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Swing is Good Medicine for Jazz

A wealthy jazz fan and medical newsletter publisher has combined his love of swing with his professional audience of Physicians to form McMahon Jazz Medicine. Ray McMahon began his odyssey by buying a tenor sax, self training books, and every tenor master’s CD that he had heard and enjoyed in the ‘50's, proceeding to learn from Lester Young to Ben Webster to Stan Getz before being captivated by Harry Allen at the Vanguard then Scott Hamilton in Boston. "I wanna sound like Harry Allen - he’s the sound." Luckily for us all, he financed Harry Allen at Nola Studio, picked all the tunes and titled the CD, Jazz for the Soul. Tonight he explained to a select audience at his office complex educational conference space that "Jazz is Healing" and therefore good medicine for anyone that will listen.

The June 17, 2005 evening at McMahon Publishing Group, 545 W. 45th Street, NYC titled, THE TWO TENORS began informally with both his finds: Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton taking questions, about themselves and about their music. Scott’s recent Concord CD, Back in New York, prompted me to ask him to describe when he first came to New York City and how he became the Sunday night bandleader at age 21? (I have to admit that I was at the bar on the night he walked into Eddie Condon’s and therefore will reference him and his mates either by their first names or initials). Scott told this audience that of his checking out Ryan’s (Jimmy Ryan’s where trumpeter Roy Eldridge played on 54th Street) and Condon’s (named for Eddie Condon and bankrolled by raconteur Red Balaban in 1975) by retelling those circumstances how he came to ask famous jazz artists to guest with him to attract an audience. The list of tenors was very impressive - beginning with Buddy Tate, Bud Johnson, Arnett Cobb, Al Cohn and pianists John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles and Norman Simmons.

They both bantered about when they first met each other through bassist Major Holley - somewhere on Cape Cod, neither was certain. What instruments did they play first, an audience member asked? SH: "Drums, then the harmonica." HA: "Accordion."

Tonight’s band on drum kit is Chuck Riggs, who came to New York to play with SH at Condon’s and from Zuni, HA’s Monday night gig mates - amplified acoustic guitarist Joe Cohn and string bassist Joel Forbes.

Scott Hamilton, always a neat dresser like his tenor predecessors, is all decked out in a gray-tan striped three button suit, pink shirt with a black and pink diamond patterned tie that complements his greying hair - remember he played Condon’s as a kid in ‘75 so that was thirty years ago!

Running through a few standards demonstrated that they’ve both matured, so their unison’s and trades of four bars is always right. It didn’t take long for me to notice that Bob Porter (WBGO announcer) and Ira Gitler (Co-Author of Oxfords Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz) were sitting next to each other kibitzing with big grins and others were doing a lot of foot-tapping, hand on knee slapping, or head nodding to this swing-jazz, much of it because of Chuck Riggs’ insistent back-beat accomplished by reversing the drum stick against the snare drum rim.

Some highlights of tonight’s playing were "Polka Dots and Moon Beams" featuring SH. "Apple Honey" very fast at Woody Herman’s tempo. Together they chased the head, HA first, SH next, JC shows-off running through all the changes single picking interspersed with chord only as accents, "Ya, Ya", CR evoked tapping away on the left cymbal before assuming the back beat. The only noticeable difference in these thirty years is better suits and little show of nervousness. Observing a discussion (during the bass solo) reads as they’re planning to trade fours and Scott’s to start, revealing by comparison HA’s higher pitch and SH’s emphasis on the mid-range with a full vibrato tone. In unison their horns resemble Woody’s famous four man sax section. "Alright guy’s," I whisper to Bob and Ira. "When’s the last time you heard something swing like this?" Ira’s answer, "When they were at the Vanguard." Referring to their recent week at New York’s premier Village gig. The tunes continue to flow, until Host Ray McMahon announced, "Open bar with plenty of snacks left," during intermission.

Upon the tenors return many recognize that they’s playing Lester Young’s intro to "Tickle Toe" as recorded with Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1939. While HA moves the time up a notch I notice SH has wandered off stage to read the McMahon Publishing covers framed on the back wall but when he returns he applies a more subdued Ben Webster buzz to Lester’s runs, noticeably Chuck’s right with him on cymbal as JC supplies the melodic chords and JF maintains an unadorned rhythmic pulse.

On "Lonesome Road", JC attracts attention by running the Lonesome melody by adding layers of interpretation upon layers of dramatic difficult playing but making it come out right on time!

SH asks the audience, "We’re gonna play a ballad . . . What do you want to hear?" Loudly a voice shouts, "Laura," and without hesitation SH blows in his low register that famous name in notes.

By now it’s 10:50pm as they begin Sonny Stitt’s "Blues Up and Down." They’re cookin’, fast and furious, fours one after another, together, separately, until the only distinction is they’re running the blues - up and down. As if that were not enough, Mr. McMahon asks, "How about one more?" Immediately SH blows the root of "Flyin’ Home" as HA falls in unison on the Illinois Jacquet’s improvised solo with Lionel Hampton’s Band. It’s exciting to hear two tenors - two powerful tenor saxes - blowing what they feel - real "musicianers" as Sidney Bechet called those that blew from their hearts. They feel good and it makes us feel great!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen
Dan Kassell

Dan Kassell expands his curiosity by attending concerts, conventions, lectures and movies to take note of the History of Jazz from the indigenous Caribes in the Caribbean to Algiers New Orleans, Chicago and New York. As a member of the Jersey Jazz Society since 1972 he's witnessed musicians who learned from jazz's founders. Reviews also appear in AllAboutJazz.com, Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com and historically in AllAboutJazz-New York, Mississippi Rag or Jersey Jazz since 1972.

First inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller playing "Your Feet's Too Big," Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, Louis Armstrong solos, Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra and Bob Wilber with Marty Gross and Kenny Davern's Soprano Summit he's also became fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of Free Jazz while working on publicity for Chico Freeman.

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