Early History of the Galvanized Jazz Band
by Art Hovey
Although I had wanted to play dixieland jazz since I was very young, my first opportunity did not come until the fall of 1961. Wild Bill Davison and Brad Terry were performing at Yale with a pickup band organized by Neil Waterman. My friend and classmate Mike Waterman was on drums, and George "Ace" Bailey was on trombone. I didn't have the money for admission, so I just showed up carrying my tuba and was admitted without question. I set the tuba down on the grass and sat back to enjoy the music. After one or two tunes Davison spotted the tuba and invited me to sit in, as they had no bass player. I didn't know the tunes and had no idea what to do when they asked me to solo, but had a great time and nobody seemed to mind.
Shortly after that I met Bob Dunn, another classmate. Bob could play the Maple Leaf Rag equally well in Ab or Bb. Just for fun I asked him if he could play the left hand part in Ab while doing the right hand in Bb. He said he had never tried, but then sailed right into it. He remarked that the first part sounded like Honnegger, but the rest sounded "like a doorknob". I helped Bob round up some musicians (Ralph Faville on trumpet, Bob Flanigan on clarinet, Howard Vidal on trombone, and Mike Waterman on drums) and we started a band which was quite popular on the campus for a time.
On one occasion when we couldn't get a drummer for a job on Long Island Ralph suggested calling George Wettling in New York City. Much to our amazement George said he would love to take a day off from his regular trio gig in a strip joint. We all squeezed into the only car we could borrow (belonging to Howard Vidal's parents, who were always in favor of his musical activities) -drove to Manhattan, picked up George Wettling, and drove out to the gig. When we arrived we found that George was suffering from an insulin attack and was barely conscious. We put his drum set together while somebody found him a popsicle, and the job went very well. He entertained us on the way back with stories about Wild Bill, some of which have never been published.
Around that time (I believe it was 1962) Bob Dunn heard about a local New Orleans style band called the "Easy Riders", run by Bill Bissonette. We went to hear them at a local coffeehouse, and I remember being impressed by the clarinet player (Noel Kaletsky) and the piano player, Bill Sinclair. Bill and Noel worked with us occasionally from that time on.
In the spring of 1966 I got a call from Bill Wellcome, and older banjo player who did a lot of sing-along work in the area, asking me to do a Saturday night with a new band at a place called Good-Time Charlie's in North Haven. He told me that Noel would be on the job, and that there would be a fine young cornetist named Fred Vigorito who had recently started working with the Easy Riders. He arranged for Fred to pick me up and drive me and my tuba to the job. It was a great place for a band to play; there was a big dance floor in front of the stage, tables all around the sides and back of the room, and a balcony that went around three sides of the room. Fred's big number in those days was the Clyde McCoy version of "Sugar Blues". My good friend Howard Vidal was on trombone, and the job was so important to him that he drank only coca-cola. (That's something I had never seen before.) Eventually I was asked to return to Good-Time Charlie's on a regular weekly basis, and that's where I first met Sammy Rimington, who came to sit in one night.
Unfortunately, good things rarely last. As spring turned into summer and the management kept struggling to get a much-delayed liquor license, the crowds began to diminish. Finally, on the Saturday night of the fourth of July weekend nobody came except Fred Vigorito's ever-loyal family. That was the end of Good-Time Charlie's.
During that same period (beginning in the fall of 1965) there developed a weekly Tuesday night jam session at the International House, a residence for foreign graduate students. The sessions were organized by Eli Newberger, then in medical school. During his undergraduate years at Yale Eli had been a member and organizer of the Tin Rainbow Jazz Band, with Fred Starr on clarinet and Paul Festerson on washboard. (After graduating from Yale Fred Starr went on to organize the Federal Jazz Commission in D.C. and then the Louisiana Repertory Orchestra.) The International House sessions were very informal; band wives were encouraged to bring washboards and join the fun. Eli held it all together at the piano, and I played tuba. The noted jazz historian Larry Gushee frequently joined us, and Peter Ecklund (then a Yale freshman and already an excellent trumpet player) made some of his earliest attempts to play jazz at those sessions. One night Peter brought along another freshman named Mark Finks, who played wonderfully simple and steady chords on a little four-string guitar.
