A Swell Farewell...and Onward
On April 13, Rutgers University-Newark threw a swell party for me on the occasion of my retirement as director of the Institute of Jazz Studies. I won't go into the social and musical details here, but do want to thank all my friends who showed up, and the many others who sent regretsnotably Sonny Rollins, whose gratifying message was read by Dr. Clem Price, director of the Rutgers Institute of Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience.
Clem did such a great job of hosting the party, and I'm pretty certain was responsible for the surprise appearance of Newark's Mayor Cory Booker, as well as the musician friends who so graciously came to play: James Chirillo, Anat Cohen, Randy Sandke, Daryl Sherman, and the Institute's own Joe Peterson.
Many kind words were spoken, and I was presented with the Rutgers University Award, symbolized by a medalwhich, believe me, beats a gold watch. Once again: I am not cutting the umbilical cord. I plan to continue hosting the Jazz From The Archives radio show, as well as my association with the Journal of Jazz Studies. I'll be on call at the institute when needed. On another front, be here in my Jersey Jazz Den as long as the welcome mat is out.
It was a special treat to encounter Dick Hyman twice within two weeks in New York City, in April. The first was at the Kitano New York, where the pianist was dueting with Ken Peplowski, who played tenor as well as clarinet. Ken is a master of both horns, with his own voice. While he was already special when I first encountered him, he has reached a new plateauas evident on his most recent albums. This awesome twosome never made you miss a rhythm section, and both are conversant with the full range of the art form.
So we were treated to "Panama," as well as Horace Silver's take on "Lover Come Back to Me." Dick, that swinging encyclopedia of piano history, gave out with some stride as well as bebop, and Ken's tenor was heard in two different grooves, a moving ballad version of "Gone with the Wind," and a booting ride on "Stuffy," the Coleman Hawkins-Thelonious Monk opus on rhythm changes. The presence of some unusual microphones makes me suspect there may be some recorded evidence to come.
Dick Hyman was the special guest with David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland, the following weekas usual on a Wednesday, from 5:30 to 7:15, which is where and when they've been holding forth for a dozen years. The tuba-playing leader draws on a pool of first-rate players; on this occasion, Randy Reinhardt on cornet, Jim Fryer on trombone doubling baritone horn, Anat Cohen on clarinet, and Marion Felder on drums.
The band's repertory is music associated with Louis, and when David wanted to pay tribute to fallen comrade Joe Muranyi, a not infrequent guest, he picked "Ochi Chornia" in honor of Joe's Eastern European roots. Anat was the star on this appropriate in memoriam for a fellow clarinetist, while Dick scored on his feature, "Ain't Misbehavin,'" which I've heard him do so often, but always a bit differently. On the traditional closer, "Swing that Music," Randy and Jim switched instrumentsno surprise for the former, an accomplished trombonistbut Jim's trumpet chops were new to me. This was a nice front line, but the one a couple of weeks before, of Bria Skonberg, Harvey Tibbs and Anat, was special in the way it jelled. That was especially evident on the rarely heard Hot Five classic, "Hear Me Talkin' to You."
You never know what can happen on a late afternoon and early evening with the Ostwalds, but it never disappoints, and the setting is one of the pleasantest for jazz in the city. Aside from Vince Giordano's estimable Nighthawks at the nearby Hotel Edison's Sofia Restaurant, it's the only regular traditional jazz game in town. (Both, by the way, amenable as adjuncts to a theater night on Broadway, before or after.)
Joe Muranyi, who left us on April 20, 2012, after a long battle with ill health, was one of my oldest friends. I first met Joe at the Stuyvesant Casino, a bit after he'd made his recording debut with a band that included Dick Wellstood. Joe would not record again until 38 years later, when they, Dick Sudhalter and Marty Grosz formed the Classic Jazz Quartet. (Marty had come up with a much better name, The Bourgeois Scum, but they were advised to change it when DJ Jonathan Schwartz refused to say "scum" on the air.)
That group had a unique distinction: All four members mastered words as well as music, and their debut album had liners by each. Joe was, in fact, the author of many excellent liner notes for a variety of performers. He studied with Lennie Tristano, but early trad and swing were closest to his heart.
Joe also was active in mid-career as a record producer. But he will surely go down in history for his stint as the Louis Armstrong All Star's last clarinetist, from 1967 to 1971. After Louis died, Joe joined Roy Eldridge's house band at Jimmy Ryan's, doubling on soprano sax, as he had with the Scum. He also frequently led his own groups, and in later years often performed in New Orleans. There, in 2001, he made one of his best records, Joe Muranyi with the New Orleans Real Low Down (Jazzology, 2002), a title that makes it sound more traddy than a repertory that includes his own "Dippermouth Suite," dedicated to you-know-who, the Duke Ellington rarity "Azalea," which he also sings, and "Jeepers Creepers." (That's on Jazzology, which means it's still in catalog.)
Joe Muranyi was the subject of a choice documentary film made for Hungarian TV. He was proud of his Hungarian heritage. On one of our first get-togethers, when he lived in Greenwich Village, and we'd walk to his apartment after a Stuyvesant or Central Plaza session and listen to records from his already interesting collection, he produced a tarogato. He drew warm sounds from this old Hungarian woodwind relative of the recorder.
Joe often visited Hungary and was revered by the local traditional jazz players. For many years, he worked on a book about Louis. It was nearly finished, and this friend hopes that Joe's heirs will find someone to complete the biography and see it into print.