Friday, July 16, 2010

Remembering Sal Maida, Sam Farkas

With a busy June and early July, this log edition was delayed. But by no means should it be ignored or dropped by the wayside.

Two Capital District jazz musicians died within days of one another in June and both were significant to this region of New York State and to me.

Pianist Salvatore Maida, 77, of Gloversville, NY, was a longtime jazz pianist in the area. Extremely talented, he played with some heavy hitters and could probably have made a nice career in New York City (he attended Julliard for a time and was a graduate of the Crane School of Music, which is part of the State University of New York at Potsdam), the center of the jazz world. He was actually born there. But he remained in Gloversville NY, which had become his home where his family settled. It’s the same city a where I lived for 20 years or so. Strangely, I didn’t know Sal then. But I had seen him perform around the region with the best of jazz cats that included the brilliant saxophonist Nick Brignola and great guitarist Jack Fragomeni, among many others. He had a great style and always played with intelligence and exuberance. Always good shit coming from his mind and through his fingertips.

I was introduced to Sal in a small, short-lived club in Gloversville, after I had moved away. He was there as a fan, as was I, to see a band led by the excellent saxophonist Brian Patneaude. I humbly state that it was Sal who requested to be introduced to me when he found out I was in the room. He knew my writing, apparently. I was a certainly eager to do so, feeling in the presence of an extraordinary talent. It was a warm meeting. Brief. But started a kinship where I would see him often when he played in Saratoga Springs where I have resided for about a decade.

He played various venues in the Saratoga area and, in fact, had played a jazz club/restaurant -- One Caroline -- a bunch of times earlier this year. We would have chats of varying lengths in between sets at some of these appearances and it was always warm. He was a warm guy. A gentleman. And very sharp. And very humble about his own talent.

The last time we spoke at length was when he completed a gig at a pretentious Saratoga Springs establishment where not many people seemed to be listening; no doubt too impressed with the sounds of their own voices and the mindless blather that no doubt emanated therein. Ironic, in a sense, since Sal was the opposite of pretentious. As always, it was warm, filled with good humor.

Another noted area pianist, Steve Pellegrino, and myself have toasted Sal since his death. Steve -- also from Gloversville -- knew Sal way longer and better than myself. He says he learned lots from Mr. Maida. Steve was touched, like many, by his passing. Steve was in awe of Sal's playing. And Steve can play. That's cool.

I just thought he was worthy of note. Salute, Sal. Cent' anni.

(Pronounced: Chin Dahn, for uninitiated non-Italians. It means literally 100 years, but as a salute it means 100 years of health and happiness. 100 good years. Things to that affect. Sal lives on, so it's appropriate).

Jazz guitarist Sam Farkas also died in June. He played guitar in the area over many years. But in fact, I never saw him perform.

Where Farkas comes into my life was educating me on jazz and its creators. I was a kid in high school and later in college when I used to listen to him on radio station WRPI out of Troy, NY, which is attached to the renowned engineering school of the same name -- RPI. I was totally enthralled with jazz music at that time and ate up anything and everything I could. I spent time in the Schenectady Library taking out albums by all kinds of people. Listening to artists and taking note of who the sidemen were. Then going to listen to work by those sidemen. (This is common among jazz fans).

Then I would go out and buy records. I read jazz histories and collected writings by people like Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff and Ralph J. Gleason.

But Farkas was also a key. He started at 11 on a Saturday night and would go into the wee hours playing Miles, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz… on and on and on. He played the greats and people lesser known, but wonderfully talented. I would listen to him while driving around if I was out and about. I’d tune him in if I was at home, often falling asleep in the wee hours to those sweet sounds. That was akin to the library, since, after hearing many selections, I would go out and buy the album, or other music by those artists.

I remember sitting in my car (actually, my parents') with my girlfriend in a parking lot outside a nightclub, refusing to go inside until the song was over so I could hear Sam announce who was playing. The music was kick-ass. She was annoyed, but I was undaunted. The album turned out to be “Ten Years Hence,” by Yusef Lateef. His booming tenor sax was complimented by crazy-good piano wailing by the great Kenny Baron -- my first exposure to both those great talents. Tootie Heath on drums and Bob Cranshaw on bass. The cut was “Yusef’s Mood” which, some may be familiar, occupies one entire side of the two-album vinyl set. Over 20 minutes long. We must have sat there for 15 or more of it. (No matter. Got laid anyway). It's still one of my favorite albums.

His radio show was an immense pleasure for me, but a highly educational tool and one that helped quench my thirst for knowledge that extended beyond just enjoying the music. It was the beginning of a road that has led to me becoming an established jazz writer. Still listening. Still learning. Still enjoying.

Sam did some radio in more recent years on a couple commercial stations, but those stints were always cut short -- just when I'd think good taste was coming back. Too bad.

More Capital District:

I could list many jazz events for this region. But really the best thing to do is continually check the calendar section of Albany

However one noteworthy appearance is that of Ralph Lalama at the Bread and Jam CafĂ© in Cohoes, NY, on July 23 and 24. He turned in a sterling set of music at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga last month with his quartet. Fine NYC-based player. Real nice guy. He’ll be playing in trio format with Lou Smaldone and Joe Barna.

Check him out!

1 comment:

  1. I was searching for Sal Maida and came upon your post telling of his passing. I hired Sal to play my first serious gig as a leader in 1973. At that time, I had been playing regularly with Nick Brignola while in college. Good times. I remember Sal fondly. Matt Finley