The Midiri Brothers Orchestra

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Midiri Brothers Sexet At Brooklawn, NJ
Tri-State Jazz Society concert ~ 10.26.03
by Jim McGann

The Time: Sunday, October 26th, 2003, 2pm to 5:30pm
The Place: American Legion Hall, Brooklawn, NJ
The Band: Joe Midiri, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones, vocals; Paul Midiri, vibraphone, trombone, and drums; Dan Tobias, trumpet and flugelhorn; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Gary Cattley, string bass; Jim Lawlor, drums and vocals

The 1940s were a period of change in the Kingdom called Swing. Benny Goodman in mid-1939, prepared for it. The days of the Carnegie Hall band were over, and key sidemen such as Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Jess Stacy left the band to pursue careers of their own. The Fletcher Henderson arrangements were still popular, but the band was in a rut, musically. Goodman, then hired arranger Eddie Sauter to prepare a new book for the band, and hired amplified guitarist Charlie Christian to get things going again. Sauter's unusual orchestra arrangements, coupled with Christian's guitar contributions with the Goodman Sextet were the tonic that put the Goodman name back on top. It was this kind of forward looking swing, this mindset that was front and center on Sunday afternoon when the Midiri Brothers band performed in Brooklawn.

The first set began with a Goodman sextet arrangement of My Gal Sal, which featured a nice open horn solo from Dan Tobias, and a very Lester Young sounding Joe Midiri on tenor sax. The Red Norvo composition, The Bass on the Barroom Floor, offered both Midiris' extended soli, with Joe Midiri playing an almost boppish clarinet, and finishing off with some solid Goodman riffs. Don Redman's Cherry was the next number in the program, beginning with a Midiri tenor lead. Dan Tobias took over the lead in the second chorus, with Midiri's tenor responding. Pat Mercuri, Tobias, and Joe Midiri all provided laid back soli on this, with Jim Lawlor's drums providing deftly placed rim shots and cymbal crashes. Then it was time for a solo feature from Pat Mercuri, a letter perfect rendition of Eddie Lang's April Kisses. The set closed with Benny Goodman's Seven, Come Eleven.

Let's Go, a swinging original by Paul Midiri, opened the second set, with Dan Tobias making a rare appearance on Flugelhorn, teaching the instrument the language of Armstrong. Midiri's clarinet hit a high Bb (not an easy task!!) during his solo. The following two numbers, Sugar and September Song, were taken at slow, relaxing tempos. On the former, Tobias provided a Bobby Hackett lead, Mercuri played in the manner of Carl Kress, and Joe Midiri romanced the tenor. The latter began with a light small group sound, somewhat reminiscent of the Red Norvo Trio and the George Shearing Quintet. Cattley's bass was superb in the ensemble, giving a Blanton-esque presence.

Jim Lawlor stepped away from the drums to test his vocal "chops" on the next number, From Monday On, with his drum replacement, Paul Midiri, providing some nice Dave Tough fills. The number featured an interesting trading of "fours" between Tobias and the Midiris. A Dan Tobias feature, Embraceable You, was performed, as one listener put it, in "an embraceable way". Pat Mercuri accompanied the trumpeter beautifully on this number. Roses of Picardy presented an exhilarating Midiri clarinet solo, beginning his solo in the chalumeau register, double-timing in the second chorus, and quoting Ellington's Rockin' In Rhythm in the closing chorus.

The climatic number, On The Sunny Side Of the Street, was a collective grouping of classic renditions of the song. It began with recalling the Johnny Hodges-Lionel Hampton recording of 1937 with Joe Midiri playing the Hodges role, and Paul Midiri, the Hampton part. After parting with his alto, Midiri did a credible Armstrong impersonation, and made some references to Dan Tobias' economic situation in his vocal. Paul Midiri switched to trombone during his brother's vocal with a Tyree Glenn plunger commentary. The concluding chorus, performed in accelerating tempo, finished off a classic.

It was then time for a duet, between Joe Midiri on clarinet and Pat Mercuri on guitar with Joe Venuti and Frank Signorelli's I'll Never Be The Same. Both musicians captured the rich beauty of the song melody.

The third and final set of the day opened with Fascinatin' Rhythm, which contained fascinating opening ensemble chorus, what could best be described as modern John Kirby! The Gershwin composition offered some lightly swinging Tobias, and Midiri's sparkling champagne alto. Pat Mercuri's guitar work here reminded me of the obscure Remo Palmieri, who worked with Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo and Charlie Shavers on Mildred Bailey's radio program. A relaxing The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else and a modern rendition of Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz followed. The set concluded with an intoxicating Limehouse Blues, with a forceful Tobias, Midiri providing some Jimmy Noone stuff on clarinet, and a drum duet between Jim Lawlor and Paul Midiri.

To say the Midiri band was a success would be understatement. With the selection of quality tunes, excellent musicianship and an appreciative audience added up to a wonderful afternoon of music at Brooklawn.


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