NORTHCOAST JAZZ COLLECTIVE
Listening to this CD can be hazardous to your moral standing. At least one member of the Northcoast Jazz Collective
is known to be on double-secret probation at the Department of Homeland Security; the quartet’s music is believed
to cause cancer in white mice. Merely reading these notes could corrode your brain into Cheeze Whiz. We sincerely
urge you to proceed no further.
Still reading? OK. I give up! It was a cheap ploy to make the NJC seem as unsavory --and as popular-- as fast food or
Reality TV. Everyone wants to seem respectable. But, secretly, we all believe (to quote Huck Finn) that respectability
is “rough living…dismal regular and decent in all ways.” If conventional wisdom labels something “unacceptable”,
that verboten-ness makes it exciting and fun. The minute something becomes socially respectable, it becomes boring.
When jazz was considered down and dirty and lowbrow, it was the most popular music in the country. People were
willing to be seen in public, drinking, dancing and dining to it. Jazz might have been even more popular in private.
Now it receives serious critical study, is taught in conservatories and even receives federal funding to promote “jazz
appreciation.” And now the average citizen wouldn’t listen to jazz if you paid them.
It’s possible you’re reading this because you’re a connoisseur of fine jazz. But it’s also likely that a friend or co-
worker of a band is playing this for you, and you’re looking for something that might help you enjoy the music. [I
said “enjoy”. Appreciate is what your mutual funds should do.] So let me give you a couple of things to carry you
g It’s OK to tap your feet or smile; this is a fun record. I know jazz is “serious music”, that John Gallo [bass] has a
goatee and sunglasses and Dan Maier [piano] wears coats to gigs. But if you listen, you can hear that these guys enjoy
playing together. They like the music that they create on the fly. The emotion shows up in the playing. Ever notice
how really good news puts a little extra spring in your walk? In music, you hear it in the flourishes in the phrases or
the accent on the rhythm. That kind of playing is all over the CD -- but it’s very obvious in the backing that Dan and
Mark Grey [drums] supply on Your Face and Monkin’ Around.
Not that the NJC can’t do contemplative; for evidence, try Dan’s intro to Georgie or Dave Frank’s flute work on
Rhumba Dolce. But the band’s natural exuberance at being together gives both tracks a little extra propulsion. That’s
infectious -- it’s hard to keep your feet still when listening to the NJC.
g Schools are for children and fish. If you’re wondering what kind of jazz the JKC plays, I believe it’s called “good
jazz.” