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.

Slater Mill Showcases Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Flick  

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 11, 2015

When planning the 2nd Annual S.A.M. Fest, in conjunction with this years Pawtucket Arts Festival, Slater Mill’s Executive Director, Lori Urso scheduled a showing of Jim Wolpaw’s “Complex World.” Urso, also a professional musician, knew featuring the film at her event in August was a great way to both promote a local Providence filmmaker and give homage to The Young Adults, a popular rock band playing at the nonprofit’s weekend festival, too.

Rediscovering a Classic Film at S.A.M. Fest

On Aug. 30, more than 80 people gathered early evening at Hodgson Rotary Park to watch on a big outdoor screen the 81-minute offbeat cult rock ‘n’ roll comedy filmed at Providence’s Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. While the film attracted the curious, many adoring and loyal fans of The Young Adults came to check out the flick, too, says Urso.

The Complex World captures one night at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, with its zany plot involving terrorists, political conspiracy, 100 pounds of explosives in the bar’s basement and drugs, with music from iconic Providence bands such as the Young Adults, NRBQ and Roomful of Blues. The film had a brief two-month run in a Boston and one week in New York City, and it garnered good reviews. However, a distribution deal with Hemdale, a major film distributor that released “The Terminator” and the “Last Emperor,” fell through, ending up in a lawsuit. Even though Wolpaw won his case and a small settlement, the legal battle sealed the film’s fate. Over the years, the filmmaker’s DVDs have been sold on a website, and the last public showing was in 2010, for two days at the Providence-based Cable Car to raise money for a local charity.

Urso, 51, remembers being an extra during the 1987 film shoot, “a biker chick hanging out in the bar’s parking lot” at 79 Washington St.  “Quite a few people that I knew showed up to be extras that night. I’m glad I was able to be part of it,” she said.

Rudy Cheeks one of the founders of Young Adults and co-writer of the Phillip & Jorge column published in “Motiff Magazine,” was in attendance during the S.A.M. Fest screening, and he observed people of all ages in attendance, many of whom watched the film for the first time.

Even though the film was produced about 25 years ago, “it’s held up pretty well over the years,” says Cheeks. “The strongest part of the film was its ‘mise en scène,’ the capturing of the inside atmosphere of the bar.”

Adds, Rick Bellaire, Chair and Archive Director of Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, the Wolpaw’s Indie film produced outside of the major film studio system, is a great Rock and Roll documentary.  “It was a snap shot of what was happening in the Rhode Island music scene at the time the film was shot,” he says.

The Making of a Classic Film

While it took about two-and-a-half months to shoot the film in 1987, it took more than two years to bring “Complex World” to the screen of the Cable Car Theatre in 1990, says Wolpaw, noting that it ran for a record four months. The veteran filmmaker, who was nominated for an Academy Award for a 1985 documentary, was brought into this film project by Rich Lupo, the owner of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, who just happened to be his roommate at Brown University and later a bartender and manager at the Providence bar.

In 1970, when both young men graduated from Brown University they shared their dreams. Lupo planned to open up a bar with music while Wolpaw wanted to become a filmmaker.  Wolpaw agreed to use Lupo’s bar in film if he opened on up.  “I never would have believed at that time we would both end up at that place,” says Lupo.

According to Wolpaw, the efforts to create and fund a film began a year before the bar was going to be torn down to make way for condos. The film was to use Lupo’s as a basis for the movie to “explain the spirit of the bar,” he said, noting that it would be shot like a documentary film.

Lupo invested the most to produce the film, but with increased costs, other friends chipped in, said Wolpaw. The unique film stood out among films that were produced in Hollywood, he said, “noting it was not the typical movie.”

Two years of editing and reshoots would later result in the final film, says Wolpaw, noting that over the years and even at the Slater Mill screening he “had trouble watching it.” Shooting the film like a documentary just did not work for the plot, he said, but it captured an early era of the Providence music scene.

Even after more than two decades since being released, orders for “Complex World” keep trickling in, says Wolpaw, who has worked as an adjunct film professor at Emerson College in Boston, the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is pleasantly surprised that orders come in from such faraway places as British Columbia and France.

A Prolific Filmmaker  

Besides his Classic “Complex World,” Wolpaw is known for innovative approaches in considering artists and issues in the arts, and he has an impressive number of films under his belt:  “Cobra Snake for a Necktie” (Showtime 1980), a portrait of rock ‘n’ roll legend Bo Diddley; “Loaded Gun: Life, and Death, and Dickinson” (PBS 2003, INPUT 2004), a quirky look at poet Emily Dickinson that was chosen by “The Library Journal” for its list of Best Poetry Films; and “First Face: The Buck Starts Here” (PBS 2011), an accounting of the dollar bill portrait of George Washington.

