Tag Archives: Ron Wasserman

Getting 2017 off to a good start with the New York Jazzharmonic Trad-Jazz Sextet

New York Jazzharmonic Trad-Jazz Sextet at Union Arts Center, Sparkill, New York, on Jan. 6, 2017. (Photo © 2017. Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

New York Jazzharmonic Trad-Jazz Sextet at Union Arts Center, Sparkill, New York, on Jan. 6, 2017. (Photo © 2017. Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

In reflecting on my concert-going of 2016 and looking at what’s already on the docket for 2017, I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that I should be keeping  list of the concerts, shows, and other performing arts events I attend.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about this before. I used to dismiss it because I take photos at most shows and keep my tickets stubs, or what pass for stubs. But in the past year or so, more and more venues, at least in the rock world, are opting for total will call operations.

Granted, there’s usually a receipt generated for each faux ticket purchase, but a receipt is a poor substitute for a ticket in the scrapbook — even if, as in my case, it’s a shoebox with scrapbook aspirations.

So my logging begins in earnest in 2017, and kicked off Friday night with Rocklander Ron Wasserman’s New York Jazzharmonic Trad-Jazz Sextet in an uplifting, well-played program of early jazz at the Union Arts Center in Sparkill, New York. It was a marked contrast to my last show of 2016, a Brooklyn New Year’s Eve bash featuring Guided By Voices.

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How Ron Wasserman’s visit with Fred Hellerman, the last living member of The Weavers folk quartet, resulted in a world premiere

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Mihyun Kang)

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Mihyun Kang)

Fred Hellerman, the sole surviving member of the famous 1950s folk quartet the Weavers until his death on Sept. 1 at the age of 89, wanted to be more than just a folkie, his son, Caleb Hellerman told The Washington Post.

The quartet – which Hellerman founded with Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, and Lee Hays — was immensely popular for its vocal harmonies and faux naïve guitar-and-banjo versions of songs like Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” other now-standard folk songs including “On Top of Old Smoky” and “The Hammer Song.”

Hellerman, the son of a poor immigrant couple, taught himself to play the guitar while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II and never studied music.

As a result, he longed to be taken seriously as a musician, and was always self-conscious about his lack of musical education, his son said. “He wanted to be seen as a serious musician and composer,” he said.

On June 28, just two months before Hellerman died, the New York Jazzharmonic gave him just the boost he wanted by giving one of Hellerman composition’s, “Fourths of July,” its world premiere at the Washington Square Music Festival.

It was almost by chance that Ron Wasserman of New City, the Jazzharmonic’s artistic director, found out about the piece a year ago and began the process of bringing it to the world.

“When I started talking about this with him, it was really kind of thrilling, because I felt like I’d made a discovery,” Wasserman explains.

Hellerman was old friends with Wasserman’s mother, retired singer Joan Wile.

“She sang with him in another group he had after the Weavers, called the Neighbors. The Weavers were blacklisted for a while, so he formed the Neighbors, and my mother was in that group.”

Hellerman and Wile had fallen out of touch, but reconnected in the last several years, says Wasserman, who soon learned that Hellerman possessed some demo recordings he had produced for Wile.

Hellerman wasn’t able to email digital copies of the recordings, so Wasserman paid the elderly musician a visit.

“I went over to his house and got the recordings, which are actually really good, some of the best recordings I’ve heard of my mother singing back in the day.”

Hellerman was intent on getting Wasserman’s attention for something else.

“He was like, ‘I’ve got to play you this piece I wrote,'” Wasserman says. “He had a MIDI computer realization of the piece. He says, ‘I wrote this 30 years ago and nobody’s played it…

“It was a good piece, it was a patriotic kind of piece that the Boston Pops would play, sort of like a theme and variations on ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ So I was like, yeah, I’m gonna do the piece,” Wasserman says.

Wasserman learned that the germ of Hellerman’s idea came from his son, Caleb, who was then an infant.

“When his son was a baby in the crib, he used to scream. In the morning he would wake up like an alarm clock screaming out ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,'” explains Wasserman. Hellerman learned to turn the noisy distraction into something productive by composing countermelodies in his head. “Eventually, a number of years later, the piece had stuck with him, and that’s how he wrote it. So he dedicated it to his son.”

Because it was written for conventional string orchestra, Wasserman had to recorchestrate it for his 17-piece jazz band.

Over the months between Wasserman’s initial discussions with Hellerman and the June concert date, Hellerman’s health deteriorated. He was too frail to attend the premiere at New York University’s Frederick Loewe Theatre.

“That’s the great irony, the irony of ironies. But his family was there, and they had a great time,” Wasserman says.

Though Hellerman couldn’t attend the premiere, Wasserman found the Washington Square Music Festival audience was very aware of its composer.

“I said to the crowd, ‘You guys remember Fred Hellerman?’ And of course, down there in the Village everybody remembered Fred Hellerman.”

Ron Wasserman builds his big-band dreams on a classical bass

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Mihyun Kang)

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Photo by Mihyun Kang)

This article was first published on NyackNewsandViews.com. GO HERE to read it in its original form.

By Steven P. Marsh

Ron Wasserman fell in love with the seductive syncopations and improvisations of jazz as a young musician, but the relationship faded and he abandoned tiny, smoky jazz clubs in favor of the New York State Theater in 1988, when he landed a permanent job playing double bass in the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

Nearly three decades later, sparks are flying again between the 54-year-old musician and his youthful obsession: He started a 17-piece big band, the New York Jazzharmonic, last year, and is presenting its next concert, featuring famed violinist Lara St. John and tango artist J.P. Jofre, this Sunday at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in Manhattan.

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