The Van Dyck: A Deep, Jazzy Past; An Ambitious, Resonant Future
SCHENECTADY – Jazz memories mixed with happy hopes as the operators of Stella Pasta Bar announced plans to purchase the Van Dyck in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood and launch the fourth incarnation of the venerable jazz club and restaurant.
Times Union reporter Steve Barnes announced in mid-July that Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro planned to move to the Van Dyck’s Union Street location after both the Van Dyck and Stella Pasta Bar closed last spring. Van Dyck owners the McDonald family had gradually wound down operations after also having sold its Pinhead Susan’s and Stockade Inn Schenectady businesses, while Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro had to leave its Burnt Hills location at Fo’Castle Farms.
Stella Pasta Bar owner Chris Sule plans to honor the Van Dyck’s live music tradition, refresh its menu with Stella Italian favorites, and continue brewing in the facility that Peter Olsen and his partners set up behind the original restaurant and which the McDonald family maintained as Mad Jack’s. Sule has said the Stella group will retain Van Dyck brewmaster Brian Conley, but re-brand the operation as Seven Points Brewery.
The Van Dyck’s long history includes two bankruptcies and business problems that somehow never tarnished its glittering reputation as a jazz mecca. Jazz fans name-check memories from a roster of genius-class artists.
“It was synonymous with jazz here,” recalled longtime WCDB-fm jazz DJ and vice president of A Place for Jazz Bill McCann. He first saw live music there when his Albany lobbyist father took him to see Marian McPartland in the early 80s.
“I saw countless shows over the years at the ‘old’ Van Dyck and its reincarnations,” said McCann.
Ex-New Yorker Marvin Friedman founded the eatery and music venue in 1947, heyday of downtown Albany’s Green Street jazz scene. When Friedman died in 1985, his nephew Don Wexler operated the Van Dyck until Peter Olsen and his partners bought it in a 1997 bankruptcy auction. They renovated the building and expanded it as a live music venue, reportedly spending nearly $2 million on improvements.
Musically, they paralleled the show-biz trend that also influenced the late-June jazz festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center which gradually widened its offerings to include R&B, soul, and pop. So did the Van Dyck. When its operating partnership proved unstable, Olsen became sole owner in 2003 even as looming debt threatened. The Van Dyck closed in March 2007 as Olsen declared bankruptcy, thwarted in attempts to refinance the venue’s debt in the financial downturn. He lamented, “Try to get a loan!” Soon, the McDonald family bought it in a second auction.
“The Friedman Era was the Golden Era and heyday of the Van Dyck,” said McCann. “The Olsen Era had its ups and downs, but he kept the torch going, as did the McDonalds.”
Tim Coakley, another jazz DJ, former president of A Place for Jazz and a drummer in his own right, echoed McCann’s reverence. “The major jazz performers who played there were among the best, and best-known, musicians in the world,” he said, noting live music there began in the piano room of its downstairs dining area, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Coakley name-checked pianists Dave McKenna, Jimmy Rowles, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Marian McPartland, Joanne Brackeen, Al Haig, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Jay McShann, Sammy Price as early attractions, plus “some that I’m sure I have forgotten.”
Coakley also traced the Van Dyck’s widening music spectrum over time. First came guitarists including Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Chuck Wayne, Barney Kessell and Mary Osborne; often backed by locals bassist Mike Flanagan and drummer Ralph Purificato. Then, Friedman began presenting “almost legendary figures from the days of early jazz and swing.” Coakley listed trumpeters Jimmy McPartland and Roy Eldridge; vibraphonist Red Norvo, pianists Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, and “the unforgettable violinist Joe Venuti.”
Coakley’s then-colleague at the Daily Gazette Joe Slomka recalled how he and fellow newshounds “would run over to catch the last set as soon as we got off at 11.” Slomka said, “The tops was when (pianist) Dave McKenna came to town – he had a girlfriend he liked to visit, so he was here several times a year.” McCann also saw McKenna many times in the downstairs dining room, noting how the pianist linked whole sets around common themes or titles and how super-fan Fran Rodgers recorded his shows. ”Dave would let Fran put his tape recorder right on the piano every time Dave played.” Now 36 of those McKenna Van Dyck shows shows can be heard at DaveMcKennapiano.com. Area jazz pianist Peggy Delaney found McKenna less obliging, however, declining to give her lessons.