Even at 67, Wolpaw, who has won awards at more than a dozen film festivals worldwide, has not slowed down. He is still working on three projects, a film about Cleveland poet and activist Daniel Thomson, one detailing the history of Rhode Island’s Ladd Center and a fictional narrative film about poet Dickinson. Hopefully, they will have a long shelf life and audience like “Complex World.”

“Complex Word” can capture viewers who wish to relive their experiences at Lupo’s, and purchases of the DVD benefit the Gloria Gemma Foundation and Advocates in Action. For details, go to www.complexworldthemovie.com.

 

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Rhode Island Can Hold Its Own When It Comes to Music

Published in Woonsocket Call, on March 15, 2015

New York, L.A. and Nashville have long been considered the music capitals of the United States. Now, with the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame gearing up for its fourth annual induction season, Little Rhody is poised to prove it has the right combination of musical talent to hold its own against these highly regarded music communities.

Next month, trombonist/composer George Masso and 12 others join an elite group of Rhode Island musicians: those who have been recognized not only for their major impact on Rhode Island’s music scene but also on the national stage. Cranston native Masso, along with the other new inductees, will be enshrined by the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) at this year’s induction ceremonies and concert events. Every year the Pawtucket-based nonprofit, formed in 2011, celebrates, honors, and preserves the legacy of Ocean State musicians, educators, and industry professionals.

Rick Bellaire, RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive director, says it was an easy choice to recognize the 88-year-old musician. “During his illustrious career, George has excelled in just about every area of the music business – trombonist, composer, pianist, recording artist, arranger and educator,” adding that the George played with many of the national big bands in the 1940s and ‘50s and has toured and recorded as a sideman with some of our greatest jazz legends including Benny Goodman, Bobby Hackett and The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

According to Bellaire, Masso has also released more than a dozen albums as a leader which feature many of his own compositions. “He also taught music in the Cranston public schools for eleven years and another eight years at the University of Connecticut mentoring some of our finest musicians including RIMHOF inductees,” says Bellaire.

George Masso will be inducted into RIMHOF along with Mark Cutler and his bands, The Schemers and Raindogs; Brenda Bennett, Nelson Eddy, George Wein, Duke Belaire, Paco Zimmer; Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies, The Others and The Ascots (recognizing the great Rhode Island garage bands of the ‘60s); and Bob Petteruti, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards (in the new “MVP sideman award” category).

“This year, we will be honored to have some of the most senior inductees with us,” he continued, “all of whom are still active participants on the music scene, including Mr. Masso, drummer/band leader Duke Belaire (83) and bassist/educator Bob Petteruti (85).”

The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Bellaire, “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 online archive, we have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artistry.”

Adds Robert Billington, Chair of 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 successes.”

“Our Induction ceremony in April has become the place for a ‘who’s who’ in Rhode Island music. The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Concert is the place to be and be seen at as we continue to showcase the history of Rhode Island’s musical heroes,” says Billington.

This year, Bellaire said, there will be two induction events, and 11 more displays will be unveiled to celebrate inductees. Eventually, the museum will have more than 100 displays as well as memorabilia and interactive components.

The 2015 induction ceremonies will take place on two days, April 20 and April 26, at two separate locations.

The jazz inductions will take place on Monday, April 20, 7:00 p.m. at Bovi’s Tavern, 287 Taunton Avenue, East Providence, before the weekly performance by the Bovi’s big band, the John Allmark Orchestra. Being honored on that day will be George Masso, Bob Petteruti and Duke Belaire, the founder of the Bovi’s band.

The Induction Ceremony and Concert is set for Sunday, April 26, 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 nine new exhibits as well as performances by The Schemers and Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, The Ascots, The Others, and an all-star jam session led by two of this year’s MVP sideman award winners, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards. Sunday’s concert will be preceded by the unveiling of eleven new 2015 inductee exhibits.

Tickets for the April 26 event at The Met are $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. The 2 p.m. unveiling of the inductee exhibits is free and open to the public; a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3 p.m. concert in The Met. Information regarding the April 20 event and tickets for April 26 can be found at www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

All proceeds from RIMHOF’s annual induction events go toward creating the museum displays, acquiring recordings and memorabilia, and digitizing that collection for permanent online access for future generations. All organizational work has been donated by members of the Board Of Directors and a staff of volunteers.

For general information regarding the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, contact Dr. Robert Billington at 401-724-2200 or at bvri@aol.com.

Herb Weiss LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.