Abate Joins Exclusive Class of Musicians

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 28, 2016

Sometimes a simple happenstance can propel a person into life’s mission. This happened to nine-year-old Greg Abate, when his mother, Elvira, rented a clarinet from a traveling salesman who just by chance came by their Woonsocket home. A rented instrument led to the youngster joining his school band, where he began playing clarinet and alto sax.

Abate has come a long from his first music recital to his elementary school classmates. More than 27 years of playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs, even being tutored by some of the greatest jazz players, has pushed him to the top of his craft.

Now, in recognition of Abate’s long musical career and being a driving force in the world of jazz, in April the Rhode Islander will be among the eight new inductees who are brought into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF). His fellow inductees include: Frankie Carle, Bill Harley, Carl Henry, Carol Sloane, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Richard Walton and The Fabulous Motels/The Young Adults/Rudy Cheeks.

According to Rick Bellaire, Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF)’s Vice Chair and Archive director, “Greg Abate is one of our state’s most popular and successful musicians. He has been well-known in southern New England for forty years and has been a star on the international stage for the past thirty. At the beginning, the board wanted to establish credibility by adhering to chronology and inducting historical figures first in many categories. With the inductions of Bobby Hackett, Dave McKenna, Paul Gonsalves, George Wein and George Masso, this year’s jazz inductions of Frankie Carle, Carol Sloane and Greg establish an unbroken line which not only stretches all the way from the 1930s to the present, but clearly illustrates Rhode Island’s truly important place in jazz history.”

Bellaire adds, “Greg is universally recognized as one of the finest players performing and recording today. His massive body of work and international touring history clearly place him on the list of all-time greats. Here’s a good example. Greg’s new album, Kindred Spirits, recorded with legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods, has just been released. Although the late Mr. Woods had been recording since the 1940s, Greg has clearly leveled the playing field. In a review of the album for the All About Jazz website, Edward Blanco declared, “…both masters are at their best.”

Before he died last September, Phil Wood, considered one of the best alto saxophone players, said, “I sleep a lot better knowing that there are alto players like Greg. It was a joy to make music with him and he writes good songs that are challenging.”

Playing With the Greatest

Upon finishing a four-year program at Berklee College of Music, Abate joined the Los Angeles jazz scene, playing with David Clark Expedition and other local rhythm and blues groups. An audition led to his first high-profile gig, playing lead alto for the Ray Charles Orchestra from 1973 to 1974. He would record his first record with this group.

Abate came back to the Ocean State in 1976 to launch his career, forming the fusion band Channel One, ultimately releasing his first album, Without Boundaries, in 1981. Playing throughout Connecticut to New York for seven years brought attention to this group and made it a favorite of many New Englanders.

At that time, “I wrote lots of music and did a lot of hard, serious playing,” he remembers. The young musician took an opportunity to play tenor sax with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra under the leadership of Dick Johnson from 1986 to ’87. For the next two years he would play with the Providence-based Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra, honing his musical skills. “I received some of my greatest musical education from some of the greatest players from this band,” he says.

Working and learning from the greatest, Abate would begin a solo career showcasing his unique style bring him worldwide notice.

Today, Abate, a sixty-six year old Coventry resident, is internationally acclaimed for his mastery of jazz. He says, “Music found me, I did not find it.” Over his musical career, the jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer and educator, has released 18 recordings.

Last year, Abate traveled over 200 days playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs. He has performed in 30 countries, playing in every state in the national, except Montana, Alaska and Oregon.

Looking back at his career, Abate says, “The tradition of jazz is very important to me and I take it very seriously. Jazz is just in my blood.”

RIMHOF’s Fifth Class of Inductees

Robert Billington, Chair of the RIMHOF noted, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their success.”

“The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Rick Bellaire, vice chair of RIMHOF, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our planned online digital archive, we will have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artists.”

This year’s induction ceremonies and concert events will take place on three days, April 21, April 24, and April 30, and will take place at three separate locations.

The jazz inductions will take place on Thursday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. at Chan’s, 267 Main St., Woonsocket. Being honored on April 21 will be Frankie Carle, Greg Abate and Carol Sloane. Supporting Abate and Sloane in their musical selections will be Tim Ray on piano, bass player Marty Ballow and Marty RIchards on drums. Tickets for the April 21 event at Chan’s are $15.00.

The 2016 RIMOF Induction Ceremony and Concert is set for Sunday, April 24, 2:00 p.m. at The Met and Hall of Fame itself, both located within the Hope Artiste Village Complex, 999 Main St., Pawtucket RI. Sunday’s afternoon event will include the unveiling of eight new exhibits (now totaling 48 exhibits) as well as performances by The Young Adults, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and Bill Harley performing a set of his adult music. This concert will be proceeded by the unveiling of all eight 2016 inductee exhibits. Tickets for the April 24 event at The Met are $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. The 2 p.m. unveiling of the inductee exhibits are free and open to the public; a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3:00 p.m. concert in the Met.