Contrasting Van Dyck eras, McCann said, “I really liked what they did with the upstairs jazz room after the reconstruction (led by Peter Olsen), with its cool loft vibe.” He said the original downstairs piano room “was more like you were sitting in your dining/living room for a private concert.” McCann said, “The food and drink in the ‘new’ Van Dyck was essentially pub fare. Back in the day at the ‘old’ Van Dyck, it was more of a fine-dining experience with table cloths…It felt like you were going out to a nice dinner. In fact, it is where my family went for my college graduation dinner.”
For fans, however, the music was always more important than the food. McCann listed top shows by trumpeter Clark Terry; saxophonists Stanley Turrentine, Phil Woods, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Scott Hamilton and Nick Brignola (separately and together); also pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Stanley Jordan, and harmonica wizard-whistler Toots Thielemans with pianist Kenny Werner – “a fabulous night of music.”
McCann turned somber to recall how the Van Dyck honored Nick Brignola after his passing in 2002, including “A Musical Celebration to Remember Nick Brignola” and others. “In the Fall of 2009, (pianist) Lee Shaw led a terrific group with (guitarist) Chuck D’Aloia, (bassist) Rich Syracuse, (drummer) David Calarco and (saxophonist) Brian Patneaude to honor Nick.”
In 2011, McCann hosted another Brignola tribute at the Van Dyck, with Otto Gardner in for bassist Rich Syracuse. “It was another great night of music and remembrances at the Van Dyck to honor arguably the greatest jazz musician to ever come out of this area.”
More recently, I’d hoist a glass with McCann, Coakley and Slomka at the Van Dyck to hear Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, which featured Slomka’s trombonist son Alex before he moved to New York. Pray’s sprawling big band, McCann said, “Always brought a nice crowd to do the hang.”
AN AMBITIOUS, RESONANT FUTURE
As Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro prepares to re-open the Van Dyck, owner Chris Sule discussed plans by email. This conversation has been edited a bit for length and clarity.
The Van Dyck began as a piano room in the late 40s, branched out into presenting guitarists, then full jazz bands, all in the Marvin Friedman era. Peter Olsen widened the music offerings further, bringing in rock and folk acts while still emphasizing jazz. Then the McDonald family kept that same booking policy. So, what will Stella present?
Our plan is to return the Seven Points Lounge to its renowned jazz-era roots, while also hosting a wide range of music, comedy, and special events. We look forward to restoring the authentic lounge aesthetics, while aiming to provide a variety of shows for all ages and demographics.
Prior owners developed the upstairs music room including stage, lights, mics and stands, mixing console, amp and speakers – was all that included in your purchase? Any plans to change any of those systems?
All of the equipment was included, and still fully functional. We’ve had a couple of our friends who know far more about how those systems work give everything a test drive; it sounded excellent. We plan on having a professional come in and look at everything before we open, and …to hire a full-time sound engineer…
In the last year or so before Covid, the Van Dyck presented most often the 17-piece Keith Pray Big Soul Ensemble – so big it covered the entire stage with some musicians alongside or in front of it. Would you book bands that big?
Absolutely! We plan on booking all sorts of acts; the more successful we are at booking and selling out shows, the more exciting and exclusive acts we’ll be able to book.
At times, Don Dworkin of DDE Music booked artists to play the Van Dyck. Would you handle bookings yourself or look to outside promoters to consult or implement bookings?
I plan to handle bookings myself. I realize it’s going to be quite a task with such an established venue, paired with our lofty goals for it. So i won’t be hesitating to reach out to friends we’ve made in the industry, or to accept any advice from professionals already booking all these incredible shows here in the capital region. As a huge fan of the awesome music scene here, I can’t wait to get involved right away.
How did you handle live music while Stella operated within Fo’castle Farms? The first artist I heard about playing there was Sean Rowe.
My mother, Lisa Reilly, was handling that department up until 2020. Sadly, that fall Mom passed shortly after a second breast cancer diagnosis, 12 years after surviving her first in 2008. It was Lisa that instilled a love of music into our family’s foundation, and with my sister Char Reilly already an established musician in the area, I look forward to carrying on Mom’s legacy by bringing a new era of music back into a space that I know she would have loved.
I first met Sean when Lisa had him play at our family home for a house concert! He played one of the first ticketed shows at our previous location, I certainly hope to have him back at our new venue.
