It's been a while since we've heard from Vermont jazz legend James Harvey. Seems he's taken a break from composing and performing, having burned out on gigs in noisy bars. Can't say I blame the guy; playing high-wire improv for the inebriated or uncaring can take its toll on the musical soul. "It's not so much how I feel about music," he recently told me. "It's just what I feel about how music fits into the culture. I'm just not comfortable with it anymore. But I wouldn't feel any better if I was a painter."
Still, Harvey has a couple of appearances lined up. He'll perform on solo piano at St. Leo's Parish Hall in Waterbury on February 2, and at the Burlington Shambhala Center on February 24.
Which begs the question: Why, given his aversion to performance, is he playing these gigs at all? The answer is at least partly financial. "I might be taking a job that requires me to go to school for a couple of months, and I'll need my living expenses paid," he says. It's certainly not the first time a musician has taken a gig for some extra scratch.
Harvey can be musically mercurial, so expect an eclectic repertoire at the shows. "I'll be playing some of my own stuff, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hart and The Rolling Stones," he offers. I never really thought of the Stones as jazzy, but at Harvey's fingertips, anything's possible.
Can we expect any future engagements? "To me, it's a young man's game," Harvey says of performance. "Which is not to say that I don't like playing, and I'm sure I'll do it once in a while. I feel like I've said what I had to say, but if I want to go out and perform, I can do that. I'm actually really looking forward to these shows, partly because I don't have to do it again and again all year."
Harvey's influence can still be heard in a new generation of jazz musicians, including guitar whiz Nicholas Cassarino. "It was great to make a relationship with these younger players," Harvey relates. "And a lot of those guys have picked up the ball. It's their game now."
BANG A GONG
Every so often, I'm asked to judge a local event - I guess it's the "You gotta pay for glory." I tend to skip the more pedestrian stuff, such as singer-songwriter contests and community bake-offs. Why aren't there any good cockfights around here? But I couldn't resist being part of the "Rawk Hawd Gong Show," which takes place in the Higher Ground Ballroom on Thursday, February 1.
The event, a benefit for Vermont music advocates Big Heavy World, is co-sponsored by this very publication. Apparently, it's based on the old '70s TV show - you know, the one with host Chuck Barris and that dude who wore a paper sack on his head?
If you were born after the first Star Wars flick was released, allow me to explain: The original "Gong Show" featured an endless parade of marginally talented individuals competing for prizes. It was a precursor to "American Idol," and perhaps the first broadcast in which train-wreck performances were not just expected, but encouraged.
The local version is sure to be a free-for-all, but there are some rules. Contestants will get all of 45 seconds before the judges can "gong" the performer off the stage. If they're good enough, they can keep going until the 3-minute mark. At that point, they receive a score. The "entertainer" with the most points at the end of the show wins some crap. Actually, the prizes - provided by area businesses - are likely to be pretty decent. It's the performances you gotta worry about. Well, I do, anyway.
While putting together the weekly club listings, I happened to notice a band called Soul V booked to perform at Winooski's Monkey House on Saturday, February 3, and Langdon Street Café in Montpelier on Valentine's Day. I had a sneaking suspicion that this group might be related to Soulvation Army, a multi-member funk act that turned a few heads in '06.
My instincts were right on. SA and SV member Paddy Reagan recently filled me in on the finer points of each group. "Soulvation Army is the big band with 13 people now," Reagan explains. "It's got Mike Gorgone at the front, back-up singers . . . it's a bit of a spectacle."
Reagan told me that Gorgone teaches music at a Massachusetts elementary school, and Soul V is a way for other band members to perform "with respect for our man Mike G." It's still a pretty big band, however, with an average of 10 musicians at any given gig. But Reagan stresses the two groups are musically distinct. "There's definitely a different element when Mike's around, based mostly on the energy he brings to the stage," he says.
And that's not the only Soulvation spinoff out there. Each Friday at 7 p.m., members of the collective assemble at Radio Bean for "Soul Sessions," a semi-open jam featuring "whatever Soul V musicians we can get together and some sit-ins," according to Reagan.
Fans of the main group can get their fill when Soulvation Army returns to Higher Ground for a Mardi Gras kickoff gig on Friday, February 16. I've been told the band will be performing a tribute to Sly & the Family Stone with some special guests. Hope this clears things up.
I recently received an email from guitar maker/rocker Creston Lea about his impromptu performance in the Big Apple last week. "I went to New York to see some of my guitars get played," he wrote. "And I ended up guesting with Gob Iron on Friday at Maxwell's and Saturday at Northsix."
Gob Iron is the collaboration of singer-songwriters Anders Parker and Jay Farrar, both of whom have been known to rock Creston axes. "It's hard to ask for a more gratifying experience than getting to watch a great show featuring three of your guitars, and then, at the most exciting part of the set, joining the show," he wrote. "It was unexpected, and really fun."
Gob Iron recently released their debut CD, Death Songs for the Living, which features creative interpretations of old folk tunes. In other Jay Farrar news, a reconstituted Son Volt will appear at Higher Ground on Friday, April 13. Wouldn't it be cool if Lea sat in at that show?