On Saturday, April 30, 2:00 p.m., Bill Harley will be presenting a family show featuring selections from his award-winning children’s recordings at the Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad St., Cumberland. Tickets for the April 30 event are $6.00 for children and $12.00 for adults with a family cap of $ 36.00.

Tickets for the three separate events can be purchased by visiting:
http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

Throughout the Years at the Pawtucket Arts Festival

Published in Pawtucket Times, September 5, 2015

It was over 16 years ago when Kristine Kilmartin married Pawtucket Rep. Peter Kilmartin. The Smithfield native had lived in the city for a few months and. while she was driving through Slater Memorial Park in January 1999 with her new husband, she asked, “Why doesn’t the City take more advantage of its green space?” She wondered why Pawtucket couldn’t plan an event like the Scituate Arts Festival in its vast 209-acre park.

Ultimately, the Kilmartins turned to Mayor James E. Doyle with the idea of creating an arts festival. The green light was given and the work began. After a month of meetings, discussion and planning, the City’s 18-person committee kicked off its first arts festival in June 1999.

“It is hard to believe that 16 Pawtucket Arts Festivals have gone by so fast,” says Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, who has served as an honorary co-chair with his wife, Kristine, since its inception. “When we began in 1999, there was a lot of uncertainty about the event’s success and longevity, as with any new venture,” recalls the lawyer and former Pawtucket police officer. My how the Pawtucket Arts Festival has grown.

Kilmartin remembers the Opening Gala was scarcely attended. However, the organizers were not discouraged, he says. “Everyone involved felt we had a good product, and as long as we stuck with it we would be successful,” he added.

Over the years city officials and many dedicated volunteers continued to work hard, he notes, stressing that it “now feels like the Pawtucket Arts Festival is a permanent part of our community.”

With the diversity and quality of programming over 16 years, Kilmartin finds it hard to single out one particular favorite event. But, when pressed by this tenacious columnist, he admits, “We enjoyed the Philharmonic in the Park and the Dragon Boat races,” noting that these two signature events provide “great family fun.”

Looking forward, the fifty-two-year-old lifelong Pawtucket resident believes that new forms of community outreach must happen to attract more people to the festival, this being vital for the Arts Festival’s continued growth and future success. The Attorney General also calls for the broadening of the artistic diversity and ethnicity of its programming, keeping the month-long Arts Festival “fresh.”

A Look Back: Just a Small Sampling

Since 1999, Pawtucket’s Arts Festival organizers have created a citywide showcase of visual and performing arts, interactive workshops, music, theatre and dance performances. Where else could you enjoy a wide variety of music, from blues, jazz, Zydeco, classical, folk, and even pops? Over the years 50,000 people came to listen to the Rhode Island Philharmonic Pop Orchestra, the event concluding with a dazzling firework show over the park’s pond.

Over 15 years, what a listing of musical groups that have played the Pawtucket Arts Festival. World famous Jazz artists Dave McKenna, Scott Hamilton and Gray Sargent, Grammy-nominated Duke Robillard, the internationally acclaimed “Ambassador to the Blues,” and Consuelo and Chuck Sherba’s Aurea, a performance ensemble thrilled the audiences. Many came to dance to the tunes of French-Canadian Conrad Depot, Celtic group Pendragon, folk musicians Atwater & Donnelly and Plain Folk to name a few. Many of these groups appeared on the stages at Slater Mill’s Ethnic and Labor Festival and the Stone Soup Coffee House at Slater Memorial Park or at the folk group’s home venue at St. Paul’s Parish House.

Both young and old alike enjoyed watching the Big Nazo Puppets, clowns or listening to story tellers, including Mark Binder and Valerie Tutson. Parents and their children even packed Shea High School’s auditorium to watch the incredible Dan Butterworth’s Marionette show.

And where else could your children learn the art of making glass, raku pottery or carving stone and wood? Of course, at the City’s Arts Festival. Children workshops, led by Lee Segal, taught tile painting. Youngsters learned how to create sculptures out of junk pulled from the Blackstone River. Only in the City of the “Industrial Revolution” if you had attended one of our art festivals over the last 15 years.

Every year at the City’s Festival Pier thousands of spectators have lined up along the Seekonk River to watch the Dragon Boat races. Art lovers visited one-of-a kind exhibits in art galleries and artist studios throughout Pawtucket. Those attending the City’s Arts Festival watched performances by the Everett Dance Theatre, Fusionworks, Cadence Dance Project, and great plays at the Sandra Gamm Feinstein Theatre, Mixed Magic Theater and Community Player. Film buffs came to meet writers and filmmakers at the Pawtucket Film Festival, questioning these individuals about their film-making techniques.

