Many a professional jazz musician has traded in the rat race of Manhattan for the peaceful environs of the Hudson Valley: a decades-long migration that has endowed the region with an unusual concentration of talent. One of them was Matthew Finck’s father, a saxophone player who moved from Queens to Ulster County with his family in the 1970s. Finck grew up surrounded by jazz musicians – he refers to them as his “second family” and noted that his sister attended Rondout Valley High School with Charles Mingus’ son – and it was through those connections that he discovered his jazz chops as an electric guitarist, studying at Long Island University. Like millions of teenage boys, he started out as a blues and rock ‘n’ roll guitarist – “It’s how you meet girls” – but after listening to Wes Montgomery and George Benson, became a convert to the music in which he’d been immersed since a child.
Finck worked as a musician in New York City for ten years and then followed the pattern, moving with his wife to Accord in 2000. Since the move, he has been a busy guy, touring, teaching music at the College of Saint Rose in Albany and working on a new CD, which is due to be released in a couple of weeks. Titled The Matthew Finck Jonathan Ball Project: It’s Not That Far, it features tenor Jonathan Ball, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Jay Anderson on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Yet a priority, despite his busy schedule, is playing and teaching in the local schools: a gig that’s just as thrilling as performing onstage and solidly in the tradition of his father, who on occasion played in the Rondout Valley High School band when Finck was a student.
On April 20, Finck and special guest Dennis Mackrel, the Woodstock-based drummer extraordinaire who travels the country and world as leader of the Count Basie Band, will give area high school bands a rare opportunity to get feedback and tips from professionals at the all-day Hudson Valley Jazz Invitational, held at Kingston High School. Now in its fourth year and funded by a grant from the Rosendale Street Festival, the event will start at 10 a.m. with four hours of master classes by Finck, Mackrel, saxophonists Bob Shaut and his son Dan and bassist Charlie Kniceley.
The attending student bands will have a chance to play for the professionals and get feedback. After a break, Finck and company will perform a concert for the students, using arrangements put together by the Shauts. It’ll be a blast for all involved, Finck said, with possibly long-lingering effects: He noted that some of the kids who have participated in past invitationals are now his students at the College of Saint Rose.
Finck also performs an annual concert to raise scholarship money for the Rondout Valley High School in memory of his Dad, who died in 2001. This year he’ll perform with famed trombonist Roswell Rudd and a host of other fine musicians at the Rosendale Café on August 28.
In the meantime, he’ll be performing with the 14-piece Big Bang Jazz Gang at Keegan Ales on April 21, as part of the group’s regular gig every third Sunday of the month at the Kingston microbrewery and music hotspot. The 14 musicians will improvise the music of Mingus, Duke Ellington, Mackrel and Thad Jones. The players vary, depending on who’s in town, but have included baritone saxophonist Ed Xiques, who performed with Liza Minnelli for 20 years, and Chris Pasin on trumpet, a veteran of the Buddy Rich band.
On April 27 Finck will be performing pop and jazz standards at the Farm to Table Bistro in Fishkill with the Michael Dell Trio, followed by a rousing performance of the Big Bang at the Falcon on May 1, in celebration of Mingus’ 91st birthday. Finck will be performing at the dining-music venue in Marlboro with Dale DeMarco, Ed Xiques, Jack Ryon, Bob Shaut and Dave Savitsky on reeds, Chris Pasin, Jon Leonard and Chris Persad on trumpets, Joe Bacci, Howard Levy and Sam Newsome on trombones, Bob Meyer on drums and Robert Kopec on bass. It’s a jazz embarrassment of riches, available for a fraction of the cost in Manhattan – and no commute.
Hudson Valley Jazz Invitational, Matthew Finck, Dennis Mackrel, Bob Shaut, Dan Shaut & Charlie Kniceley, April 20, Kingston High School. Music of Mingus, Ellington, Mackrel and Thad Jones, Big Bang Jazz Gang, April 21, Keegan Ales, Kingston. Pop & jazz standards, Matthew Finck & Michael Dell Trio, April 27, Farm to Table Bistro, Fishkill. Mingus’ 91st birthday, Big Bang Jazz Gang, May 1, the Falcon, Marlboro; www.matthewfinck.com, www.facebook.com/matthewfinck.music.