In the past, recording engineers Pat Tessitore (Cathedral Studios in Rensselaer) and Ace Parkhurst (the Bombshelter in Delmar) ran the live sound system. Anybody in mind for that job once you re-open?
We hope to have that position sorted out before we open the Lounge next year. There are so many possibilities when it comes to utilizing this space, we hope to find someone willing to embrace the traditional jazz aspect of our history while also being open to working with us on all sorts of new shows and events.
About re-opening: You indicated that may not happen until spring of next year. Does that mean significant changes to facilities? If so, what’s planned?
With such a multifaceted operation, we have to make sure that we balance our desire to get everything up and running at full speed right away with the slow and steady approach of doing things one step at a time, the right way. Our restaurant, Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro, is taking precedent at the get-go, as well as our first foray into craft-brewed beer at Seven Points Brewery. With six years experience for John and myself serving food and drink at the previous location, as well as our good fortune of retaining Mad Jack’s former Brewmaster, Brian Conley, we are excited to hit the ground running when it comes to those aspects of our business.
The Seven Points Lounge is different: simultaneously something really new and unique for us as business owners, while at the same time well established and highly regarded for people in the area with knowledge of its amazing history. In the best interest of creating something with longterm success, we don’t want to rush anything. We’re still planning the planning stages!
Will the food menu retain any Van Dyck pub-fare items or derive instead from Stella recipes?
We do offer some similar items: our Bistro Menu features weekly rotating burger and taco options. We have a variety of appetizers and side dishes available, and a brand new Happy Hour Menu is in the works… but with that being said, Stella is known for its top quality Italian food, with our homemade pastas, Italian bread, and famous Family Takeout Meal leading the way. My business partner, John Reilly, is also our highly esteemed head chef, and he will be reprising that role at the new location. Look for all the Stella favorites plus many new exciting specials!
What about the beer? It’s cool you can retain the brewmaster and equipment but need to re-brand or re-name things. Any decisions on that as yet?
Seven Points Brewery is ready to go! It’s been one of the longer processes we’ve had to go through, with applications, licenses, permits, et cetera… but we’re planning to have a few beers ready to pour on day one, including our two flagship beers: the Prima Vista Pilsner & Stellar Magnitude IPA!
How do you feel, as successors, about the building, the business and its existing reputation?
Whenever we talk to anyone about this space, one word always comes up: potential. We truly believe in that. Despite the incredible history that’s come before us, we know this space can do even more. There’s great Italian food in the area, great craft beer & bistros in the area, and we know the local music scene is beyond great… but this will be the only place in the capital region combining all three of these things, and most importantly doing it at the high level of quality and consistency Stella is known for. It’s a perfect match in our eyes.
Let me break it down. In Marvin Friedman’s time, the place was an elegant white-tablecloth eatery where your aunt might take you for graduation – with jazz in one corner of the dining room. In Peter Olsen’s time, and the McDonalds’, it was brew-pub drinks, pub-fare from the kitchen and all kinds of music in the upstairs room. Which if any of those situations did anybody in the Stella crew experience?
Our vision is to be able to accommodate to both crowds and more, to *everyone* as a matter of fact. Although we never experienced the space while it was previously in full swing, it’s not hard to imagine just how incredible it’ll be looking in just a short time from now.
Before the Fo’castle Farms situation ended, did you ever imagine taking over the Van Dyck?
We knew the next step for us, as both a restaurant and venue for private parties and events, was to find a larger and more permanent home, but we never could have dreamed of such a perfect space being a less than 15 minute drive from our original location in Burnt Hills! Seven Points Brewery and the Seven Points Lounge are perfect additions to what we’ve already accomplished as Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro.
You’ve said the Mad Jacks brewmaster will run the brewery; who will run the kitchen and front of house?
John runs the kitchen, the Front of House is run by myself with the help of my two incredible managers that we’re so thankful to have staying on our team: Alexandra “Ali” D’Achille and Angela Donnelly
What else is important to know about Stella’s taking over the place?
The best way to stay up to date is by following along on Facebook and Instagram, as well as signing up for our Weekly Newsletter on our website, www.stellapastabar.com. We’re always just a message away with any questions, comments, or concerns!
The emailed conversation above followed closely on the announcement of Stella’s purchase and plans to reopen the Van Dyck. A more recent update follows.