Mark eventually obtained a banjo and Peter began rehearsing a small group consisting of cornet, clarinet, banjo, tuba, and washboard. Our first public appearance was at a Yale Band Pops concert in November, 1966, with Sammy Rimington on clarinet.
By the following spring Sammy had moved back to England and Dick Cook had joined us on clarinet and alto sax. We had not yet settled on a permanent name for the band; when Mark arranged for us to do a half-hour appearance on a public TV station in Portland, Maine that spring we were billed as "Peter's Pickled Peppers". I think that was Dick Cook's first appearance with the band. Some time later Peter arranged for us to play a freebie in Manhattan and billed us as "The Ansonia Washboard Band". He felt that "Ansonia" (the name of a small factory town not far from us in Connecticut) would seem exotic to the folks in the big city. Having established our identity as a Washboard Band, I then looked at the brand name on the washboard we were using. The Tin Rainbow band had used a Zinc King, but ours proudly bore the inscription "Galvanized Washboard". Taking advantage of the double meaning, we became known as the "Galvanized Washboard Band".
On a visit to New Orleans in 1966 or 1967 Peter met Tommy Sancton, a young clarinetist strongly influenced by George Lewis and Sammy Rimington. Although Peter urged him to come to Yale, Tommy chose Harvard instead. Between 1968 and 1970 (after Dick Cook's return to England) we did a lot of commuting between New Haven and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite frequent automotive delays we made some good music and had some great times as a five-piece band.
In December of 1968 we got together in the Yale Band rehearsal room to record our first album. Howard Vidal was back in town after an extended absence, and we invited him to join us even though Tommy had never met him. I spliced two microphones together for the right channel and put a third one on the left channel of my trusty little Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder while Peter outlined his arrangements on a portable blackboard. Tommy wrote a fanciful set of liner notes and had a friend design a fine-looking album cover which we used for publicity posters for many subsequent performances. George Buck issued the recording the following spring as GHB-52. When Buck began producing CD's a few years ago he chose this recording for his first; it is now listed in his online catalog as BCD-1.
At that time (the late 1960's) Bill Sinclair and Noel had a regular Thursday night job in Hartford at a great little bar called the Rockinghorse. The group was called the "Nutmeg Jazz Band", with Dave Duquette on banjo, Sam McCane on trombone, Tom Schmutzler on bass, and Art Pulver on drums. John Toumine also sometimes played bass with the band, and after Fred Vigorito went into the army John often filled in on trumpet. Peter, Mark, and I used to drive up there occasionally to sit in or just to listen. Sammy Rimington also made the trip frequently, and Stan MacDonald and Tony Pringle often came down from Boston. The band members were only making ten bucks a night, but they decided to put $2 each into a kitty so that about once a month they could get Wild Bill Davison to join them. The place was packed on those nights, and Davison was in magnificent form. Waitresses squealed with delight when Davison chased them with his cornet while soloing.
Around 1970 Mark Finks began devoting his full attention to finding work for the Galvanized Washboard Band. It was becoming difficult to get Tommy Sancton to make the long trip from Cambridge, and Peter Ecklund was spending more time in Boston and New York than he was in New Haven. At the same time there were changes happening at the Rockinghorse; the result was that Noel, Bill, and Fred began working more and more often with the washboard band. For about a year we had a steady Thursday night gig at the Red Coach Grill, a steakhouse in West Haven. We would start each "Diamond Jim Brady Night" by parading into the dining area while playing "Hello My Baby"; then we would surround one table after another to play requests and schmooze with the customers. Later we would set up around the piano in the bar for another set or two. One night Mark somehow talked Kenny Davern into joining us. Kenny was using a very old but mint-condition Buescher soprano sax, with the lowest serial number that he had ever seen until Noel scraped the crud off the number on his own soprano, which was even lower. Noel complained to Kenny about being unable to find a replacement for his favorite clarinet mouthpiece, an obscure red plastic model which was wearing out. Kenny played a few notes on the mouthpiece and said "I know just what you need". The next time Kenny worked with us he handed Noel three new mouthpieces that were indeed just what he was looking for.
