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Dowagiac Daily News
November 5, 2007
Actual Story

Stars align in Dowagiac for unforgettable show

By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Monday, November 5, 2007 10:21 AM EST

"Happy Birthday" doesn't usually shoot electricity through an audience.

But then it isn't usually played - at least not in Dowagiac - with a New Orleans jazz flair by horn players parting the Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center crowd like Saints Marching In.

Chicago jazz legend and Dowagiac resident Franz Jackson, Still Swingin' at 95, opened Sunday evening with "What a Wonderful World," then was joined by vocalist Judi K ("eight years with Franz were heaven for me"), trumpeter George Bean, trombonist Ed Bagatini, Tad Calcara, the principal clarinetist for the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City, Hugh Leal on banjo, Jim Pickley on piano, Chris Carani on bass (his father also played with Jackson) and Hank Tausend, who played with Woody Allen's jazz band, on drums for Fats Waller's "This Joint is Jumpin'."

Master of Ceremonies Neal Tesser, Playboy's jazz critic from 1991 to 2002 and the first jazz critic for USA Today, played "traffic cop" for the constant shuffling of the "cast of characters" from 18 guest artists, such as flamboyant trumpeter Yves Francois Smierczak.

"Franz was instrumental in me playing jazz music," Smierczak told the Daily News. "One Christmas my father gave me a Roy Eldridge record. I went not only nuts over Roy, but over the tenor player. 'Who is that?' He encouraged me to play the plunger mute and growl, everything.

"We recorded a record together," said the musician who doffed his fedora to acknowledge applause or hung it from the bell of his horn.

"This is the most important thing I've done in the last three to four years of my life, maybe six or seven," said Smierczak, who has been on the Chicago jazz and blues scenes since the 1970s. He's French, but grew up in Africa.

"Certainly my favorite thing. Dowagiac probably doesn't realize that this is probably not only the oldest, but the greatest. It's a blessing that he's here and still doing it well. He's truly one of a kind, right up there with Webster, Young and Hawkins as the greatest tenor players who ever lived. I'm having a great time tonight."

Tesser offered the imagery of a slot machine jukebox. Pull the arm and it plays nothing but jackpots, with Jackson's tenor the calm eye of a sonic hurricane around which everything blew.

The opening lineup gave way to trumpeter Art Hoyle, trombonist Larry Dwyer on piano and Robert Cousins, 77, on drums for "(Take the) 'A' Train," Duke Ellington's theme song and now the official song of the New York City subway system.

So it went all night, through Jimmy Noone's "Apex Blues" and "Sweet Lorraine," "Honeysuckle Rose" sung by Crystal Ristow, "Lester Leaps In," Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," "Exactly Like You" sung by Lisa Roti, Tishimongo Blues" (like the Elmore Leonard novel), "Perdido" (written by the Ellington musician who also penned "Caravan"), Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and "Bill Bailey (Won'tcha Please Come Home)."

And that was just the first half.

After Mayor Donald Lyons presented Jackson with a key to the city, the pace picked up with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," 1928's "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" sung by Ristow, "St. Louis Blues" (regarded as the first jazz composition for its New Orleans mixture of blues and Spanish tango), "Bourbon Street Parade," "S Wonderful," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" sung by Roti and the finale, "Chicago."

Eric Schneider, alto saxophone and clarinet, said the musicians were not flashing gang signs on stage, but trying to get New York and Chicago musicians in the same key. Holding up four fingers, or "grapes," means the number of flats - or the key of A flat.

A prodigy who started playing piano at 3, Schneider toured the world for four years with Earl "Fatha" Hines, who insisted on second billing on their album, "Eric and Earl." Schneider also toured two years with Count Basie and recorded three albums, including the Grammy Award-winning "88 Basie Street."

Schneider also played with Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Goodman, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Rosemary Clooney.

"It's always a privilege and a pleasure to be able to share the stage with someone who has contributed so much to Dowagiac," Mayor Lyons said. "But Mr. Franz Jackson, still swingin' at 95, contributed way more than just making our community a better place. He has made the world a better place."