Has the purchase closed? Not yet, lots of moving parts. Thankfully it has no bearing on our ability to operate, and we expect it to be done before the end of year.
Do you have a re-opening date? Not quite. We will certainly be opening in October, but the exact date depends on how quickly various branches of local and state gov finalize what will hopefully be the last round of permits, licenses, etc.
How is staff recruiting and training progressing? It’s going well! We had a successful Job Fair & Open House on Saturday the Tenth (September). However we are still looking to add a few experienced crew members to our back of house team: cooks, expeditor, dishwashers, food-runners, baker’s assistant.
Will there be a soft open or a big wing-ding? Once we’re ready to open our doors, I think we’re just going to get right after it!
Have you booked a first live music act as yet? If so, who? Our first four acts will be Chris Carey and Mike O’Donnell, Char Reilly, Whizbang!, and Peter Pashoukos. More acts, dates, and news can be found on our website, our weekly email newsletter, and across our social media pages. Acts interested in playing at Stella can reach out to us via email anytime!
One prior owner asked, “Why not keep the Van Dyck name? People have known the place under that name since 1947.” We are certainly aware of this building’s illustrious history, and are thrilled to carry on its tradition of excellent food, music, and beer. By all means, we encourage people to tell their friends & family we’re located at the former Van Dyck… but John (Reilly) and I are immensely proud of what we accomplished as Stella these past six years, and we look forward to creating a new legacy here in Schenectady with both Stella Pasta Bar & Bistro as well as Seven Points Brewery and Lounge.
OLSEN’S ODE TO THE VAN DYCK
A Manhattanite, like Van Dyck founder Marvin Friedman, Peter Olsen discovered the Van Dyck during Friedman’s tenure, wining and dining clients of his advertising business there.
However, operating it himself ultimately proved more than just challenging. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Olsen said recently.
Raised on New York City jazz venues, he became involved with the Van Dyck after it had closed and national jazz acts were no longer playing locally.
“Whatever the Van Dyck was, I wouldn’t have gone into it without Marvin (Friedman),” Olsen said on receiving an economic development award soon after opening. “All the piano guys he brought in!” Olsen marveled, sharing the unverifiable but persistent rumor that iconoclastic pianist Thelonius Monk had once played a private party at the Van Dyck. “Can you imagine,” Olsen laughed, “Monk playing for a bunch of GE engineers?”
Olsen recalled, “We opened on the 50th anniversary of when Marvin opened the place…Marvin specialized in hard-bop piano, and we blew it out with world music and rock and blues.”
“We had the Avett Brothers, first time they ever played around here, for $300,” said Olsen. The North Carolina folk-rock band played SPAC on Sept. 18 on Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival, getting second billing ahead of Billy Strings, Larkin Poe and Brittney Spencer. “Then they wanted $800,” said Olsen. “OK, but then they wanted $1,250 or $1,600 and we couldn’t do it; now they play for half a million!”
“For the first six years, we had music every night of the week,” Olsen recalled, citing weekly open mics for singer-songwriters, jazz and blues. “We had regional bands, but our main thing was national acts, and in that we were over-achievers.” He said, “We had the great good luck to get Clark Terry and Elvin Jones, guys like that who aren’t around any more.”
Olsen recalled Jones as a great story teller. “We’d have dinner together before his shows and drink a bottle of Mondavi wine before the show, then another one after – and he’d just tell these great stories until (wife) Keiko would get him to stop.”
Pianist Marian McPartland was another favorite dinner companion. “She was so elegant and well-spoken,” said Olsen. However, one night as the sound man tinkered with satellite radio, she complained, “Peter, please turn that smooth jazz crap off; that will kill jazz!”
Before another McPartland show, “We had (Schenectadian) George Boone’s blues band playing downstairs,” Olsen recalled. “We’d sometimes have music even before the (main) shows.” Olsen said, “When he played Miles’s ‘In a Silent Way,’ she was over the moon; she had to meet him, thought that was just the greatest thing. I think she wanted to adopt him!”
Olsen said presenting music in the Van Dyck was “like rabbits in a cabbage patch, when it worked,” but acknowledged how difficult staying ahead of the debt became. “It was like pushing a big rock up the hill all the time.”
“It was all for the love of the music,” Olsen said. “The heart and soul of the place was the music.”
During the venue’s late-90s-late 00s second stage, Olsen ran the place night after night. He recently summarized his tenure by stringing together long lists of artists who played there.