On another occasion Woody Allen sat in with the band at the Red Coach. Howard Cosell, the well-known sportscaster, came along for the ride and made learned comments about each tune that we played; he knew who wrote them and when, and what shows they were from, and who was in the shows. Cosell mentions that evening briefly in his autobiography. Not being a sports fan myself, I was apparently the only person in the place who did not know who he was. Woody was working on his "Bananas" movie at the time, and had not yet formed his New York band. He came to New Haven for two or three other jobs with us that year.
It was during our time at the Red Coach that Mark began talking about a new restaurant in Northford called the "Millpond Taverne". We went in as a trio or quartet on a trial basis on some Sunday afternoons in 1970, without attracting much attention. We had tried Sunday afternoons before (at the Mermaid Tavern in Stratford) but as Doc Dunn put it, "people want to play with their lawnmowers on Sunday afternoons." Connecticut "blue laws" at the time required bars to close by 9 PM on Sundays, so we could play only from 4:30 until 8:30. Nevertheless, Bud & Helen Thomas, owners of the Millpond, decided to go for it early in the spring of 1971 We brought Louis Nelson up from New Orleans and Tommy Benford from New York to kick off the regular Sunday series with a full seven-piece band. After that we went back to the trio format for a time, (piano, banjo, and tuba) with the band often outnumbering the audience. Bud and Helen were patient and generous, however, and allowed us to expand the group to four pieces, then five. Each time we expanded the band we found that the crowd expanded too.
We all decided to go to New Orleans that spring for the Jazz & Heritage festival. Our good friends David Paquette and Howard Vidal were both living there at the time, although Howard was no longer playing trombone. There were jam sessions around the clock at Preservation Hall and several other French Quarter establishments, with traditional jazz enthusiasts from England, Sweden, France, Germany, and even California, all eager to sound just like their idols. Woody Allen was there with the very young and beautiful Diane Keaton. (He was then filming "Sleeper".) On Friday afternoon of the Festival weekend Woody sat in with us. (The photo below is from that session.)
Some time during that afternoon George Wein telephoned to asked Woody if he would be willing to play the next night at the Municipal Auditorium as part of the festival. "Well, who would I be playing with?" asked Woody. George rattled off the names of several big stars who were on the program, including Bobby Hackett, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. "No, I'd rather not play with them" said Woody, who was still reeling from a Tonight Show appearance with Doc Severinsen's not-exactly-New-Orleans-style band. Wein asked Woody who he would want to play with. "These guys", said Woody, pointing at us. At every step in the subsequent negotiations Woody asked Mark Finks if it would be ok with us. We had to change some flight reservations to accommodate this new plan but we all agreed to do it.
Mark recalls it this way:As best I remember, that was at Economy Hall in the jazz museum at the Hotel Sonesta. That was where George Buck, Jr. showed up wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a camera slung around his neck. He came up to the platform and said, "Hey, do you guys record for anybody?" I dutifully replied, "Yes. We record for George H. Buck of Columbia, South Carolina." George said, "Why, that's funny; because I'm George Buck." That was his humorous way of introducing himself to us. I really loved it. The negotiations with George Wein to play for the Louis Armstrong tribute transpired a short while later. There was some fairly elaborate discussion between George Wein and Woody. Woody kept his eyes on me while he talked to George Wein on the phone. He repeated the important points out loud and look quizzically at me to see if that was OK with the band. Woody wanted to play with a compatible band, and he stuck to that. At length, it was agreed.
That night we attended the big Friday night Jazz festival concert. Word was out that Kid Ory was in town and had been rehearsing a band for that show, and was sounding better than ever. Sure enough, he did walk onto the stage and held his trombone for a couple of tunes while Bobby Hackett stood behind him playing his parts. The big surprise of the evening was the appearance of Tommy Sancton with a new band that he had assembled for the occasion; he called it the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, with Tony Pringle on cornet, Eli Newberger on piano, "big" Jim Klippert on trombone, and Chester Zardis on bass. (I don't remember who the drummer was.) They played some rags, including "Kinklets" and "Chrysanthemum". The next day at the outdoor part of the festival I saw Mr. Zardis playing an E-flat sousaphone with a brass band and enjoyed a nice chat with him; his only complaint about the Black Eagles was that they played everything "too fas'!" Kid Ory was also there that afternoon, holding his trombone and giving interviews to reporters.
