May the Fourth be with you!

May the Fourth be with you!

By Matt P. Spinello, Contributing Writer

Only in Rockford can the explosiveness of July 4th celebrations show their true colors, with applause of approval echoing on the genius of Joe Marino: Mr. 4th of July, Mr. All-Knowing, Mr. Good Guy. For his efforts and accomplishments over the years, it has been repeatedly suggested that the city be renamed Marino, Illinois.

Mr. 4th last year contracted and challenged members of the area’s jazz community to put an exciting musical form of fireworks on stage with a live jazz concert featuring many of the area’s finest and most accomplished musicians. Joe Marino was there on July 3rd while six jazz groups spotlighting nearly 60 musicians pre-staged their assigned floor space. Between thousands of feet of cable, last-minute changes and gallons of ice water to buffer the shock of 90-plus degree heat, the show went on. According to park personnel, the event drew a record attendance of more than 2,000. Marino showed his approval with his familar grin and repeated standing ovations. Four days later, he re-booked “The Force of July” stars for this year’s celebration.

The 4th of July Stars & Stripes Jazz Concert, presented by the Rockford 4th of July Committee, will spotlight new and familiar faces and world-class musicianship. Johnie Faren’s Orient Jazz Express will hit the stage on the run. The internationally famous Chicago-based ensemble, led by Johnie Faren, will feature vocalist Marvinetta, who wowed Rockford Jazz Society members last year, and will include world-classers Chuck Burdelik on tenor and alto saxes; Art Davis, trumpet; Steve Horne, trombone; Don Stille, piano; and John Bany, bass. The group is preparing for a European jazz tour and another in South and North Korea. Faren has also been asked to serve on the Olympics program in Beijing, China, in 2008.

For traditional jazz, Wisconsin’s famed Monday Morning Dixie Band will meld the close-knit musical excursions of its frontline horns: trumpet, trombone and clarinet, clinging to the rhythm section of tuba, banjo and drums, cheerfully revisiting the “happy music” of the past while leaping into its interpretations of Dixieland music present, including serious blues and chuckling tongue-in-cheek ditties, creating foot-stomping fun. Twenty-year leader Pete Peterson works closely with his front line, joining master trumpeter Bill Drenkhan and clarinetist Bob Sturomski. The rhythm section includes true traditional banjoist Al Johnson, with Ed Englebretson firming the beat on tuba and D.J. Bill Korst buzz-rolling his drums in between his stint on WKEZ-FM, 93.7 radio, Sundays from Monroe, Wis.

The “Soul of Cole” will appear with Carl Cole & Company, an organization that continues to experiment, grow and perform. The area’s busiest innovator, Carl picks, polishes and promotes performers from teenagers to adults. His personal talent as writer/producer and performer, vocally and on the 88 keys, has gained him wide recognition and praise. His performances for New American Theater and the Mendelssohn Club continue to please appreciative audiences. Wife Dianna sings like a bird of soul. Bill Doll accents a jazz feel on clarinet and sax. The performance will be enhanced with the award-winning voices of The Patriot’s Gateway Freedom Singers, an ensemble developed and promoted by Carl and drawing great reviews. Both Cole and the Freedom Singers have new CDs on the market.

The artistry of Al Feeney on piano thrilled fans for 20 years at the Playboy Club in Chicago and Playboy’s Hotel in Lake Geneva. Talent of Al’s stature has long been a challenge to match in this area. Residing in nearby Harvard, he encourages musicians to work with him at every possible opportunity. Al appears frequently at the local level with road show bassist Guy Fiorenza, whose wizardry regularly takes him to Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee. As drummer, the natural choice is Jack Brand, writer/publisher and intentionally domineering percussionist. Together, the trio presents the ultimate in classic jazz experimentation and exploration. Joining the group, Chicago-born and bonded vocalist Jackie Voss will command the center stage as one of the Windy City’s finest female warblers, warmed in blues, steeped in experience, and charging ahead with familiar jazz standards. She’s married to famed Chicago drummer Wayne Jones.

From south Rockford, the west end, the near north side and ‘round the bend comes the Matt Paul Septet, thrown together just for fun. Whether or not they can play is questionable. They have been known to switch instruments with one another, or walk off into the audience and sit, with a blank stare aimed at an empty stage. The notorious gathering will include its most prestigious mentor, 88-year-old John Porrazzo, who is still very active. Following his third guitar lesson last week, he entered the studio to cut his new CD single, My Girlfriend To Me Is A Perfect Stranger Since She Caught Her Nose In The CD Changer. The over-zealous romantic will bring along other legends of note who have just recently bought instruments and played once or twice, but not together. Mike Vaccarello destroys his organ-ized accordion each time he performs; enjoy him again.

Frank Guzzardo will appear with permission from those who eye his cage with caution, bringing in tow his magnificent trumpet and guitar arrangements. Harold Smith, high-class Chicago clarinetist, will sneak in the back door, pretending not to know any of the others, but will play with the mastery earned on the streets of Chicago. Bruce Warden will sneak out of his cubicle, on leave long enough to play a few jazz piano licks, sneaking past his monitor and returning to his room by 10:30 p.m. Leader Matt Spinello may show if he can muster the last payment for his children’s drum kit from a local pawn shop that went out of business 12 years ago. And perhaps the only sane one of the bunch, true vocal veteran, legendary diva Doris LaMarca: band leader, classically trained jazz-loving vocalist, will charm us again with her ageless appeal. Doris still has it, and will prove it, even if the rest of the band fails miserably.

A blockbuster closing for this night of celebrating will be staged by the Little Big Band, a product of the combined efforts of Cary Sheley and Ken Stein. Each as veteran leaders, writers/producers/players, has contributed greatly to this group’s prominence and acceptance, especially by other musicians. Trombonist Sheley has made repeated cross-country trips with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. His performances illustrate why. When not on stage, Cary writes big-band-sounding arrangements for small groups. Ken Stein, Rock Valley College staffer, has developed, directed and promoted the college’s 18-piece jazz band, the 16-piece Community Jazz Band, and several groups, including the Little Big Band, in which he has played sax, clarinet and flute. Combining their experience and talented pasts, the Sheley/Stein mystique presents an exciting musical jazz event wherever it’s staged. Also appearing will be Randy Schneeberger on trumpet. His credits include national appearances with the Red Skelton Show, Ringling Bros. Circus, and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. Ken, Cary and Randy will frontline the Little Big Band. Their rhythm section will bring back the jelled presence of Al Feeney on piano, Guy Fiorenza on bass and Jackson Brand, drums.

Truly, “May the Fourth be with you!”

Showtime is 7 p.m., Thursday, July 3, Sinnissippi Park Band Shell. Rain date is 6 p.m., Friday, July 4. First come, first seated. Free will offerings will be accepted.

Matt P. Spinello is the president of the Rockford Jazz Society.

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