Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet +
A Short History of the Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet
By Bill Rowe
How The Band Got Started?
How I Became a Drummer
Throughout the 1970's the Potomac River Jazz Club (PRJC) bands played nightly at the Bratwursthaus in the Parkington Shopping Center (Now Ballston) in Arlington, Virginia. Jazz could be heard every night except Sundays, and it was a great hangout for both musicians and jazz fans. I was one of those fans except that in 1978 I joined Dick Baker in doing the Sound Engineering (Yes, I am a Registered Professional Electrical Engineer). For several years Dick and I operated the sound for PRJC Events. With permission from the PRJC, we jointly and individually recorded many of the bands in live and home studio settings. In those years Dick and I jointly recorded the first Buck Creek platter, and I recorded and mastered records for the Federal Jazz Commission and the Who's Who Band.
Working with the audio, I got to know many of the PRJC musicians very well. I was sitting with three musicians, Beale Riddle, Gil Carter and Skip Tomlinson one day at the Bratwursthaus, and I was asked how come I wasn't a musician myself. I responded that I always wanted to be one, but that I couldn't carry a tune, I'm virtually tone deaf. The three musicians (all of them drummers) indicated that playing drums did not require a fine tonal ear. I remarked that I had group drum lessons one year in junior high school and had learned some rudiments. Immediately Skip Tomlinson went into the cellar of the Bratwursthaus and brought up a set of old drums that he stored there. Under his tutorage, I started practicing. I was fortunate to be able to attend shy jam sessions led by George Gailes where I learned some basics about playing jazz in a group. Throughout 1980, I haunted the PRJC and other gigs where the bands would occasionally let me sit in. I have to thank all the patient musicians who put up with me.
In 1981, just after I extended the stage at the Bratwursthaus with Chuck Enlind's help, a fire shut the Bratwursthaus down for good. There was no longer a regular gig for many of the bands. This set the stage for the formation of the Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet.
The Beginning of the Quartet
One of the musicians, a talented jazz piano player, Bucky (William) Buckingham had been playing regularly with bands at the Bratwursthaus as means of coping with loneliness of having recently lost his wife of many years. Suddenly he had no place to play. I suggested we could meet at my house once in a while to jam and play a little. Mac (Monroe) McGown, a clarinet player with the Riverside Ramblers and Dixie-5-O, had not been playing for a while as a result of burnout. He joined Bucky and I, and we had a good time. We kept up these sessions up for several months. In May of 1981, a friend found a gig at the Holiday in Manassas for a solid week. We needed a bass player, and we invited Frank Borror to play the gig with us. Five nights of continuous playing melded us into combo that wanted to continue to play. Mac gave us the name, Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet, and we played a few gigs here and there when we could get them.
Late in 1981 we landed a weekly gig at the Country Squire Restaurant in Falls Church. However, the venue was Dixieland, requiring an expanded band. Using Mac, Bucky and myself as a base we formed the "Any Ol' Time Jazz Band" using Steve Welch on Trombone, Joe Shepherd on Trumpet, Dave Kessler on Bass as well as various other players when the basic group couldn't make it. Helen Ward would come in frequently with her husband, and would occasionally sing a song or two with us, particularly Goody Goody. This went on for nearly a year until the Country Squire could no longer support music of any kind.
The quartet and the Any Ol' Time Jazz Band played a gig every now and then over the next few years until the opening of Jacques cafe in Clarendon in Arlington County in Virginia. We became the house band and played every Friday and Saturday night for the next five years. Jacques became an institution and the place would usually be packed. The band played in the window area, so everyone going in and out the door passed either by us or through us. There were tables on the left wall and a bar on the right with only a narrow aisle to get to the back where there were more tables, a small dance floor and the kitchen and rest rooms. The picture on the left shows Jacques looking from the back forward to the door and window in which we played. From the back the bar is on the left and the tables on the right.
Bucky, who suffered from lupus, arthritis and a number of other ailments, including a balance problem would stagger into Jacques at the beginning of the gig, some how make it to the men's room and back, where he would warm up his hands in hot water to loosen them up. He would then sit down and play hot jazz piano for the next three hours and enjoy every minute of it. Here we are posing for a publicity picture for a TV appearance with Susan Woodruff who sang with us regularly.
We played at Jacques in Clarendon for six years to late 1990 when Jacques closed his Clarendon location and opened a new place on Fairfax Dr. and Quincy Streets in the Ballston area of Arlington. After a two month hiatus between the closing of the old and the opening of the new, we started playing at the new Jacques Cafe.
Any Ol' Time Jazz Band
During this time I reconstituted the Any Ol' Time Jazz Band as a straight New Orleans style Dixieland Band. This group played on Thursday nights at the Old Jacques and consisted of Gary Wilkinson on Piano, Mickey Jo Young on Bass, Ron Kirkpatrick on Rhythm Guitar, Dave Jellema on Cornet, Royal Burkhardt or Doug Powell on Trombone, Frank Goldseth or Mac McGown on Clarinet and me on the drums. The Any Ol' Time JB was a part of the original Jacques scene, but it has a history of its own, and is dealt with elsewhere.
