Getting back in the Monday night jazz groove


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Rhode Island has had a superb big band jazz tradition that began within a year of the Monday night “rehearsal band" that Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started at New York's Village Vanguard.

Drummer Duke Belaire inaugurated the RI tradition in 1967 at the Cobblestone Tavern in East Providence before settling in 1969 at nearby Bovi's Town Tavern. In quite a feat of musical longevity, Bovi's was the home of Monday night jazz for 48 years.

Belaire had the gig until 1999 (with a band rotation that at various times featured trombonist Hal Crook and saxophonists Greg Abate, Dick Johnson and Art Pelosi), when he eased into retirement.

Trumpeter John Allmark's Jazz Orchestra took over the Monday night slot—and kept the candle burning for 16 years. Then came late November, when Bovi's closed with no clear indication if or when it might reopen. After nearly a half century of dynamic performances, that was quite a blow for area jazz fans.

The good news is that Allmark's superb orchestra will resume the tradition on Monday, January 25, at The Met, a music club in nearby Pawtucket better known for pop, rock and blues acts. But now, Monday nights at The Met will belong to jazz.

Allmark's big band has featured top-flight players from across southern New England and occasional special guests, who have included Los Angeles-based trumpeter Winston Byrd and pop/R&B singer Jeffrey Osborne. Jeffrey's oldest brother, Clay Osborne, sang regularly with the big band until his death10 years ago. Others who guested with Allmark's big band since its founding include saxophonists Nick Brignola and Lanny Morgan, and trumpeter Bobby Shew.

Here's a taste of what the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra sounds like, on a 2009 version of Don Menza's tune “Groovin' Hard," a Buddy Rich band staple.

You'll find a score of similar JAJO video tracks on YouTube, including wonderful takes on Billy Strayhorn's “Chelsea Bridge" and Dizzy Gillespie's infreqently heard “Tanga."

This band, often featuring brass-rich material by Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Oliver Nelson and Horace Silver, among others, can hold its own against any competition on any given night. Here's a link to a profile/review I wrote for JazzTimes a few years ago.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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