“In a dozen years,” Olsen recalled, “we hosted McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Pharaoh Sanders, Pat Metheny, Billy Cobham, Roy Haynes, Herbie Mann, Stanley Clark, Clark Terry, Dewey Redman, Dave Holland, Kenny Barron, Maynard Ferguson, Toots Thielemans, the Brecker Brothers, Larry Coryell, Sonny Fortune, Stanley Turrentine, Bucky Pizzarelli, Herbie Mann, John Scofield, Phil Woods, Mike Stern, Lennie White, Tony Levin, Adrian Legg, Mark Murphy, Joanne Brackeen, Claudio Roditi, Annie Ross with John Hendricks, Vassar Clements, David Lindley, Woody Shaw, and Mose Allison, to name-drop a few.”
In addition to name-checking jazz giants, Olsen differentiated among styles and vintages of performers – though both categorizations were elastic rather than rigid.
Olsen said, “Young “upstarts” (in ‘97) included Cindy Blackman, Joshua Redman, Cyrus Chestnut, Ravi Coltrane, Donald Harrison, Kenwood Denard, Russell Malone, Brian Blade, Benny Green, Stanley Jordan, Wallace Roney, Dave Weckl, Hiromi, Jane Monheit, Jackie Terrasson, Tom Harrell, Stephon Harris, Nicholas Payton, and John Pizzarelli.”
So: both Redmans, both Pizzarellis.
“In the world of blues, we hosted James Cotton, John Hammond, Duke Robillard, Roomful Of Blues, Hubert Sumlin, Terrence Simien, Popa Chubby, and Jason Ricci,” said Olsen.
He recalled, “Folk artists included Richie Havens, Maria Muldaur, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Livingston Taylor, Janis Ian, Kenny Rankin, the Roches, and Odetta.” In an interview before one of her Van Dyck shows, Muldaur, however, said she’d play bluesy Louisiana “swamp-pop;” another featured zippy bluegrass-y folk. But I digress.
While the Van Dyck began as a jazz piano bar, then branched out into other jazz artists, Olsen’s Van Dyck brought in rock performers as well. He said, “Rock performers included Mick Taylor from the (Rolling) Stones; Dave Davies from the Kinks; Buddy Miles from Jimi’s (Hendrix) band; Ray (Manzarek) and Robby (Krieger) from The Doors; Levon (Helm), Rick (Danko) and Garth (Hudson) from The Band; Paul (Kantner) and Marty (Balin) from (Jefferson) Airplane; Country Joe McDonald; (the late Janis Joplin’s band) Big Brother with Sam Andrew, David Getz and Peter Albin; Dan Hicks; Bela Fleck; Paul Barrere, Kenny Gradney and Richie Hayward from Little Feat; Rodney Crowell; Al Kooper; Commander Cody; Andy Summers from The Police; Merl Saunders; Graham Parker; Jesse Colin Young; and Phoebe Legere.” Olsen added, “Multi-genre chanteuse Phoebe gets some kind of award as she played two New Years and three Valentine’s Days. We even had Pete Best, the Beatles’ first drummer, who was great!”
Spoken word artists also found their way to the Van Dyck stage. “We even had poetry readings by beat-poet Michael McClure and punk-poet Jim Carroll.”
In general, Olsen proudly reflected, “Working with the major booking agencies, we were over-achievers for a small town in upstate New York.” He said, “It was a great honor to be picked by Downbeat magazine as one of the top 100 jazz clubs on earth.” Olsen clarified, “Out of the 100, 60 of the clubs were in the US, and we were the only one in New York state outside of Manhattan.”
Geography, Olsen believed, worked for the Van Dyck. “For over a decade, the Van Dyck was on the routing circuit for the top acts playing in clubs in New York City, Montreal and Boston, and we offered a home to these artists as they traveled the Northeast.”
Recalling those artists, Olsen singled out a local hero.
“Our patron saint was baritone sax player Nick Brignola,” said Olsen. “He lived locally, and with a phone call could bring in half the jazz musicians on the planet. (Trumpeter) Clark Terry specifically came at Nick’s request, and Nick helped set up a recording at the club which we did with Nick and (pianist) Kenny Barron.”Olsen said, “Everybody loved Nick, despite his questionable sense of humor” – then served up some Brignola groaners.
