[Dixielandjazz] The Nighthawks Residency at Sofia's

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue May 25 07:32:45 PDT 2010

Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks are now at Sophia's Club Cache in  
NYC on a regular basis, Monday and Tuesday nights. That's the Basement  
nightclub in the hotel Edison, under Sophia's Restaurant there .The  
address is 221 West 46th Street, NYC.  212-719-5799. $15 cover charge  
and $10 food and drink minimum. The music goes from 8 to 11 PM.   
That's a rare bargain these days. I used to pay that 50 years ago at  
some of the clubs in NYC when I wanted to impress a date, for a show  
that was nowhere near as good as Vince's. And that was when a dollar  
was worth a dollar. <grin>

Do not miss this great orchestra if you are in or around NYC. OKOM  
lives in NYC.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Nighthawks, see the below NY  
Times article about them six months ago.

Steve Barbone

November 28, 2009 _ NY TIMES -  By Corey Kilgannon

Bringing Big Band Jazz Back to the Theater District

There you are, texting away as you walk down West 46th Street in  
Midtown, and you nearly bump right into the big, bright gramophone on  
the sidewalk outside the Hotel Edison.

The antique prop is put out on Mondays to mark the entrance to Club  
Cache in the hotel’s basement. There, the clock is turned back to the  
Jazz Age, courtesy of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, a time  
machine powered by 11 rhythmically inclined men in tuxedos.

For decades, the group has been playing the dance band music of the  
’20s and ’30s, really the last regularly working big band of its kind  
in New York. He and the Nighthawks started in this space, under  
Sofia’s Restaurant at the hotel, a year and a half ago.

It is a throwback to the types of ensembles seen in old movies and  
photographs of handsome musicians with slicked-back hair in dinner  
clubs. And when they take the bandbox on Mondays, the scene seems to  
melt back into that bygone era, as the lights dim and the man with the  
fedora and radioland voice steps up to the old-fashioned microphone to  
introduce them.

They launch into some hot number, and dancers spring from their tables  
to fling each other around the floor, dodged by waiters with food and  

The Nighthawks attract a clientele of aficionados, nostalgiacs and  
young swing-dance revivalists. Celebrities often stop by; Mr. Giordano  
and his music have been included in films by Woody Allen, Martin  
Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and others. The quirky cartoonist R.  
Crumb is an occasional attendee. Really, the darndest crowd.

The other night, Frank Driggs, the Jazz Age historian and photo  
collector, was there with the writer Joan Peyser. The Irish musician  
Mick Moloney dined at a table, while the pianist Peter Mintun, once a  
staple at the Carlyle Hotel, dined at the bar. At a side table, the  
swing clarinetist Sol Yaged, 85, a walking screwball comedy skit,  
offered candy to pretty women.

The band punched out zany numbers: the frantic, cartoon-like  
“Powerhouse,” then a blazing fast version of “White Heat.” They slowed  
down at times to ballad speed, serving up dollops of rich harmonic  
confection from the Jazz Age, or calling up a guest from the audience  
to sing.

Onstage, Mr. Giordano, 57, drives the band, leaping from tuba to bass  
saxophone to his distinctive aluminum upright bass, which he plays  
like a madman in the old-school slap style. Then, debonair as a silver- 
screen bandleader, he steps out front with the baton or croons into a  
big round silver microphone.

His men, steeped in hot jazz idiom, never stray in their solos. The  
cornet players know their Bix Beiderbecke, and the saxophonists know  
their Frankie Trumbauer. They rely upon an array of mutes and plungers  
to create gimmicky sounds.

The drummer, Arnie Kinsella, uses an antique set with a hand-painted  
bass drum, a kettle drum, a small vibraphone, a hanging choke-cymbal  
and a set of wooden Chinese blocks.

“All the drum heads are made of calf skin — Vince insists upon calf  
skin — because it has a softer sound,” Mr. Kinsella said.

Andy Stein switched between baritone sax and a strange-looking “phono- 
fiddle” with a gramophone horn attached for amplification. Ken Salvo  
played a four-stringed plectrum guitar.

“I’ve gone through many, many musicians to find a group who really  
interprets the stuff the correct way — it’s almost like trying to find  
someone who’s speaking a certain language,” said Mr. Giordano, who  
takes requests and spontaneously calls obscure tunes, midset. He  
brings roughly 3,000 selections to each gig and regularly passes out  
fresh sheet music.

And this is a mere sliver of the Nighthawks’ repertory, which is  
culled from Mr. Giordano’s archive of roughly 60,000 pieces of music,  
stored at his home in Midwood, Brooklyn: 30,000 big-band arrangements,  
20,000 lead sheets and 10,000 silent-movie cues. It is one of the  
world’s largest private collections, packed mostly into 100 tall metal  
filing cabinets in the basement.

While touring, Mr. Giordano scours antique stores and old theaters. He  
searches trade publications and local newspapers for sheet music sales  
and looks up retired bandleaders and contacts relatives of recently  
deceased musicians. His home is packed with old instruments and  
memorabilia and thousands of rolls for his player piano. The other  
day, he dropped a Victrola needle onto a scratchy 78 r.p.m. record of  
“Yes, We Have No Bananas” in Yiddish.

“Bet you haven’t heard that one in a while,” he said.

Mr. Giordano was born in Brooklyn, grew up on Long Island, and got  
hooked on this music after hearing his grandmother’s wind-up  
phonograph at age 5. As a multi-instrumentalist adolescent, he played  
with old-timers and studied with the renowned Jazz Age arranger Bill  
Challis, then started the Nighthawks in the mid-1970s, specializing in  
widely accepted classics linked to Fletcher Henderson, Louis  
Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton — but also the  
overlooked, sweet music of society bands, like those led by Paul  
Whiteman and Jean Goldkette.

Mr. Giordano often made arrangements from his transcriptions from old  
recordings, right down to the solos, with all their subtle inflections  
and details.

“These were the creators of jazz,” he said. “Why not preserve and  
present their music the way we do for Bach and Beethoven?”

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