[Dixielandjazz] Vince Giordano & Boardwalk Empire.

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 18 07:14:13 PDT 2010

 From the Newark Star-Ledger:
Steve Barbone

Boardwalk Empire - Meet The Man Behind The Music
It’s the first scene of the first episode of “Boardwalk Empire,”  
and Vince Giordano is exactly where he wants to be. He’s right in the  
middle of the bandstand, leading his musicians through a dance floor  
smash that’s nearly a century old. In his hands is an instrument that  
even savvy fans of the HBO hit television show can’t have seen  
before: something like a cross between a fiddle, a phonograph and a  
Colonial musket. “It’s a Stroh violin,” says Giordano, “a  
fiddle with an amplifying device built in. “It’s mine.”
Historical accuracy is important to the creators of “Boardwalk  
Empire”: They’re sweating every detail, and they want to make sure  
their audience notices. Giordano, whose on-screen performances with  
the Nighthawks give “Boardwalk Empire” much of its distinctive  
sonic signature, fits right in. He’s more than just the bandleader at  
Babette’s, the glitzy Atlantic City nightclub where the corrupt  
politician Nucky Thompson and his fellow operators make their shady  
deals. He’s a student of the sounds of the 1920s, and a trusted voice  
in the ear of Randall Poster, the program’s music supervisor. The  
Stroh violin, for instance, was his idea.
“At the time, they had no microphones in the clubs,” says Giordano,  
who lives in Queens, “and the poor violinists didn’t have a prayer  
of getting heard over the brass. So they made this device. I thought  
it would be a neat thing to bring to the show.”
“Boardwalk Empire” begins with a drunken dance party. In Nucky’s  
Atlantic City, Prohibition is just another lark — something for  
vacationing sophisticates to laugh at. The drinks are spiked with an  
inebriating dose of heavy irony, and the town is awash in song. It’s  
just an educated guess, of course; only those who were there at the  
time know exactly what it was like. But if any band on earth could  
channel the sound of those wild Jersey Shore evenings, the Nighthawks  
“At the time the show opens,” says Giordano, “the hottest act in  
the nation was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. ‘Tiger Rag,’  
‘Clarinet Marmalade,’ these were the songs that people would’ve  
wanted to hear. As the bandleader at Babette’s, I knew we had to  
cover that stuff. This is our version, but we still give you the  
flavor of the hot jazz of those times.”
Part preservationist and part jazz virtuoso, the musician has been  
busy keeping the flame of ’20s- and ’30s-music burning since  
starting his band in 1976. The Nighthawks are to early 20th-century  
jazz what the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra is to  
baroque composition: They’re loving re-creators who’ve simulated  
the sound and feel of the period by playing authentic instruments and  
following original scores.
“I got hooked as a kid,” says Giordano, “after discovering a  
collection of phonographs in my grandmother’s basement. She was a big  
fan of Al Jolson and Paul Whiteman. Even as a young person, I had a  
sense that what I was hearing on the radio was kind of lame. I put on  
my grandmother’s records, and I fell in love with the syncopation,  
the creativity, the dynamic deliveries of the singers.”
Finding others who shared his passion was not easy. “In those days,  
the only place you heard old jazz was on programs like ‘Little  
Rascals.’ Kids my age would say, ‘There goes Vince with his crazy  
cartoon music.’ ”
But that meant the field was clear for Giordano to experiment with  
timeless styles that had fallen out of fashion. When the Nighthawks  
began playing club gigs, the group had virtually no peers. There were  
Dixieland bands in New York, but few jazz combos were dedicated to  
resurrecting the sound of the ’20s with genuine fidelity. The bass  
saxophonist and bandleader threw himself into his work, acquiring so  
many vintage instruments and scores that he ran out of room for them.  
Giordano was forced to purchase the house next door and turn it into a  
warehouse for his collection of more than 60,000 scores.
Giordano has been called a good-humored eccentric. But because of his  
dedication to historical accuracy — and his musical excellence —  
he’s made himself indispensable to filmmakers looking to resurrect  
the spirit of the early 20th century. “Boardwalk Empire” isn’t  
his first close encounter with Martin Scorsese: Giordano contributed  
to the soundtrack of “The Aviator,” the 2004 retelling of the  
Howard Hughes story. Jazz fan Woody Allen found room for him in the  
“Sweet and Lowdown” band. It was on that set that the musician  
discovered something else about himself: In front of the camera, he  
was as comfortable as a movie star, no matter how hectic a scene got.
“I was playing bass behind (bandleader) Sean Penn,” says Giordano,  
“and he was swinging around that big prop moon so much that he almost  
took my nose off. I was getting nervous, but I didn’t complain.  
Finally, I guess I must have shouted. One of the editors later asked  
me, ‘Did you say something on film? Well, you’re going to have to  
join the Screen Actor’s Guild!’ ”
Working on “Boardwalk Empire” was an opportunity that the musician  
couldn’t turn down. For Giordano, it’s a dream come true — an  
opportunity to step into the Roaring ’20s, or a reasonable facsimile  
thereof, once a week.
“On the show, the Nighthawks back up different singers and  
entertainers, which is just what a club band on the Boardwalk would  
have done. Because of its proximity to the city, Atlantic City  
regularly got enormous names: Sophie Tucker, Edith Day. Before taking  
his act to New York, Eddie Cantor would come down and try out the  
material in Atlantic City to see what got the laughs.”
Giordano’s on-screen character will evolve as the show does. Future  
episodes may be set in 1921 and ’22, and the Nighthawks’ repertoire  
will change to reflect then-contemporary musical trends (there is, he  
says, a rumor that he’ll soon be joining Paul Whiteman’s band).  
Along with Randall Poster, the Nighthawks bandleader sees “Boardwalk  
Empire” as an opportunity to educate the public about the diversity  
of early 20th-century song.
“The 1920s were a big buffet of music,” says Giordano. “There was  
sentimental music, wild jazz, early blues. There were xylophone  
groups, ukulele groups, novelty bands. Some of the dance steps I’ve  
discovered are very sophisticated. I found a dance step in 5/4 time,  
for instance. People think of that as a more modern time signature,  
but people were hip to it then. They called it a half-and-half.”
The dancing doesn’t have to stop when “Boardwalk Empire” ends.  
Jazz enthusiasts can catch Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks live at  
Sofia’s (221 West 46th St.) every Monday and Tuesday night. Footage  
of the Nighthawks is available on YouTube, and his soundtracks are  
downloadable on iTunes. In a peculiar sort of way, this musical  
archivist has become current.
“When I started, it was hard to find a place for ’20s and ’30s  
jazz. Now, it’s a wonderful time for vintage material. All this great  
music is just a click or two away.”

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