What do you get when you drop a grand piano down a mine shaft? A-flat miner.
What is Beethoven doing in his grave? Decomposing.
Olsen recalled another eminent, now-departed saxophonist.
“Dewey Redman called me up and said, ‘Mr. Olsen – I’m getting married (to an eastern European ballerina). I wanna come up on my honeymoon and play the Van Dyck! Get me a hotel room, and if you feed us, that would be great.”
Olsen recalled a luminous gig, with Redman bringing in his jazz-singer friend Sheila Jordan. “At the end, he dedicated ‘Body and Soul’ to me, and I listened with tears in my eyes.”
A SOUND-MAN’S SERENADE – Pat Tessitore
MCCOY TYNER, MARCH 1999
It was a typical weekend at the Van Dyck, a Friday, and I was getting ready to do the sound for the McCoy Tyner Trio. Traditionally, we would have the piano tuned a few hours before the show which started at 7:30 p.m. McCoy and his band arrived around 5 p.m. After setting up microphones, we did a sound check.
Everything was cool with the band, so they grabbed a bite to eat from the Van Dyck’s excellent menu. People started filing in around 6:30 to enjoy a meal before the first of two shows. At 7:30 the players approached the stage, to a loud cheer from the audience. The first show was amazing with some of McCoy’s own jazz pieces along with some John Coltrane tunes.
After the first show, I went to the green room where the band was gathered. I sat down next to McCoy and said “How do you like the piano?” I wanted his approval of the tuning. He paused and said, “Well, it’s like a ’57 Chevy. When you hit the keys there’s a slight hesitation, but I compensated for it.” It caught me off guard! He was referring to the action of the keys – a tiny, tiny hesitation before the felt hammers would hit the strings. But being McCoy he compensated.
ALLEN HOLDSWORTH MARCH 2012
I often get a stage plot before the show, so I run my cables and set my microphones up before the band gets to the venue. When the band arrives and sets up their equipment, I place my mics relatively quickly. With that all set to go, it’s time for a sound check.
Allen plays his guitar through two Line 6 amps…a stereo effect. The volume, tone and reverb knobs have motors controlled by foot switches to change the sound of the amp. Brilliant!
In sound check, Allen turned on both of his Line 6 amps and waited while they booted up. He tried the foot switches but one of the amps didn’t respond. I suggested he unplug the amp…. plug the amp back in and then turn it back on. He ignored that suggestion and asked one of his roadies to bring in an older amp he brought as back-up, a simpler, more basic amp than the fancier Line 6.
They played the first show, and it was fine. Everyone loved it. In between shows I plugged in the Line 6 that had been exiled off to the side of the stage. I turned the amp on… It booted up and I watched all the knobs move to settings Allen had pre-set. I went back to the green room and hesitantly approached Allen. “Allen, your amp is all fixed!” He said “What did you do to it?” I said “I just plugged it back in.” He said “I hate when you guys are right.”
FROM MY SEAT(S)
The best seat I ever enjoyed at the Van Dyck was one night when Peter Olsen sat me so close in front of Cindy Blackman that the thunder of her drum sound engulfed me like a big stereo; guest guitarist Vernon Reid (Living Colour) helped her all but burn the place down. I sat close, too, when another drummer, Billy Cobham, awed me by playing a press-roll on his snare with just two powerful fingers; It hit grew like a rolling earthquake.
Late to the Van Dyck party, I only caught one show there in the Friedman/Wexler era: ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers in a jazz trio. In the Olsen and McDonald eras, the musical menu moved past jazz into rock and folk and I went there often.
Standout shows included the fiery young jazz pianist Hiromi (who later played SPAC’s gazebo stage, then the main stage in its jazz festivals) and veteran pianist McCoy Tyner who, like singers Kurt Elling and Curtis Stigers, was very gracious to my young pianist daughter Pisie.
Some of the Van Dyck’s most exciting shows were by hybrid acts that sidestepped music’s “border patrol” enforcing categories and styles, such as the thrilling combination of Nashville banjoist Bela Fleck and Indian fusion percussionist Sandip Burman. Also, the venue’s proximity to both New York and Boston invited artists to use the Van Dyck as a lab to try out new bands or material before an audience, as guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Chick Corea both did, for example.