In In late 1988, Bucky Buckingham died at the age of 78. He was sorely missed and we used a number of different piano players for a few months until Tom Nieman joined us as our regular piano player. He played with us until his cancers prevented him from playing just before his death. Sid Keithly then joined us as our regular piano player just as Jacques moved from Clarendon to the Ballston area on Fairfax St. The picture below is the NSMJQ at the new Jacques.
After a while we were joined by Steve Jordan playing his rhythm Guitar, letting us all know what it means to be a real pro. This made us a quintet, but we all wanted to play with Steve as shown below.
After a couple of years at the new Jacques Restaurant, Sid Keithly retired and moved to Clearwater, Florida where he still plays as solo pianist. For a while John Linscott played piano with us, but he became involved with his own group playing his saxophone. Jacques used that opportunity to request that we rejuvenate the group. We were without a regular piano player and Mac's hearing was rapidly deteriorating. and Jacques thought we needed to change our image. At Jacques request, I reconstituted the band with Wally Garner on Clarinet, Bill Whelan on Bass and Charlie LaBarbara on rhythm guitar instead of a piano. This group played for several years with Steve Jordan sitting in with us on a regular basis. The play between the two guitars of Steve and Charlie provided some outstanding original jazz creations.
In 1993 Bill Whelan started working another better paying gig and Billy Goodall became our Bassist, using both a Fender Bass and his upright. Bill with all his lifetime experience with all the New York and Big Bands gave us a new impetus and a new smooth sound. Bill became a regular with us until he died in 1997. When Wally couldn't play, Country (Mason) Thomas would play with us on the clarinet and tenor sax. He would often come in and join us.
Jacques closed his doors at the end of 1996, ending for us an eleven year regular gig. We were still playing lots of gigs, and after Billy died, Country got out his bass saxophone and became our regular bass player. Herb Greenlee joined us on the piano, and the quartet now consisted of Wally, Herb, Country and me, adding Charlie when no piano was available. We played in this form for about a year until we started playing at St. Elmo's in February of 1998.
Although we were playing numerous gigs around the area, the quartet missed the playing of a regular gig. I landed an opportunity to play regularly at St. Elmo's Coffee House and Pub, essentially playing for tips. Since we were not being paid, this was a means of giving us a regular venue. We could encourage all of the musicians who have played with us an opportunity to play regularly. Since we weren't getting paid, it had to be a fun gig. The basis is a jam session where we play what ever we feel like playing at the time, particularly more obscure song titles that don't get played very often. We don't use music, but extensive lists of song titles. As long as one or more of the musicians knows the tune and a key to play it in, the rest can usually play it. So there is no preparation or practice, we are playing for own gratification as musicians, and, of course, the applause and feedback we get from our very eclectic audience.
Since we usually play at St. Elmo's with more than four musicians, we have added "plus" to the name of the quartet, which we interpret as "plus a few more". Originally, Herb Greenlee, Wally Garner and I formed the basic trio that adds Bill Whelan on String Bass, Country Thomas on Bass Sax or Jimmy Hamilton on Baritone Sax. We play many quartet gigs that we get from other sources, many the result of our exposure at St. Elmo's. We often play at St. Elmo's with as many as ten or eleven musicians with Dick Parks, Joe Shepherd, Jimmy Hamilton, Jim Anderson and Bill Whelan joining us as regulars. Go to the section on musicians to get a thumbnail bio on each of the players.
As I write this update in May 2006, we are approaching our 9th anniversary at St. Elmo's on February 18, 2007. In August of 2003, Bill Whelan passed away and Mike Ritter took over playing the string bass. Later that year we spent two hours at a recording session and cut our first CD, "Memories on a Rainy Afternoon", which was published in August of 2004. It was very well received. Wally Garner died in August of 2005, and Mike Ritter took over the reeds and Ernie Buck took over as our regular bass player. Herb Greenlee has a regular solo gig on piano on Fridays and Saturdays in Hagerstown. Maryland, so Mort Langstaff or Larry Eanet play piano for us on weekend gigs or Chip Kelly will play guitar when a pianist isn't used.
We have a number of regular gigs other than St. Elmo's, including First Night in Alexandria and the Bay Breeze Concerts in Chesapeake Beach, Md and Manor Care Potomac as well gigs for the PRJC concerts and Masonic and Kena Shrine affairs. It keeps us busy and active.
The "Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet" (2003 - 2005)
Not-So-Modern Jazz Quartet 2006
7:30 - 10:00 p.m.
2300 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria, Virginia
We are presently in our our 15th year at St. Elmo's
Our CD is available - goto CDs
William (Bill) D. Rowe, Leader
8401 D St. Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732
Phone: (703) 929-8542 (443) 951-5317
Visitors - Last Update 3/26/2012