First Tuesday Jazz Series at Caffè Lena (Remembering Vic Juris)
It was a rainy Tuesday evening during the holiday season, yet the house was full for the Tuesday Night Jazz Series at Caffè Lena. What began as a conversation between the seven time Grammy Award winning Producer Joel Moss and Judy McCormack, the wife of Skidmore Jazz Institute (SJI) Founder Don McCormack, has come to fruition.
Mrs. McCormack was curious as to why there wasn’t a club in Saratoga Springs for listening to jazz, as is common in New York City, and mentioned it to Mr. Moss who took it from there. It wasn’t easy finding a suitable room – one with great acoustics and sightlines, as well as a good piano. However, last summer, after Caffe Lena’s renovation, Moss produced an SJI student concert there. The space worked so well for the music he approached Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena’s Executive Director about producing a jazz series there and she swiftly got on board.
“A little-known tidbit of history is that Lena’s first love was jazz and she did have some great jazz shows here.” Craig explained, “Since we reopened we’ve been developing a lot of new partnerships and exploring new ways to give the broadest swath of the community the benefit of this room as we possibly can.”
Pianist Chuck Lamb, best known for his work with The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, musically anchors the series and selects the featured artist in concert with Moss. “I use regional musicians for the trio,” Lamb continued, “it’s a changing chair, depends on who the artist is and what would be the best fit. There’s a selfish aspect in choosing the guest artist, it comes from my wish list, people I always wanted to play with. We have Dick Oatts, probably next month, Terell Stafford, Jimmy Greene, guys like that, so it’s gonna continue on.”
The Jazz Series is held on the first Tuesday of the month. December’s featured artist was the renowned guitarist & educator Vic Juris. Juris carries himself in an unassuming manner that belies his long list of accomplishments. He’s played with Dizzy Gillespie, Phil Woods, Gary Peacock, Dave Liebman, James Moody and the list of greats goes on. He’s recorded, as a leader or sideman, just shy of 250 albums. He’s a versatile player, serving the music with ease regardless of genre, always with a fierce, but quiet intelligence and a sly, dry sense of humor.
Joining them on the bandstand were area musicians with a national reputation, bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, both of whom spent many years playing in the Lee Shaw Trio. The band played two sets, a masterful mix of original compositions and new arrangements of standards to a rapt audience who held onto every note. The Beatles tune Julia, was written by John Lennon in honor of his mother. Juris’s arrangement, which he dedicated to Judy McCormack, kept the tenderness and expanded on it, followed by the lyrical flow of Ride the Waves, which he recently wrote in memory of his friend, the guitarist John Abercrombie.
This led into a bluesy jam that built into a wah-wah induced, psychodelocized romp turned jaunty cocktail lounge version of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman.
The second set opened with Lamb’s Cool on the Coast, then swung into Monk’s We See. The evening continued with in the same vein of harmonically complex and technically intricate material, presented in a seemingly effortless manner. The intimacy of the room, with its fine acoustics, made for a deeply pleasurable evening. We are lucky that the seeds of collaboration are taking root and that jazz lovers have a new option to hear live music.
In Memoriam: Vic Juris, a jazz guitarist whose facility, cleanness, and unerring taste on the instrument helped him establish a firm reputation as a musician’s musician, died December 31 at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. He was 66 and is survived by his wife, the vocalist and educator Kate Baker.