The concert, a benefit for the Jazz Institute of Chicago, Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, Union High School Jazz Band and Encore Dance Company, lasted 3 1/2 hours even without an anticipated closing jam session.

"My dad got to see how much he means to musicians who are here appearing today - and to all of you, and I thank you," said Jackson's daughter and manager, Michelle Jewell of Niles, who organized the event sponsored by the Dogwood and Wood Fire Italian Trattoria, where Jackson plays.

"I can't tell you how thrilled I am that this all came together as beautifully as it did," she said.

Jewell narrated a slideshow, "A Short Version of a Long Life" about his remarkable eight-decade career which began at 16 in 1929 with stride pianist Albert Ammons and continued in the 1930s and '40s with Carroll Dickerson, Jimmy Noone, Walter Barnes, Roy Eldridge, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and James P. Johnson. Jackson replaced Ben Webster in Henderson's and Eldridge's bands and won attention for big band composing and arranging for Benny Goodman, Calloway and Jack Teagarden for CBS.

Between tenures in Chicago, Jackson lived in New York and Sweden, performing, composing, arranging and directing bands.

Beginning in the late 1940s, he embarked on tours entertaining U.S. troops abroad with his USO band.

In 1957, he formed his own band, the Original Jazz All-Stars, which enjoyed a 10-year run at the Red Arrow Nightclub in Stickney, Ill. Jackson recorded seven albums during this period on his own label, Pinnacle Recordings.

Jackson, who was 76 when he earned a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, was interviewed by Dowagiac visitor Studs Terkel in 1997.

In 2002, he appeared on the "Prairie Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor.

The man who learned Chicago jazz from its originators was featured on the cover of Chicago Jazz Magazine in 2004 and in 2005 was honored as one of the five world's greatest living jazz saxophonists by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, which awarded him the Walter Dyett Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

Jackson was nominated for the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship and was featured at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Bagatini, the trombonist, performs with the Dynabones and operates a music store in St. Joseph with his wife, Adrienne. Besides helping set the foundations for the band departments at Lake Michigan College and Lake Michigan Catholic Schools, he also performed with Benny Goodman, Patti Page and Vic Damone.

Bean played trumpet with the big bands of Stan Kenton, Harry James and Count Basie in the 1950s and performed with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme in the '60s.

Dwyer is assistant director of bands and director of jazz studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Hoyle performed with U.S. Air Force Bands from 1951-1955, appears on the "Super Fly" soundtrack and toured with Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Burt Bacharach, Peggy Lee and Henry Mancini, recorded with Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Ramsey Lewis and Natalie Cole and performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Billy Eckstine, Dean Martin and Milton Berle.

Leal recorded a CD with Jackson at the 1998 Montreaux Detroit Jazz Festival.

Drummer Billy "Stix" Nicks, who used to sit in with Jackson at Fun Fest in downtown Dowagiac, played with Junior Walker and the All-Stars, including the hit "How Sweet It Is to be Loved by You."

Nicks has played the Apollo Theater and performed with Wilson Pickett, The Staples Singers, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., The Fifth Dimension, Marvin Gaye, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops, the Isley Brothers, The Spinners, The Temptations, Jerry Butler and Adam West and Frank Gorshen (TV's Batman and the Riddler). Nicks was also a member of Dick Clark's national Band Stand TV show.

Pianist Jim Pickley, a regular with his trio at Wood Fire, led bands for five years on cruise ships and has performed with Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Watrous and Ed Shaughnessy. He is music director at our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Edwardsburg.

Jackson played on Roti's album. She sings in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and has performed in Europe, Asia and North, Central and South America.

Bassist Darrel Tidaback is from San Antonio, Texas, and now lives in South Bend, Ind., where he teaches at Indiana University South Bend, Saint Mary's College and Notre Dame. He has performed with Lionel Hampton, Rosemary Clooney, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Carol Channing and Mitzi Gaynor.
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