[Ed. note: this item is contributed by Steve McKenna, son of the late Cape Cod-based pianist Dave McKenna, who performed often with Lou Colombo and appeared at the Roadhouse Cafe Hyannis.]
Joe Venuti and Dave McKenna Alone at the Palace
Joe Venuti and Dave McKenna – Alone at the Palace
Recorded 1977 Chiaroscuro Records
One of my favorite records, this is a duo record with Dad and the late, great Jazz violinist Joe Venuti (Giuseppe Venuti). It would be hard to find someone who could swing harder on any instrument than Joe on violin, and I have heard on more than one occasion from musicians that this is some of the best Dave McKenna on record.
Joe claimed to have been born aboard a ship as his parents emigrated from Italy, but it is widely believed he was born in Philadelphia. Joe was one of Jazz’s real characters and a legendary practical joker. An often told story about Joe is the time in Hollywood, CA when he went through the union book and called called 26 (or was it 46?) tuba players and told them he had a gig for them and to meet (at the same time) at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. He then watched from his hotel window as chaos and confusion soon developed on the street below as the tuba players showed up with their instruments.
As a young teen I had the privilege to play golf with Joe, the great trumpet player Lou Colombo and Lou’s son Tommy at the Bass River Golf Course on Cape Cod. Joe had no shoes to play golf in so he was taken to a Department store where he bought a pair of the ugliest red and black sneakers I had/have ever seen. They were like the old low cut converse Chuck Taylors but with a red and black shape design that only could have been sold in the ’70s…Chuck Taylor meets Andy Warhol on Joe Venuti’s feet…and if you have ever seen what Joe Venuti looked like you would understand the sneakers were just the beginning of sensory overload. I don’t remember many details of the golf but I do remember Joe did most of the talking, providing nonstop colorful commentary while Lou Colombo laughed hysterically throughout (for those of you that have not met Lou he has a world class, Hall of Fame laugh).
Joe took the McKenna family out for an Italian meal one evening on the Cape. Now we are with Giuseppe Venuti at an Italian restaurant and Giuseppe Venuti does not order from the menu. Without even looking at the menu he has the chef come out and, after several minutes of intensely hilarious discussion and consultation, the courses of food are ordered to be prepared by the chef as agreed upon by he and Giuseppe Venuti. I was too young to really appreciate the meal but I could tell that Mom, Dad and Joe were having one helluva good time.
This is a wonderful album that I think you will have one helluva good time listening to it.
Live in Belfast
Recorded November 1996
Released Vol.1 (2001) and Vol. 2 (2011) Nagel Heyer Records
Harry Allen (Saxophone) – Howard Alden (guitar) – Frank Tate (bass) – Dave McKenna (piano)- Butch Miles (drums)
Available amazon.com, iTunes, Nagel Heyer Records web site, etc.
One of my first Frank Tate experiences was when Frank drove us from the Cape to Boston for a Red Sox game (Dad as most of you know never had a driver’s license). In the back seat of Frank’s car were binoculars with the name tag Frank “Far Out” Tate (written I found out later by his girlfriend at the time). From that day forward my brother Doug and I referred to our wonderful friend as Frank “Far Out” Tate. It was Frank who took us to see the movie Star Wars when it first came out. Thanks Frank!
Frank Tate, of course, is a great bass player and was a big part of the Columns years on Cape Cod. From 1970 to 1976, the Columns Restaurant, owned and operated by Warren Maddows, was the place on Cape Cod for jazz—a magical place, particularly in the summer when the musicians played in a big tent and vacationing celebrities would come to dig the music. It was where you could go to hear Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, Bobby Hackett, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Dick Johnson, Lou Colombo, Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Tony Bennett…and the house piano player, Dave McKenna. Frank for some time was the house bass player. During a Dave McKenna tribute many years ago celebrating Dad’s 50 years in the music business Frank gave a wonderful speech on how some musicians attended schools like Berklee and Julliard but Frank’s musical education was playing those summers at The Columns with Dave McKenna. It was a wonderful thing to say, “Far Out” in the best possible way, just like our friend Frank Tate.
These albums are tremendous, straight ahead, swinging Jazz recorded live at The Guinness Spot, Belfast, Ireland on November 7 & 8, 1996. Harry Allen to me incorporates some of the best qualities of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz into a sound uniquely his own (and he’s from Rhode Island, of course, just like Dad) and the rhythm section is impossibly solid. Dad and Howard sound so good together it makes me wish they had recorded together more. Dad takes a solo turn on Vol.1 playing “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” and on vol.2 his solo is an absolutely gorgeous “Life is Better” (highly recommended). Vol. 2 also contains a rarity for Dad, a very special piano/bass duet with Frank on “September Song.” I could be wrong, but I think it may be the only Dave McKenna piano/bass duet on record. Right now Vol. 2 is only available to be downloaded and not available on CD. The sound quality on both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 is exceptional. I am listening to Vol. 2 as I write this and I can tell you first hand it goes very well with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, but since it was recorded in Belfast I am sure a pint of Guinness will work just as well. Slainte!
Last, but not least, a Dave McKenna link:
I hope you enjoyed this little newsletter about my Dad, pianist Dave McKenna (May 30, 1930 – October 18, 2008). This is kind of a trial run and I am open to suggestions on how I can do a better job. I plan to do this on a semi-regular quarterly basis (whatever that means). Pictures, memories and stories to share are welcome!
Thank you and thanks always for listening,
PO Box 357
State College, PA 16868