On Saturday night we showed up early at the Municipal Auditorium and spent some time with Woody Allen, eagerly planning what we would do for our first number, our second, our third, and so on until finally Woody shyly pointed out that there might not be time for a fourth or fifth tune. While waiting backstage we had nice chats with Wendell Eugene (who later came to play with us in Connecticut a couple of times) and with Danny Barker. Mr. Barker told us about needing old instruments for a youth band he was starting at the Fairview Baptist Church. After returning to Connecticut I sent him a couple of old trombones that I found at garage sales; eventually I received a nice photo of the band. Some years later I was told that one of the little kids in the trumpet section in that photo was Wynton Marsalis and that some of the others went on to form the Dirty Dozen Jazz Band.
When our moment finally came, we went onstage and did our best. In addition to Woody we had Noel Kaletsky on sax, Fred Vigorito on cornet, a british trombonist named Dave Donahoe, Bill Sinclair on piano, Julie on washboard, and yours truly on an old tuba. While we were on, Dizzy Gillespie entertained my year-and-a-half-old daughter backstage by tooting his trumpet into her belly. The concert was later reviewed in Downbeat Magazine, where we were described as "a cut above Ruby Red's".
In April of that year we were starting to try out trombonists at the Millpond. There were not many suitable candidates in our area at that time, but Noel remembered the name of a guy from Rhode Island he had heard a few years before and we gave him a call. His first Sunday with us at the Millpond was the day we got back from New Orleans. Having been up all night and having traveled all day, we were a bit groggy; I remember thinking that this new guy probably used to play pretty well. We were all in better condition when we had him back a couple of weeks later. His name was George Masso, and he quickly became our number-one trombonist. George was living in Rhode Island and commuting to a high school teaching job in Storrs, Connecticut. After working with us for a year or so he took a sabbatical from the day job and went on tour with Benny Goodman. During his subsequent years as a top-flight trombonist in Manhattan he continued to work with us as often as his busy schedule would permit. Always the perfect gentleman, he never complained about our occasional wrong chords or the trite songs that we chose to play, never tried to be the big star of the show, and never showed up late to a job. When we asked if he would be willing to sully his name by being on an LP recording of the band he said "I would be honored." That recording, issued on the now-defunct "Artisan" label had a beautiful photo of the Millpond Taverne on its jacket and is now a rare collector's item.
There were two active jazz clubs in Connecticut in those days. The Connecticut Traditonal Jazz Club (known as "Conntrad") leaned toward New Orleans style bands usually from out of state. Conntrad concerts were usually in Meriden, but sometimes in Bridgeport. I remember hearing Kid Thomas Valentine, Albert Burbank, and Louis Nelson at one concert; they all greeted Tommy Sancton warmly and invited him to sit in, but the officers of the club would not allow it. Here's a photo apparently taken at one of our ConnTrad concerts, showing Noel, Fred, Art, and Roy Rubinstein pretending to be in action:
The other club was the "Dixieland Society of Connecticut", which sponsored monthly concerts at Donat's restaurant in Milford. (The building has now been replaced with a Chase Bank. And so the world ends; not with a whim, but with a banker!) DSC usually brought in one or two big names from New York to work with a group of local musicians which usually consisted of Noel Kaletsky on clarinet, Merrill Doucette on piano, Johnny Vine on drums, Doc Dunn on soprano sax, and Judge Herbert MacDonald on banjo. I remember hearing Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, Urbie Green, Conrad Janis, "Big Chief" Russell Moore, Max Kaminsky, and many others at DSC concerts; occasionally I was allowed to sit in.
Eventually Mark Finks became the Big Cheese in the Dixieland Society. One of the first concerts that he organized featured Wild Bill Davison, Herb Hall, Benny Morton, Red Richards and Buzzy Drootin, if I remember correctly. After that he began using big-name guest artists with the Galvanized Jazz Band. At one concert we featured Teddy Wilson, and at another we had Bobby Hackett and George Masso. A rather shy Woody Allen was the main attraction at one of those concerts; he just sat with a hat on and played his clarinet for the whole evening. At the beginning of the third set an irate customer demanded to know "when is Woody Herman going to show up?".
Photo by Donald S. Farrington
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