gleason ping-pong’ed playfully with the horns.

Gleason intro’ed “What Is This Thing Called Love” as a brash bossa blast, but O’Shea gave this chestnut its biggest push and highest polish and the all-in resolution really rocked the place. 

Then came blues-time in the well-paired “Blues in the Closet” of (bassist) Oscar Pettiford, then “Mo’ Bettah Blues” by (another bassist) Bill Lee for his son Spike’s film. In “Closet,” a walking bass line summoned first drums and piano then the horns, into a powerful swing-bus that picked up everybody. Patneaude was brilliant here, conducting a two-part conversation with himself. Slower and steady, “Mo’” mellowed things out in slow-drag fashion; low-pressure, maybe; but not low-energy.

They closed with (pianist) Horace Silver’s shimmering, simmering “Nutville,” a mid-tempo swing number like the earlier songs in the set. All the horns got good solos, then welded together in a brassy farewell.

Throughout, the soloists cooked quotes into the songs, as both spice and ingredients. The Dadtet not only knew the tunes in this 90-minute set inside out, they also knew how to distill, deconstruct and decant them into new containers.

The usual suspects showed up on Jay Street and had a fine time. That natty dude in black from shiny shoes to fedora set aside the Bible he’d been studying, tracing the words with his finger, to crouch before the band to shoot some video. A wiry woman of a certain age took over the dance floor all by herself in “In Walked Horace.” She had the moves and, like the band, she had the confidence, holding all eyes until she waved herself off as the crowd applauded. 

Jazz on Jay continues Thursday, Aug. 19 with the precocious (college student) saxophonist Henry Fernandez and his Quartet. 

Jazz on Jay No. 6 – Dylan Perrillo Quintet July 22

“Schenectady is a-a-a-a-ll right,” said Dylan Perrillo late in his quintet’s Jazz on Jay show Thursday. The sunny noontime concert was also very a-a-a-a-ll right. 

Perrillo said this without irony; the bassist-bandleader wields a wry wit and was often pretty funny at the announcer mic. But he clearly meant this, and he and his guys worked hard to make it so. While he brought serious respect to vintage tunes, he also showed a playful zest for reinventing them and for composing often terse tunes with strong flavors of his own.

He first served up Duke Ellington’s “C-Jam Blues” (later retitled “Duke’s Place” as longtime A Place for Jazz chief Tim Coakley confided at our table). The thing swung plenty, and the immediacy of its energy eclipsed altogether any sense of an antique museum piece. Alto sax-man Adam Siegel and pianist Tyler Giroux – he later grabbed his more familiar valve trombone at times – carried the solos capably. But guitarist Brad Brose, newly arrived from Paris, pumped the song to starting effect both in a fast-strum solo and comping behind his band-mates.

Playing an electrified acoustic guitar that could have come from Django Reinhardt’s caravan, Brose phrased aggressive accompaniment in the muscular but supportive style of Freddie Green in the Basie band. The resonance of his pleasing, organic sound came from the wood, not from his amp.

His two-chord vamp flowed from a fanfare start into Perrillo’s original ballad “A Pleasant Day on the Krumkill,” then Siegel guided his alto all the way to the top in feisty jabs that somehow never burst this cozy tune’s serene spirit.

In bassist-composer Charles Mingus’s swinging “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” Giroux grabbed his valve trombone, blended tight with Siegel’s sax in harmony statements through stop-and-go riffing, then got red-faced in a romp of a solo. Serene looking at the keyboard, Giroux went wild and wild-looking here. And, just as he’d responded to Brose’s guitar in “Krumkill,” Siegel reached convincingly for the high bar Giroux set here.

“Snowfall” – a favorite with both our own late, great Lee Shaw and rambunctious rock-jazz band NRBQ – got a beefier reading than customary for this Claude Thornhill classic. First it rocked, then it swung, with Giroux back at the keyboard and Siegel having fun.

Perrillo selected “Buckingham Pond” from his collected impressions of Albany green spaces, a short and sweet waltz, followed by another whose title I didn’t catch. Brose and Giroux shone on both. The leader announced his original ballad “Syracuse” depicted the one in Italy, a ballad so pretty I didn’t try to sort out if he was joking about the title. 

