Interview & story by J Hunter
Photographs by Richard Lovrich
Things change. It’s a fact of life, even for something as established as the Jazz Institute, part of the School for Performing Arts held every summer at Proctors in Schenectady. This year, the program was put in the hands of Artistic Producer Lecco Morris and Creative Director Jeff Nania. Until the Jazz Institute convened earlier this summer, neither Morris (who went to NYU to study Music Theory and Composition, primarily in classical music) nor Nania (a UAlbany grad and Metroland columnist who’s also been bewitching us with his sax skills for years) had ever taught a large group or combo before.
That said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – or, in this case, the student concert that came at the end of the Institute’s immersive two-week session. It all came down to Friday, August 14 in the GE Theatre at Proctors, and it wasn’t hard to spot the members of this year’s 24-player class: Just look for anyone dressed in black who hadn’t graduated high school. I gave silent props to drummer Liam Fitzgerald for accessorizing his outfit with a white, black-banded Trilby. If you’re going to play the part, look the part!
The cast of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
The Best Musical of 2014 will kick off Proctors’ upcoming Key Private Bank Broadway Series, as well as its national tour, in September. And two blockbuster musicals – “The Lion King” and “The Book of Mormon” – are returning for encore runs on the Schenectady stage.
For a quarter of a century now, the Music Haven has presented what is unquestionably the Capital Region’s most ambitious and culturally diverse free annual summer concert series. The concerts don’t always attract the big, Alive at Five-sized crowds, but the series always attracts great musicians from all over the globe, and it consistently lives up to the motto of its mission – “Come travel the world with us, one concert at a time.”
Due to the threat of inclement weather last Sunday, the Music Haven’s concert featuring legendary blues harmonica master James Cotton was moved to the rain site – Proctors – and when the show is moved to a beautiful site like Proctors nothing is lost in the venue shift. Not even the audience, apparently, as nearly 1,400 people packed the downstairs of Proctors’ Main Stage theater for what proved to be a very special celebration. Not only was it the biggest Capital Region blues event of the summer, but it was also the Music Haven’s 25th anniversary gala party, and the bash was well attended by a plethora of local political dignitaries, as well as staunch music supporters.
In a brief, pre-concert ceremony on the Main Stage, former Schenectady mayor Karen Johnson was honored for her support of the Music Haven throughout the years, and in a surprise proclamation, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy honored Music Haven’s founder, visionary and producing artistic director Mona Golub with the Patroon Award, the city’s highest honor. “It’s been a labor of love for me, bringing such a diverse, cross-generational audience together,” said an audibly choked-up Golub, as she accepted the award.
The concert also served a heartfelt memorial to Albany bluesman Tom Healey, whose death the previous Monday shook the Local 518 blues community. Guitarslinger Matt Mirabile and his band, fronted by vocalist-harmonicat Ted Hennessy, tore through a seven-song opening set that ranged from such blues classics as Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “So Sad to Be Lonesome” to a funky, cowbell-fueled rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” and they dedicated their performance to Healey. The Music Haven folks also joined in the tribute, playing selections from the Tom Healey Band’s two albums – Pearl Street and Tough Dog – during the between-band intermission.
“This is a curated series,” Matt Steckler told us as his quintet Persiflage arranged itself on the huge Oriental rug in the middle of the GE Theatre’s floor. Steckler ought to know, since the Schenectady High alum isS the curator of Proctors’ “Party Horns NYC” series. To be fair, though, Steckler hasn’t put a foot wrong, because in musical terms, every group he’s convinced to take a drive up the NY Thruway has hit it out of the park. But every time Steckler’s made the trip himself, his gonzo big unit Dead Cat Bounce has accompanied him. It was Steckler’s surprising choice to bring his “other band” to Proctors this year that made me choose this show over watching Chick Corea “paint” Cubist portraits of his audience at Massry Center.
Don’t misunderstand me: When I first saw Dead Cat live (at Party Horns 2012), my jaw dropped like a turkey from a helicopter; their 2011 Cuneiform release Chance Episodes is still my favorite disc from the burgeoning list of Greater Nippertown musicians who’ve left our scene for bigger and better things. What’s more, the times I’ve seen Corea in a non-group setting (solo at Massry in 2012, and in duet with Gary Burton – twice – and Bela Fleck) remain some of my best live-show memories. The deal-breaker was the possibility of seeing a player and composer I deeply respect in a setting I hadn’t experienced before. Ergo, off I went to Proctors. QED.
Jazz guitar great Pat Metheny will be stepping into the spotlight at Proctors in Schenectady at 8pm on Thursday, March 20. Metheny – recently named to the DownBeat Hall of Fame – will lead his new Unity Group, which has expanded to a quintet with the addition of Italian multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi.
“The Unity Band record and tour was such a life changing experience for me that I didn’t want to see it come to an end.” says Pat Metheny. “One night, I woke up with the tantalizing idea of taking the concept of musical Unity even further. With this project, I want to form a platform that encompasses the entire range of things that I have done over the years, from Bright Size Life to Secret Story, from my group projects to the Orchestrion, and with this incredible group of musicians – Chris Potter, Ben Williams, Antonio Sanchez and Giulio Carmassi – just about anything is possible.”
On-sale date for the concert is still TBA, but tickets will be priced at $20, $35, $45, $55 & $70. Stay tuned for further details…
Brandon Andrus, Brad Weinstock, Jason Kappus and Colby Foytik (photo: Joan Marcus)
If you’re looking for a theme for Nippertown’s spring arts season, the words “Jersey Boys” would seem to fit the bill just fine.
Jersey’s fave alt-rock combo Titus Andronicus roared into Valentine’s Music Hall in Albany on Saturday (March 3) night, wrapping up UAlbany radio station WCDB-FM’s wailin’ two-day 34th Anniversary Music Festival.
And next month, Jersey’s favorite musical son Bruce Springsteen leads his reconstituted E Street Band into the Times Union Center in Albany for what is certainly the hottest spring concert ticket in town.
But in all honesty, Bruce is gonna have to bring his A game to town to top the knock-out production of “Jersey Boys” that’s playing at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday, March 18.
Yes, it’s “Radio & Juliet” – the Shakespearian tale of star-crossed lovers… danced to the music of Radiohead.
Proctors in Schenectady had already announced the big Broadway shows for its upcoming season – “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Addams Family,” “Shrek the Musical,” “Jersey Boys” and “Memphis” – but there’s a lot more to Proctors calendar than just the big touring Broadway musicals.
Here are some of the highlights of the remainder of the just-announced season:
The second installment of WGNA’s Rising Star Country Series took off with out a hitch in Proctors’ stadium-seating styled G.E. Theatre last week. This time out Thompson Square brought their dual intertwining harmonies, single acoustic guitar jams and image-packed lyrics for a terrific set that included their smash Top 10 country hit, “Are You Going To Kiss Me Or Not?”
Married for nearly a dozen years, the collaborative husband-and-wife team of Keifer and Shawna Thompson joked and chatted comfortably with the sold-out audience. Exuding the infectious enthusiasm of two happy kids let loose in a candy store, the duo have worked years at their craft to finally get their big break. “It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were still bar tending down in Nashville,” Shawna told the crowd.
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