Other jazz giants I enjoyed there included trumpeters Tom Harrell (spacey but strong), Randy Brecker (funky, rocking) and Freddie Hubbard (past his prime but poignant), drummers Blackman and Elvin Jones, guitarist Allen Holdsworth, saxophonists Bob Mintzer, Marshall Allen and Nick Brignola; rockers NRBQ, Country Joe McDonald – did he do the F-I-S-H cheer? I don’t remember – Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, Jesse Colin Young, Rodney Crowell and – like Tim Coakley, others I can’t recall.
When the Van Dyck presented the first Rodney Crowell show I ever caught, I recalled how former fellow writer Steve Webb (Knickerbocker News) said Crowell packed more stage presence than any other artist he’d ever seen. Webb was right.
Terry Adams played the Van Dyck with his life’s-work rock band NRBQ, and a jazz combo he built behind saxophonist Marshall Allen. Longtime veteran of the Sun Ra Solar Arkestra, Allen now leads that powerful crew, at 98. A photo I shot of those two onstage made the cover of their album “Ten By Two.”
The last time I saw our own saxophone colossus Nick Brignola play was a Van Dyck show with a strong quartet co-starring trumpeter Claudio Roditi.
When Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble played monthly Van Dyck shows, the place felt like a jazz club both in the sense of a place to hear it and a regular social gathering of the same folks coming in gig after gig to enjoy it. “Big,” indeed! The 17-piece behemoth sprawled off the stage in the corner of what Bill McCann calls the “jazz room” onto the floor in front. All five saxophones, drums, bass and keyboards were on the same level as the diners and drinkers – who all but jumped out of their skins when Pray nudged the band into what I enjoyed calling the “trumpet ambush.” This song simmered along innocently and quietly enough, as people talked happily, until “bam-BAM!” a two-chord blast that rocked the place and quieted all conversation.
Once when Albany all-purpose keyboardist Al Quaglieri (Plus 24, Downtime) met me for a show there, folks talking loudly at the next table so incensed Al that he sternly admonished them to be quiet. (For the record, Brignola was more direct: “Shut the fuck up!”) But then Al felt guilty and sent them a good bottle of wine. Whoever played that night performed a tune they announced as by Woody Herman, but omitted the title. So, Al phoned his big-band-era keyboardist/arranger dad from his car in front of my house and sang him the melody. Al Sr. identified the number as “Three Brothers” so I got to sound way smarter than I had a right to.
Now, the Brucker-Weisse-Canterbury jazz orchestra plays big-band arrangements Al Sr. wrote decades ago.
WHEN LARRY CORYELL PLAYED THE VAN DYCK
The phone interview with guitarist Larry Coryell before he was to play the Van Dyck was going along just fine. He told me how a clogged-streets cab ride across Manhattan with Jimi Hendrix inspired Hendrix to write “Crosstown Traffic,” for example. When I noted how his responses sounded polished, written, he said he was reading them from his computer. He was working on “Improvising: My Life in Music,” and was testing the material on me.
As we talked, he suddenly grew agitated, then really distressed, loudly upset.
Coryell cried out that he’d lost the files in his computer, maybe deleted them. He struggled, putting the phone down but I could still hear his anguish. Where were the files? Were they lost for good? How could he ever get them back?
I calmed him some, but not very well. Then I brought my son Zak’s friend Nicky Karpowicz to the phone. I told this teenaged computer ace how the musician guy on the phone was having a problem with lost files. Shy by nature but on solid ground dealing with tech – Nick now works in laser research at the Max Planck Institute in Munich – he took over. I could hear his calm, steady voice talking Coryell back off the ledge. He began questioning, advising, fixing things.
Then Nick called me back into the room, announced everything was OK and handed the phone back to me. Coryell was more than grateful as we resumed. His relief was sky-high, and we completed the interview. He’d been on my phone with Nicky and me, mostly Nicky, nearly two hours.
A few days later, New Year’s Day, was Coryell’s show at the Van Dyck, in a trio with bassist Tony Levin and drummer Kenwood Dennard.
I brought Nicky with me, right to the dressing/band dining room across the hallway from the second floor music room. I introduced the tech wizard to the guitar wizard. Coryell jumped up, came over to Nicky, shy and silent, and engulfed his lost-files finder, his tech savior, in a grateful hug.
We saw Coryell, Levin and Dennard play a tremendous show that still causes fans to shake their heads in awe. Sunlight streaming through the windows lit Coryell’s thick mane like a cloud of coiled silver wires…