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Jazz Musician Marty Fogel Reflects On an Epic Career

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Marty Fogel - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Marty Fogel

Walking a path near the lakefront, Marty Fogel spied a young man leaving with a fishing rod in hand. A smile broke out on the 76-year-old musician's face.

"That's a man after my own heart," Fogel said, his eyes shadowed by a baseball cap pulled low on his brow. "We can talk jazz all day, man. But I do love to fish. You have to be in the moment to fish. Same with playing music."

Fogel knows a thing or two about playing music. With a career spanning more than 60 years, Fogel has a résumé few musicians could rival. The Elizabeth, N.J., native played with legends such as singer-songwriter Lou Reed and jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and toured with everyone from 1960s funk band Parliament to singer-songwriter James Taylor. After a long and glittering career abroad, Fogel moved to Colchester in 2017. He immediately immersed himself in the local jazz scene, bringing with him a musical history like no other.

"I had a very musical household," Fogel remembered. "My father wasn't trained, but he was a great singer. He'd sing cantorial Jewish stuff, music from his youth. My mother would join in when he'd sing in the car. So, I always had music in my ear."

The music bug really bit Fogel when he first saw the 1954 film The Glenn Miller Story. By age 12, he had picked up the tenor saxophone, and he never looked back.

After completing a degree in music education from Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) in 1967, Fogel decided to go pro. He'd been gigging since he was 14, but as he was beginning graduate school he realized that working part time wasn't going to cut it anymore.

"I dropped out," he admitted with a smile and a shrug. "I wanted to play all the time, you know? So I joined this band, Pig Iron, who were a Columbia Records act. Blues rock, that sort of thing. It was a crazy, wild time, doing all those tours."

In 1973, Fogel formed his own band, called the Everyman Band, with his friends Grover Kemble, Larry Packer, Michael Suchorsky and Bruce Yaw. The Everyman Band would be a near constant throughout Fogel's career. The group released two albums of funk-infused jazz on ECM records: 1982's Everyman Band and 1985's Without Warning.

The Everyman Band brought Fogel to the attention of Reed in 1975. The enigmatic rock star hired the group to back him up after his previous band had quit.

"Yeah, it started a little rough," Fogel admitted of that first tour. "Lou hired us but told the guitar player right before we left, 'Hey, you ain't going.' Then he fired Larry Packer two weeks into the tour and sent him home. So, not the best start."

Fogel insists that he and Reed had a good relationship, however. He would go on to tour with the famously prickly star for five years and play on four of Reed's albums. He even cowrote "The Bells" with Reed on the album of the same name, a song the late Reed considered one of his favorites.

Another legendary musician would soon enter Fogel's life.

"It must have been '76," Fogel said. "We were in the airport, and I'm on this pay phone. Who comes walking up next to me but Don Cherry! I couldn't believe it. Now, Don's wife owned a little shop next to my studio in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so I'd seen him before, but I was way too shy to say hi to him."

After Fogel told Reed that he had just bumped into Cherry, the singer's reaction was instant.

"'Go get him!'" Fogel recalled Reed saying. The chance meeting launched an important part of Reed's career: It ushered in the jazz fusion he would create with Cherry on The Bells.

The relationship between Reed and Fogel eventually soured. Reed's management told Fogel that a scheduled tour was canceled. Fortunately, Cherry wanted to bring the Everyman Band on the road, and the group happily obliged.

"Of course, right before we go, Lou's people call me and say the tour was back on," Fogel says. "I'd already agreed to go on the road with Don, though. So, that was it for playing with Lou."

Fogel toured across Europe with Cherry. But when he returned home to New Jersey, the prodigal son found his prospects limited. He had toured the world with Reed and Cherry for years but had barely set foot in his home state as a musician. "Nobody knew who the fuck I was," Fogel said.

He started playing with wedding bands. "They were terrible. None of them could play!" he recalled. He returned to teaching music, as well.

"It was pretty weird to go from being treated really well out on the road to having to slide through a greasy kitchen to get to a stage," Fogel admitted. "But I had to do it, you know? I needed to establish myself as a local player."

And he did, eventually becoming a regular at a prominent jazz club in Montclair called Trumpets. With its close proximity to New York City, the northern Jersey scene was full of great musicians.

Over the following years, Fogel concentrated on raising his family with his wife, Nan, and two daughters, Samara and Eliana. By the 2000s, Fogel had carved out a local career, playing in NYC and Montclair. The years passed, and Fogel began to consider finally leaving New Jersey.

"One of my daughters ended up marrying a Vermonter, which sort of started the whole ball rolling," he explained.

So on June 7, 2017, the week of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, Fogel and his family moved to Vermont. Though he didn't play that year, Fogel has performed at every BDJF since, seamlessly joining the Burlington jazz scene.

"I was pretty ambivalent at first," Fogel confessed about playing in Burlington. "All my contacts were in Jersey, but they all said there were good players in Burlington. I kept hearing Ray Vega's name come up."

Vega, an accomplished trumpet player, teacher and host of the Vermont Public Radio program "Friday Night Jazz," was delighted by Fogel's arrival on the scene.

"It feels like I've known Marty my whole life," Vega told Seven Days by phone. "I love that cat. He brings so much experience to the scene — but also so much class. He's a great, great player."

David Beckett, a longtime jazz DJ on Saint Michael's College radio station WWPV-LP 92.5 FM, was shocked when Fogel moved to town.

"When somebody shows up in Burlington and they have recordings on ECM records, that's a really startling thing," said Beckett, who helped organize the first BDJF 38 years ago. "That sort of pedigree is just something you can't ignore. It lifts the whole scene up. It's greatly to our benefit culturally and to the jazz scene in Burlington.

"And for somebody like Marty to reflect on the talent up here is really something," he continued. "He's not just going to blow smoke." 

"Burlington jazz players are as good as players anywhere," Fogel asserted. "And look, I'm not a granola type, you know? I'm Jersey Marty," he continued. "But I get moved by the love here. I saw it at the last jazz fest. Everyone has so much love to be playing music."

Fogel now gigs all over the Burlington area, often with his Mixed Bag Quartet, who perform at Foam Brewers in Burlington this Saturday, October 2. The band's rotating lineup includes players such as pianist Tom Cleary, drummer Geza Carr and bassist Jeremy Hill.

To see Fogel play is to see a man wholly in his element. While leading the band, he's plugged-in and present. When the solos come and Fogel's eyes close, it's easy to hear what makes him such a special player.

"Marty is free of clichés when he plays," Vega observed. "He's not trying to play lines or licks. The man plays his heart. And he writes that way, too. He's got nothing to prove to anyone, so he's just playing pure music, man."

"A lot of players — and this isn't a criticism — are very clinical and well studied but don't display emotion when they play," Fogel said. "That's not my thing. I play with emotion."

Fogel watched another pair of fishermen heading for the shore with an appreciative look.

"If I've learned anything over the years, it's to tell the truth with your playing," he says. "If I have a secret, that's it."

Marty Fogel's Mixed Bag Quartet performs at Foam Brewers in Burlington on Saturday, October 2, 8 p.m. Free.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Playing It From the Heart"