Teamwork was again key in “Tricotism,” Brose strong in zippy chords behind Siegel’s inventive sax lead. Then Perrillo took a questing, imaginative solo himself, adopting the freedom Siegel had just shown. The solos, by everybody, flowed so fast and seamlessly that Perrillo joked afterward that everybody got half a chorus. 

If Perrillo’s “Buckingham Pond” affectionately portrayed an Albany park in pastoral terms, his indignant “Homewrecker” dove deep into a way darker mood. Brose’s guitar emulated a mandolin to suggest the Italian character of “the Gut,” the working class neighborhood leveled to build the Empire State Plaza. They slowly, sadly mourned that destruction, then Siegel’s sax sang out hard anger. 

Back to the trombone for Giroux in “Caravan,” intro’ed first by a raucous drums clatter by the ever-steady and explosive-whenever-he-wanted Nick Anderson. Then Brose and Perrillo joined the fun before the horns climbed on this familiar theme. They did what everybody does with this classic: ride the riff together, then gallop off in all directions across the desert sands for solo jaunts. Everybody said their piece with panache, Giroux going all raspy.

While Siegel swung “Out of Nowhere” to graceful effect, Brose soloed every bit as well, completely unaccompanied while everybody else laid out; then he and Perrillo traded short riffs, really swinging it.

The only time Perrillo bowed his bass was in “Baseball with Drum Solo,” a slow, sparse melody with an inviting open feel; and at the end, he and Anderson (playing just toms) swapped riffs.

Perrillo then slapped the bass to pump the energy of “I Got Rhythm” and they surely did. Siegel soloed first, next came a terse Perrillo bass break, Giroux roamed the keyboard with hot hands, then Brose’s crackling foray mixed chords and single-note runs. Back to Siegel, hotter in his second solo than his first and then, most rhythmic of all, Anderson soloed on just his snare.

More than most jazz players of his generation, Perrillo looks back with both evident affection and a spry willingness to mess with things. In his originals, always interesting and well-thought-out, he could actually stretch a bit more, so that moods also incorporate more movement. But in honoring those who came before, he steered a clear and confident course, of taste and tunefulness.

Check Rudy Lu’s typically cool photos of the show on Nippertown.

Jazz on Jay continues July 29 with keyboardist Jon LeRoy’s Trio.

The Dylan Perrillo Quintet plays WAMC’s The Linda on Sept. 3.

It all felt just so…normal.

At 151, the restaurant-bar on Lafayette Street, we met and hugged friends, we heard live music, we enjoyed food and drinks.

151 sits two blocks north of long-gone St. Joseph’s, middle school for my brother Jim and me, and next door to Great Flats Brewery; these two new-ish businesses sharing what once was a tire store. A high-tech box of dark metal, 151 invites folks, most in shorts and Ts that night, to dine in a dark tables-and-chairs area, get drinks at a long rectangular bar and do both on a sun-bright two-level patio, partially under a translucent roof.

Zak and Dave

The Yankees played on one above-the-bar TV, the Mets on the other.

Zak and Lea

For Ellie, Zak, Lea – the woman he just started seeing – and me, just being in a bar brought a cozy feeling of connection we had long missed. 

In the corner of the upper patio, instruments awaited players; we found those guys at the bar.

The electric bass on the bandstand was Dave Parillo’s, Zak’s friend since pre-school at Brown School when it was still on Rugby Road. Boston-based Dave was there to play with friends from Niskayuna High School and Ithaca College. Their quartet Comrad had practiced together online until recent all-vaccinated rehearsals in Brooklyn where most of them live.

Dave’s parents Jack and Cindy soon joined us at a front table that the owner, also a Niskayuna grad, reserved for family. They’d driven in from their farm in Buskirk near Bennington, and brought Dave’s sister Elizabeth who’d flown in from Bozeman for her brother’s gig.

At our table in bright sunlight – now, that didn’t feel exactly normal – we ordered drinks and pub-food dinners. The place was hopping but efficient. People kept coming in, being seated and served.

No notebook, no camera; I was off-duty; and the music was maybe even more fun for the players than for us. I was SO far off-duty, I never bothered name-checking the guys (besides Dave), never jotted down a song title or who soloed; no notes on tempos or arrangements, themes in the lyrics.


They played without looking at their hands, everybody was off the book. 

