Review and photographs by J Hunter
The Professors are a quartet of SUNY New Paltz music educators – which doesn’t sound that fantabulous until you hear that the bass player is none other than John Menegon; the drummer is Greater Nippertown’s own Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel; and guitarist Matt Dziuba is the Director of Jazz Studies at New Paltz! Dziuba was still on summer break, so he wasn’t scheduled to play at Gomen-Kudasai, a snug Japanese noodle house just off the New York Thruway in New Paltz; the fourth Professor, pianist Vinnie Martucci was scheduled to play until he came down with a last-minute illness. It was on Facebook where I read that Francesca Tanksley, who is on the faculty at Bard College and Berklee School of Music, would pinch-hit for Martucci. For me, though, Tanksley was more than a “visiting Professor.” (See what I did there?) She had been a member of the original Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel Quartet, which blew my head off way back in the day when Siegel dropped his BRW release Live in Europe at Justin’s – the former epicenter of live jazz in Greater Nippertown.
With the last-minute nature of the gig, the natural thing to expect would be for the trio to just call classics they all knew, and let the chips fall where they may. Not in this case: All three players brought original material to the table, with no compunction about putting them into the mix. If any of the musicians didn’t know the music, they did know each other: In addition to Siegel and Tanksley’s aforementioned collaboration, Menegon told me he and Tanksley have known each other for years, and have worked together on numerous occasions. With the interpersonal relationships established, Siegel brought out his arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love,” and we were off to the races. The title suggests ballad, but Siege’s arrangement went forcefully the other way, serving up hot, savory piano jazz as more customers came into the restaurant. Gomen-Kudasai was one of the many venues contributing to the weekend-long Hudson Valley Jazz Festival, so while some customers were only in search for a good meal (some of them looking like parents who’d just dropped off their kids – and their money – at SUNY), others were hungry for what the Professors were handing out the moment they walked in the door.