Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day 2008

ST. PATRICK'S DAY 2008 And All Things Irish

This March 17th fell on a Monday, so I thought that because it was a school and work night, it wouldn't be as popular as those St. Paddy's days that fell on a weekend. And I was right.

I put on my father's Irish wool cardigan that my brother had brought back from the old sod and drove the back Piney roads to Egg Harbor City to McKee's Pub, where I spent some of last St. Patrick's Day with my friend Mike Fadden, his wife and their friend's, the McKee's Pub owners.

What a really nice place it is, too. About five blocks down the steet off the Pike that McDonald's is on, set back in the neighborhood, and really neat neighborhood it is too. Wide streets, trees, typical Americana, St. Nick's parish church a block away.

And McKee's is a good place to go after mass.

The owners were born in Ireland, and of course, every Irishman's dream is to own his own pub, so now they're living it. And the inside has the feel of an Irish pub.

After enjoying my time there quietly reading the morning papers over a pint, I moved on to Somers Point, and my most recent stomping grounds. I decided that if I was to be doing any drinking I had to pace myself, and so limited consumption to one pint per place.

At the Anchorage it was good to see Don Mahoney, and that the bagpipes are still making their rounds.

From there it was up to Gregory's where most of my old crew were hanging out. John Dean, Hank Merik, Tom Major, Bob Dean, Evelyn and the girls from the hood, and Tom the bartender.

One and out, that was the rule, and I stuck to it, but not before reminiscing with the crew.

God Bless George McGonigle, the old Irish bartender who manned Gregory's bar for decades.

I have a photo of George and my brother Leo holding up a huge green, white and orange Irish
flag banner that read: Somers Point Brigade, and used during the march down the boardwalk for the Atlantic City's St. Patrick's Day parade, which was held on the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day for the first ten years or so.

There's an old article I wrote about the origins of the Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day Parade that I'll have to dig up because most of those people are dead now, except for Joe Shields, who I think is still around town somewhere. Maybe still bartending.

Tom Major remembers.

He also remembered George McGonigle, and went out to his grave site at the Vets Cemetery and left a bottle of Guinnis for George, and also paid his respects to John "Wolfman" McGonigle, both of whom will be remembered as part of the old crew at the Point.

From Somers Point I drove down the Expressway to Williamstown and stopped by Brian's Library IV on the Black Horse Pike. Brian O'Keeny is as Irish as you can get, and it was good to see him greeting people at the door and taking care of business.

There was a young duo playing guitar and singing, but Brian said that Sean Fleming would be in about 8 and play a few sets later that night.

Now Sean Fleming is a New York Irish troubador legend, who has played the Library before, including Brian's wedding, but it being only about five in the afternoon, I told Brian I wasn't about to sit around his bar drinking for three hours waiting for Sean to show, like I would a few years ago. I would leave and return a few hours later, was the plan, that didn't actually work out.

Once I got on the road again I just kept driving, and once home safe, I stayed home. I hung up Dad's sweater and sat down by the fireplace and listened to the Chieftons and Pogues and enjoyed myself alone.

But I'm going to go out of my way to see Sean Fleming again someday, maybe in New York, where Brian said Sammy has two new places going, a pub in the village and a classy joint on the upper east side.

Sammy and Sean go back a long time together. For a long time, in the late 70s, early 80s, Sam was the manager of Flannigan's, the flagship of a five Irish pub chain in Manhattan. Flannigan's was, probably still is, a sawdust joint, where you could spill beer on the floor and nobody would notice. It had good burgers and late night snacks, Irish bartenders, and Sean Fleming's band which would whip the audience into a frenzy.

Sean's an interesting character himself. Born in Ireland, he came to America and ended up in the US Army in Vietnam. Sean rulled Fleming's, and after a decade or so, Sammy and Sean got together and figured out how to make some real money. They rented a Statin Island ferryboat, charged $20 a head and packed it with Irish music fans and circled the island of Manhattan while Sean Fleming's band played and everybody got drunk. They eventually made enough money to buy their own joint, Fleming's, which was about twenty blocks north of Flannigans, around 80th street.

I don't know how long that lasted, and I only visited the place a few times, but it was always the same, people having a great time drinking and dancing to Sean's Irish music.