Band-mates since grade school, Dave and the drummer built the beat of straightforward materials. Singer-songwriter Arthur, who wrote their songs, wielded the words and minded the mood, also a keyboard and most lead vocals. The guitarist played colors, cool solos and bright bridges. They were unified, the groove rocked. Lots of tunes moved at waltz-time, but rather than being confined within three-beats, they took off at times. If all this could be dubbed shoe-gaze, those feet moved. 

Apart from the refreshed and refreshing novelty of simply being with other humans, longtime friends and strangers alike, the main delight of the evening was watching Dave – remember, we’ve known him since he was three – enjoy making music with his friends, as we listened with our friends.

Looking around the place, I saw few masks – which felt unnerving at first; then, normal. Or at least normal in Schenectady where and when most are vaccinated against the-damn-plague.

Ellie and Dave

We earned that delicious night in the sun, in the bar, in the music, in the company of friends. 

Jazz on Jay No. 5 – Center Square featuring guest Dylan Canterbury July 15

“I’m not used to being the old guy in the band,” said Dylan Canterbury, the (still dark-) bearded “old guy,” late in Center Square’s set at Jazz on Jay Thursday. “But it’s fun playing with these young guys, kicking my butt.”

Dylan Canterbury

The trumpeter and flugelhorn player was actually first among equals, though bassist Nicholas Dwarika (a graduate of Jazz on Jay’s December Student Showcase) was nominally the leader. And Canterbury kicked plenty of butt himself. But this wasn’t “Dylan and the kids;” the free, sun-splashed, well-attended show had better balance than that. 

Nicholas Dwarika

Bodhan Kinal

Saxophonist Bohdan Kinal (who just completed sophomore year at Guilderland High School) said afterward the quintet had practiced several times before Thursday’s show, but it was still a reading gig as the players relied on charts. Even while navigating tricky cadences and swift shifts in beats and chords, they held it all together. In their best moments, they swung and rocked as the tunes demanded.

There was seldom a studious, sight-reading vibe on the tented bandstand; the guys were intent and intense, but also clearly having fun, especially in the 100-minute set’s funk numbers.

If there was a lesson to be heard in the precision playing of these high school and college-age musicians, it was: When players know what to do, they know what to do together.

Another lesson: Young musicians can survey the entire history of jazz and echo those parts of the tradition that best suit them. What suited Center Square Thursday was the 1960s post-bop of the Jazz Messengers, the Adderley brothers and Miles Davis’s quintets.

Their happiest, fun-est tune, dated from a bit later, 1973: drummer-composer Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron: from his tremendous “Spectrum” album. Center Square built this classic fusion number from the bottom up, in dense slabs of funk, but with solos celebrating up top, first Canterbury, then Kinal honking strong on tenor, Josh Klamka roaming the keyboard and Dwarika going bump and thump at the bass in sync with drummer San Hatfield’s kick while his snare shots bridged high and low. 

Sam Hatfield

In fact, it was drummer Sam Hatfield who unfolded the tune’s roadmap before the others chimed in. He clattered up a snare pattern that forecast the tune as accurately as looking up at the sky predicted rain here almost every day. 

This followed a mostly-originals string of well-made, well-played tunes of which “Onomatopoeia” was the trickiest, “Upon A Dream” the most bossa-est and “Beagleson Cage Aret” the most obscurely titled.

“Red Baron” seemed to put the band in full flight, confidence bristling in the three songs that closed the set. 

The episodic “Clouded Sky Piercing Moon” mastered two moods: a meditative ballad intro as Canterbury conducted, while playing sweetly, with dips of his flugelhorn before an upshift exploration that resolved into a drone with bass clarinet. They gave the drummer some in this one, a solo with all the complexity of the harmony horn parts earlier. 

Josh Klamka

In the gospel/soul “The Way You Say It,” Canterbury’s trumpet blended in microtonal perfection with Kinal’s alto. Pianist Klamka introduced his own “Ethos” as the closing number – another bop-y blitz with tricky cadences and Canterbury in top form with flugelhorn fireworks that drew a grinning, admiring glance from Kinal. After a teasing stop-and-go pause, they all climbed on the riff and rode it home.

Center Square at Jazz on Jay



Penelope’s Revenge

Beagleson Cage Aret


Upon a Dream

Red Baron

Clouded Sky Piercing Moon

The Way You Say It


Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday, July 22, with bassist Dylan Perrillo’s Quintet.