For movie buffs, Pawtucket-based Mirror Image, has organized its Pawtucket Film Festival for over 15 years in the 100-seat theater in the City’s Visitor Center. Rhode Islander Michael Corrente was one of the more notable film makers who accepted an invitation to attend, and many others followed. The film organizers even brought the internationally-acclaimed Alloy Orchestra to perform a live, original score for Man With a Movie Camera at Tolman High School.

You were also able to watch classic films at other Arts Festival venues, too. One year dozens came to watch Cinema Paradiso (with English subtitles) by Giuseppe Tornatore, projected on the walls of a mill building on Exchange Street, with live music.

Hundreds also gathered at Slater Park to watch chain saw-toting environmental artist and sculptor Michael Higgins Billy Rebele create pieces of artwork on salvaged tree stumps.

While focusing on bringing artistic and musical events, festival organizers did not forget to bring public art into the City. In 15 years, six permanent sculptures were donated to the City of Pawtucket. An original oil painting of the Hope Webbing Mill in Pawtucket, painted by internationally-recognized Artist Gretchen Dow-Simpson, was purchased and donated to the City in 2004, and is now showcased in the Mayor’s Office.

Some Pawtucket Arts Festival Trivia…

As Kilmartin remembered, the first opening gala, held in the City library is 1999 attracted a small crowd, around 35 people. At the end of the evening each person was given Ronzio pizzas to take home. Last year we saw over 2,000 people gather at this long awaited opening event. Crowds at the Dragon Boat races have also held steady over the years, bringing thousands to the City’s Festival Pier. For over a decade, over 6,000 people have attended the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra Concert in Slater Memorial Park. The Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance, with their very generous $15,000 donation continue to make this event happen.

For 15 years, Patricia Zacks, of the Providence-based Camera Werks and lifelong Pawtucket resident, has organized a photo contest at every arts festival, which includes participation from students from Pawtucket Public Schools, where winning photos are judged by some of the State’s top recognized photographers select their favorite photos that will appear in the City of Pawtucket’s Photo Calendar. Thousands of Pawtucket students also learned the art of photography from Zacks and over 180 scenes of Pawtucket have appeared in these calendars.

During these years, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Boston also sponsored the Chinese performances that were held throughout the day of the Dragon Boat races. Pawtucket’s annual race is now being promoted nationally by other Dragon Boat festivals. In its second year, in 2000, the Dragon Boat races second year, American Airlines donated 18 free round trip tickets to Taiwan to the winning boat, an estimated value of $60,000. This year the winning professional team will take home $10,000, while the local team winner will receive $5,000.

In the early years trolley tours led by Zacks of the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative and Len Lavoie, of RICIR, initially organized trips to mill buildings throughout the City. Because of these trolley tours, at least two couples have relocated to Pawtucket to live in mill lofts in the City’s historic downtown. The trolley tours, showcasing Pawtucket artist’s one-of-a-kind works, would later be replaced by XOS- Exchange Street Open Studios and Arts Market Place Pawtucket at the historic Pawtucket Armory.

In 2005, from an idea sparked by then program chair, Patricia Zacks and community activist and Stone Soup President, Richard Walton, led them to meet with Paw-Sox executives to ‘go big’ which set off a series of acts to perform at McCoy Stadium beginning in 2006. These artists included: Bob Dylan, (twice), John Mellencamp, Counting Crows, Drop Kick Murph’s; Kenny Loggins and the Boston Pops Orchestra; Further and Willie Nelson.

Since 1999 the steady growth of participating artists, corporate sponsors, volunteers and attendees indicate quality programming and a well-managed event that has become a permanent fixture in the Pawtucket community. Over 16 years, the Pawtucket Arts Festival has awakened the pride of Pawtucket’s residents and continues to stimulate the creative energies of its artist community, and have an economic impact on the City.

Chair John Baxter and his hard working Board of Directors (Rich Waltrous, Keith Fayan, Lori-Ann Gagne and this columunist), Arts Festival Manager Joe Giocastro, Artistic Director Mary Lee Partington, and Volunteer Coordinators Patricia Zacks and Paul Audette, prepare to unveil this year’s Arts Festival tonight at the Blackstone River Party/Taste of Pawtucket at 6 p.m. at Slater Mill. Let the show begin. See you there.

For a complete event listings go to http://www.pawtucketartsfestival.org, or 1-800-454-2882.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com. He serves as the Pawtucket’s Economic & Cultural Affairs officer and sits of the Board of Directors of Pawtucket Arts Festival.