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Mudd Club Meets Bird Land at This Year’s Lake George Jazz Weekend

By Anthony F. Hall

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Raymond Scott, the electronic music pioneer, composer of film scores and classic cartoon music as well as jazz suites for big bands, and whose music will be performed at this year’s Lake George Jazz Weekend, is said to have been one of most lasting influences upon downtown, avant-garde rock composer John Zorn.

As it happens, some of the musicians who have played and recorded with Zorn and his shifting collective of jazz, rock and classical performers will also be at this year’s festival, which will be held September 13 and 14 in Shepard Park.

They include trumpeter Steve Bernstein, who has put together a combo called SexMob to play the music of Nino Rota, the composer who scored Fellini’s most famous films, and drummer Billy Martin, who replaced Anton Fier as the percussionist in the legendary Lounge Lizards.

“Musically, they all came up in the late 1970s and early 80s in downtown New York, when the new music scene, including punk and no wave, was germinating in clubs like the CBGB’s, the Mudd Club and Tier 3,” said Pines.

Raymond Scott

“They were sophisticated, synthesizing and integrating every kind of influence, but there was an interest in pop culture that made much of their music accessible,” he said.

No wonder that Raymond Scott, by then a recluse and an obscure figure from the 1930s and 40s, was a downtown hero.

“His 1930s six-man “Quintette” layered ethnic flavors and pan-global riffs over a propulsive beat. Shirley Temple tap-danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Scott’s “Toy Trumpet” in the 1937 film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. His antic melodies were adapted for such Warner Brothers classics as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies,” said Pines.

“Raymond Scott was a maverick and a visionary. His music was an underground tributary that finally surfaced in the music of the downtown scene decades after it was composed,” said Pines. “He’s the father of a jazz lineage that defies description.”

The Raymond Scott Orchestrette, formed by Irwin Chusid in 1999 to play and record new arrangements of Scott’s music, takes the stage on Sunday at 4:30 pm.

Steven Bernstein’s “SexMob Plays Fellini, the Music of Nino Rota,” will perform on Saturday at 4:30.

Steve Bernstein and Curtis Fowlkes

“Bernstein celebrates this genre by turning it upside down, and what falls out is always surprising—a pocket full of styles ranging from Dixieland to heart stopping balladry,” said Pines.

Bernstein moved to New York at the age of 17, where he joined the Lounge Lizards, formed in 1981 by John Lurie and Arto Linday. Dismissed as “fake jazz,” the Lounge Lizards chose to interpret the insult as praise, and rightly so, for there was nothing fake about their dedication to Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra.

On Sunday at 1 pm, Bernstein will join Billy Martin and Lounge Lizard alum Curtis Fowlkes on stage as part of Wicked Knee.

“Wicked Knee can sound like a full scale New Orleans brass band, but it’s  flexible enough to accommodate African and contemporary idioms of all sorts,” said Pines.

The band also includes tubist Marcus Rojas, who played with Bernstein in the avant-jazz trio Spanish Fly in the 1990s.

Small wonder, then, that Pines describes this year’s festival as “our most intentionally quirky yet.”

Even those performers who have never heard of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James White and the Blacks, Jack Ruby or Theoretical Girls, share “a range and open-ness that you don’t generally get with jazz. Every performer has a dynamism and intensity that puts them way up on the jazz roster,” said Pines.

Among them: Saturday night’s headliner, Israeli born clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen; Jane Bunnett and her female band of six Cuban All-Stars; gypsy jazz vocalist Cyrille Aimee; and Manuel Valera,  a Havana born pianist and composer who’s frequently hailed as the future of Cuban jazz.

Valera and his quintet will open this year’s jazz festival on Saturday at 1 pm.  The Lake George Jazz Weekend at the Lake is presented by the Lake George Arts Project with support from Kenneth and Susan Gruskin, the Village and the Town of Lake George and program advertisers.

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