Now I missed Sean on St. Patrick's Day this year, but I see his name on occassion on the markee at some Irish pubs in Philly, and the next time I go to New York I'll be sure to look up him and Sammy, as I know they'll be around a pub there somewhere.

One of the things about Flannigan's that I thought was neat was the story on the back of the menu about seven Irish rebels who were caught by the British and condemned to be executed, only to be pardoned by the Queen and exiled for life to the prison colony in Australia. Some years later, the Queen was astonished to learn that one of the men she had pardoned was the Prime Minister of Australia. It was later established that the other six also became quite honorable, one as Prime Minsiter of Canada, another Mayor of New York City, a general in the American army, etc. When I went to Australia, I looked up the story and bought a book that detailed the biographies of these men.

While there's more to come on this subject, I've subtitled it All Things Irish, I will return and share some of my flashbacks of my visits to the Emerald Isle, and other stories with an Irish bent, like the one I wrote for the SandPaper, Why the Irish Are Obnoxious.

More to come.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

2008 Jazz @ the Point


Ten years in the making, the Somers Point Jazz Festival has grown from a one day affair to a traditional, four day, extended weekend event that sets the tone for the rest of the season. If the exceptional lineup for this fest can live up to their reputations, this is going to be a great year.

As per tradition, the proceedings begin with a free show on Thursday night March 6 at the Calvary Bible Church (Ninth Street and New York Ave, Somers Point) beginning at 7 pm with the Ed Vezinho and Jim Ward 16 piece Big Band

The venue is great, has good acoustics and a family friendly coffee house atmosphere, with soft drinks and pastries, and tickets available for all of the shows the rest of the weekend. It’s also a good time to meet and mingle with the festival organizers and volunteers, who have put in so much time and effort to bring such Big City acts to such a small town by the bay.

For the first show, Ed Vezinho and Jim Ward bring their fourteen best musician friends to church to play, though don’t expect Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller, as these Atlantic City and Philly Casts are light years past the old fogies, and heavy on the horns. Together since 1981 (that’s 27 years), Vezinho plays sax and Ward trumpet. They play primarily original compositions in a contemporary style. Their current CD "Blue Haired Mama," includes locals Mike Pedicin, Jr. and Howard Isaacson, joining Vezinho, Stan Weiss and Ron Kerber to round out the sax section, Mike Natale on trumpet, Clint Sharman on trombone, John Guida, Demetrios Pappas on piano and Harry Himles on drums.

While Ed, Jim and company continue playing until 10 pm, Jim Pruitt and his trio begin playing at Gregory's restaurant at 8 and continue until 11, so even though it’s a school night, you can still catch the last show of the big band at the church and Pruitt’s last set at Gregs.

Things really start happening on Friday (March 7), with shows at three venues, Gregs, Stumpo’s and Great Bay.

Pianist David Hazeltine is at Greate Bay Country Club (with shows at 8 and 10), sultry Joanna Pascale and George Mesterhazy are at Stumpo's restaurant (Maryland & Sunny Ave), while Jeff Morrison is at Gregs.

Saturday night is a good night to go out early and have dinner at one of the venues, then stick around for the first set before moving on to the other venues.

Hazeltine is a last minute replacement for Orrin Evans at Great Bay, but the change is for the better, as Hazeltine, though not a big marquee name, has made a mark for himself. Originally out of Milwaukee, playing regularly at the Jazz Gallery, Hazeltime took Chet Baker’s advice to go to New York. Teaching at Berklee during the day and playing clubs at night, Hazeltine’s talent was apparent and recognized, just as Baker said it would. Now having played Newport Jazz, he recorded "Four Flights Up" with Slide Hampton, has a fine CD "A World For Her," and was recently featured with Marian McPartland on her Piano Jazz radio show [PBS Sunday morning on WRTI]. Hazeltine will be playing with Tony Reddus and Greg Ryan at Great Bay.

At the other end of town, over at Stumpo’s, vivacious jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale will sing along with George Mesterhazy’s piano. Contributing to the mix will be Dick Oatts on sax, Madison Rast on bass and Dan Monaghan backing up on drums.

