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John Richmond, Allen Farnham, Bill Moring and Steve Johns at The Turning Point Cafe

David A. Orthmann BY

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John Richmond, Allen Farnham, Bill Moring, Steve Johns
The Turning Point Cafe
Piermont, NY
June 7, 2021

The return of Monday night jazz at The Turning Point Café felt like good old times. The series has been running since 2007 and the last date was March 9, 2020. In addition to an air of anticipation prior to the opening set, familiar, reassuring signs were in evidence. An aging trumpeter sat at a table blowing into his mouthpiece, producing sounds not unlike a duck call. Two boys in their mid-teens, one holding a stick bag and the other a trumpet case, leafed through a real book while waiting for their turn on the bandstand. The elder smiled and welcomed the youngster with the horn by saying that you can't have enough trumpeters. He reeled off the names of local jazz heroes who were likely to make an appearance. As more musicians and fans filed in, vaccination cards in hand, remembrances of renowned jazz musicians, living and dead, flew around the cafe in a half dozen conversations. Someone surveyed the scene and exclaimed, "Look at all the people!"

The moment John Richmond, the series organizer and curator for all these years, walked through the door, the room's energy level rose appreciably. Richmond immediately dropped his tenor case and worked the room, offering warm, enthusiastic greetings to all. His presence confirmed that live jazz in Rockland County, New York can take a hard hit and then come back stronger and more determined than ever.

The night's house band was comprised of Richmond's tenor, Allen Farnham on an electric keyboard, the upright bass of Bill Moring, as well as the drums and cymbals of Steve Johns. Throughout the course of a four-selection set, the accumulation of individual and collective experience was apparent. There's something deeply gratifying about witnessing the actions of veteran players who speak the same language, calling tunes, keys and tempos on the spot, and mutually steering a performance with gleeful spontaneity. The band opened with Frank Foster's "Simone," an often-played tune in the series history. Any questions about their capacity to mesh after a long layoff were quickly rendered irrelevant.

Not unlike any noteworthy live performance, the ensemble work, interaction between soloists and rhythm section, and the stories told by each of the soloists vied for the listeners' attention. A few examples include Johns' snare accents and bass drum punctuation amidst Farnham's "Eronel" solo; the manner in which a portion of Farnham's "Sweet and Lovely" improvisation briefly implied the melody without explicitly stating it; Richmond's ability to sustain a euphoric momentum during several choruses on "Take the Coltrane"; and guest trumpeter Frank Tolksdorf's working a quote from "Jeanie with The Light Brown Hair" into "Take the Coltrane."

An invigorating opening set, the support of an enthusiastic audience, and the presence of several musicians anticipating the beginning of a jam session added up to an indisputable conclusion: The rebirth of Jazz at The Turning Point Cafe was off to a flying start.

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