[Dixielandjazz] Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks - Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2013
rsr at ringwald.com
Wed Jul 31 15:59:27 PDT 2013
Big Band Seeks New Digs
by Will Friedwald
Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2013
The trumpets are blaring, the clarinets are soaring, the drummer is grinding out
the beat, and all over the dance floor at Sofia's, couples are frantically Lindy-hopping
as Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks play Duke Ellington's "Jubilee Stomp," followed
by Jimmie Lunceford's even faster "Jazznocracy" and Fletcher Henderson's well-named
The last time people danced to this music, in the mid-1920s, it was with an air of
desperation, as if they knew that the Roaring Twenties would soon give way to the
Great Depression and then World War II. On Monday night at Sofia's, the crowds were
in similar spirits, and as with their Jazz Age counterparts, the party was soon coming
to an end.
Just over a week ago, Mr. Giordano learned that the Edison Hotel, which leases space
to Sofia's, will terminate the lease, closing the Midtown restaurant. The band's
last performance there will be held on Aug. 13. The hotel didn't respond to a request
"I almost wanted to cry when I found out," said Francesco Sofia, the restaurant's
owner. "More than anything else, this is a family thing. It's not a corporation.
My kids work there, all the people who work there are like family. We don't treat
them like a business."
Neither he nor Mr. Giordano knew what will replace the space, also known as Club
Cache. "They want something that can make them at least $2 million a year," Mr. Giordano
said. "Frankly, we can't sell that much macaroni."
Even in the depths of summer, when most clubs are ghost towns, reservations for Mr.
Giordano's Monday and Tuesday-evening performances book up quickly. This summer,
with the news of Sofia's eminent departure, the band's fans are showing up by the
busload. More than 140 crowded into the room Monday, said Carol Hughes, who helps
out at the door and is Mr. Giordano's girlfriend.
Over the years, fans ranging from Mel Brooks to Elvis Costello to Liza Minnelli have
ponied up the $30 cover and minimum to hear the Nighthawks. "The fact that Vince
and his band even exist in this day and age is nothing short of a miracle, when you
look at the history of big bands in this country," said Amber Edwards, a producer
working on a documentary about the Nighthawks. "There are so few venues in New York
for live music of any kind, and then add to that the challenge of presenting an 11-piece
band, with a dance floor that's always full, at prices that most people can comfortably
afford for an evening's entertainment, and it's an even greater miracle."
Mr. Giordano is looking for a new home for the 11-piece band, which has played at
Sofia's since 2008, but is at once flexible and specific in his requirements.
"It has to be a regular weekly gig on the same night," he said, "not just a Monday
here and a Thursday there." He wants a room where there's a dance floor, which eliminates
nearly all Midtown jazz clubs, and one that will let patrons stay all evening, rather
than chasing them out after each set.
"It also has to be a place where I can store instruments and music, and not have
to schlep it back in forth to my house in Brooklyn every week," he added.
A well-known performer-historian when it comes to early jazz and big band, Mr. Giordano
has long been a go-to musician for movie and television producers looking for an
authentic 1920s sound. His soundtrack for the HBO Prohibition-era series "Boardwalk
Empire" won a Grammy last year, and he and his band are currently at work on the
fourth season. (On Monday, the singer Margot B., who also appears on the show, was
on stage with the band, singing George Gershwin's "Somebody Loves Me.")
When Mr. Giordano started, his idea was to play the music of the Jazz Age with the
surviving veterans of that era. His first clarinetist was Clarence Hutchenrider,
who played the same role in the original Casa Loma Orchestra 40 years earlier. Since
then, he's gradually replaced the old-timers with younger musicians, including Will
and Peter Anderson, saxophone-playing twin brothers who began playing with Mr. Giordano
in 2007, during their sophomore years at Juilliard.
Last weekend, Mr. Giordano and Ms. Hughes canvassed Midtown looking for new venues.
They had an appointment in one club, where they said the manager didn't seem to be
particularly receptive, but when Mr. Giordano walked in, a troupe of chorus girls
was rehearsing on stage. He recognized the music: his own recording of "Barnyard
Blues," the opening track of the "Boardwalk Empire" soundtrack.
His long-term goal, in finding a new venue, is to keep working with the band. "I
found that practice makes better," he said. "I gave up on perfect a long time ago.
I'll settle for better."
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