While Joanna might be new around here, we all know George Mesterhazy, either from Kentucky Avenue Days, the casinos, Cape May Jazz Fest or the Merion Inn (Cape May), where George entertains the appreciative dining crowd much of the time. Joanna sounds a lot more mature than her 24 years, and if you like her, you can catch her every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night at Solefood at the Loews Hotel (12 & Market PSFS) in Philly. [See: ]

At Gregory's, Chicago sax man Jeff Morrison and his Quintet begin playing after diner at 9, and go late. Morrison, originally from Phoenix, found his audience in Chicago, where they appreciate the sax a lot better than Arizona. Morrison went to Chicago like Hazeltine went to New York, to find his soul, and he can be expected to bring that with him and play some tunes from his "Rights of Seclusion" CD.

[You can check him out at:

and ]

Things peak at the Point on Saturday, March 8, when headliners, the Cannonball Legacy Band featuring Vincent Herring & Jimmy Cobb hit Stumpo's, with two shows at 8 and 10. Also scheduled are The Rumba Club at the Inlet (998 Bay Ave.) and the George Rabbai Quartet with Brian Betz at Gregory's restaurant (from 9).

As all jazz affectionatos know, Julian Edwin Adderly (1928 1975), aka "Cannonball," replaced John Coltrain in Miles Davis’ band and plays on the Davis classic LP "Kind of Blue." Adderly possessed what Davis called "a certain spirit," which still soars today. The former Florida school teacher, known by his nickname since grammar school, went on to lead his own legendary combo that included drummer Jimmy Cobb and Vince Herring on alto sax. Cobb and Herring will try to evoke that spirit at the Point, which shouldn’t be that hard to do.

Adderly wrote a number of great tunes that you will recognize, but for me Cannonball’s spirit is best exemplified by "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," written by his sideman Joe Zawinul, who also formed Weather Report.

The Rumba Club, a 9 piece Latin band, will keep things moving at the Inlet, where they better set up a dance floor because I have a felling things are going to get hot and heavy.

At Greg’s there’s the George Rabbai Quartet with guest guitarist Brian Betz. The New York Times said Rabbi is "a bearded Falstaffian trumpet player and singer," while Betz is a Rowan graduate and music teacher who plays regularly with Dennis DiBlasio and Frankie Avalon. [ See:]

On Sunday March 9, you got to pace yourself to catch all three shows. After breakfast, you can settle in with a bloody or Virgin Mary at Gregory’s and beginning at 1 pm, take in the tunes of Rob Swanson & The Terra Soul Project, who go until 4.

It’s hard for a bassist to lead a band but that doesn’t deter Rob Swanson, whose been playing bass for 25 years out of Wilmington, Delaware, and with a fine group of musicians, has the CD "The Terra Soul Project."

The Inlet, the site of the historic Bay Shores and Waterfront, is a great, bright and sunny venue for music, and perfect for the jazz guitar of Bob Devos, who brings his quartet to town. A student of the legendary Philly guitar teacher Dennis Sandole, Devos played with organist Jimmy McGriff and likes to pick behind the rumbling vibs of a B3, in this case played by Dan Kostelnik, and backed by Steve Johns on drums. They’ll play some of the jazz guitar and organ standards, plus some tunes off the latest Devos CD "Playing for Keeps."

Wrapping things up late in the afternoon, things shift to Stumpo’s beginning at 3 pm, with exceptional vocalist Jeanie Bryson, backed by pianist George Mesterhazy, who gets time and a half for overtime. Jeannie Bryson is well known to anybody around here who has been to the Cape May Jazz Fest, but she’s developed an international reputation from the worldwide popularity of her visually sensual performance in "Live at Warsaw" from 1991.

I remember one Sunday evening after a Cape May Jazz Fest, back at the home of Carol and Woody, with Van Duzee playing piano and Jeannie Bryson singing, and Jeannie and bluesman Frank Bea began an argument in scat, that almost made sense. With Mesterhazy on piano, after the last Sunday night set of the weekend, I have a feeling that George and Jeannie will go around one more time, and a few other souls may just join in, and it’ll sound like a chorus from heaven.

Yo! Cannonball, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."

An all event pass is only $40 ($50 day of show), or $25 for Friday ($30 DOS), $30 Saturday ($35 DOS) and $15 for Sunday ($20) and can be ordered by calling (609) 927 6677 or though the Somers Point Jazz Society web site

See you in Church