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Vince Giordano: Hot Jazz for The Aviator

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AAJ: Would that be a project you would take on?

VG: Absolutely, I would love to be a part of it. I couldn't be the sole entity because, you know, I gotta play some music and there's a lot to organizing all that stuff. I just see this part of the business that's really not being talked about. It's got to be addressed or we're just going to have music on old records and that's going to be the end of it.

AAJ: What other projects would you like to do?

VG: We've done some silent picture scoring. We did three for AMC a couple of years ago, one Buster Keaton [ Sherlock, Jr. ] and two Harold Lloyd's [ Get Out and Get Under, High and Dizzy ] and we performed them live at the East Hampton Film Festival and we went down to Disneyworld and played that. I'd love to do more of that. I'd love to do more silent picture synchronization. Having all this music, I would love to be able to play more of it.

AAJ: How did you come to own so much music? [At present Giordano has inventoried about 98% of his collection of approximately 30,000 big band arrangements, 27,000 pieces of sheet music, and 10,000 silent film cues.]

VG: I really started doing that in the '70s when I realized that there was stuff out there. I started putting ads in The International Musician saying I was looking for old dance band arrangements. I got this letter from a fellow that made Gennett recordings in the '20s, Marion McKay. He named me a price and—boom—I got his library. There were arrangements in there in Hoagy Carmichael's hand.

Another time I was sitting in Peter Duchin's office. Peter Duchin at one point thought of incorporating my band into one of his satellite units and I was talking with him and going over this and his secretary interrupted and said, "Mr. Duchin there's someone on the other line who has a music collection for sale." He just kind of brushed it off. I said, "Wait a minute. Do you mind if I take this number?" So I go to this warehouse in Queens and there's this whole radio library of a guy long forgotten named Arnold Johnson. Arnold Johnson had a band in the '20s and '30s and was the first guy to hire Harold Arlen when he came down from Buffalo and Arlen at the time was writing arrangements, playing piano, singing—which he did with the band. And I've got three of his arrangements which he did in his own handwriting. Now if I wasn't sitting in that office at that time that stuff would probably be out on Staten Island in the big landfill. I cleaned out a theater in St. Louis—the Ambassador Theater—and then I cleaned out a theater in Buffalo New York called Shea's Buffalo Theater.

It was a big vaudeville house and I'm still going through that music. That's how I found that Louis Armstrong "Laughin' Louie" theme, by the way. When Louis was interviewed by George Avakian, I guess in the '50s, they asked him, "On "Laughin' Louis"—what are you playing here?" And Louis couldn't remember, he said, "I think it must have been something I learned as a kid." So Avakian writes in his notes—this is on Rare Batch of Satch , a wonderful LP—"If anybody knows what this theme is, please contact me at RCA/Victor." Thirty years later I was doing a silent picture movie synchronization for something at the Film Forum. I hired a pianist and we're going through all this stuff [old silent film cues], and the pianist started playing this and I fell off my chair. He goes, "What's the matter?" I said, "We found the theme of 'Laughin' Louie!'" I had Avakian's number and I said, "George—listen to this." (Imitating Avakian) "The theme from 'Laughin' Louie!'" It was a stock movie theme from 1921 by Minnie T. Wright, which is probably a pseudonym. Louis was playing for silent films in the '20s—in 1925 when he was with Erskine Tate's Vendome Orchestra. And this was a piece of music that was only four years old and I'm sure he played it over and over again, and it's such a moving melody that it stuck with him. I had a musician come over here one time and look at all this music. He says, "What are you doing with all this stuff? It's worthless." You have your right to an opinion, but I've got to tell you, Henderson used a lot of stock arrangements, Whiteman did, Bix did. They were utilized by a lot of bands in a pinch when they needed to make a record and they didn't have the luxury of hiring an arranger. They would take these arrangements and modify them.

Bill Challis told me that a lot of the stuff on the Henderson bandstand was from modified stocks. I'm still looking for stuff. Where is the Fletcher Henderson book, the Goldkette book, the Bennie Moten book, the Don Redman book? Why was all this stuff pinched or lost? It's amazing how much—these aren't just stock arrangements, these are some of the best writings ever. I've been preserving stuff all my life. It's not just a museum, it's a living museum. What I'm doing is bringing it out there and breathing new life into it and hopefully getting a new audience.

AAJ: It's that passion for details and for the original music and recordings that set the Nighthawks apart. What does "'authenticity" mean to you?

VG: To me, what I hear on those old recordings is a different language from what is being spoken today. I hear a language of musicians that spoke very intensely. They seemed to have more thrust in what they were playing, and more feel, than musicians of today. Use of vibrato was so prevalent in the brass. I keep telling my guys, "Listen to Louis Armstrong, listen to Benny Goodman, particularly at the very end of their phrasing. That was part of the language and it's like cooking a meal. If you're reading from a cookbook and you're missing one of the ingredients it's not going to be the same. It can't be. We don't know what Mozart played like, or Brahms played like.

We don't know how bad or good or fast or slow those fellows played the original arrangements, but we do have the original recordings from the Teens on up and that's great, but it's bad. It's great to hear it, but it's bad when you can't get the musicians to be on the same page as that.

I've been criticized for freezing jazz—playing the notes as written as far as the solos. I just want to say, you know they have the Louis Armstrong festival on WKCR and we listen to Louis. Why do we keep on going back to those recordings? We've heard a lot of people play these songs—same ones—but when Louis played his notes—and those particular notes and those particular inflections that he played— these are the things that we keep going back to. Listen to those notes and listen to the intensity of those notes. These were classic pieces of music. Just like Beethoven's Fifth or Mozart's Magic Flute.

I mean, nobody's changing those notes. They could, but they want to hear what Mozart wrote. Why can't we pay homage to these musicians and the choices of notes that these guys thought in their heads? Before these guys there was no jazz. These were the creators. These were the Mozarts of their time. Do I get a lot of flack from this stuff, I'll tell you. I don't mean to be a museum piece or anything. We take liberties. Sometimes it' s hard to get the enthusiasm from musicians today. The music that we hear on recordings, that was the music of the time, that was the hip stuff, that was the rock and roll. They were up there and the chicks were coming after them.

They were getting the money and they were getting their pictures in Metronome and Downbeat and people were reviewing them and everything was hunky dory. It ain't that way anymore. None of the above happens anymore. And that's fine too, but in a way it's a little melancholy. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks appear Monday and Tuesday nights 8:30-11:30 at Charley O's Times Square Grill, 611 Broadway at West 49th street, Manhattan.

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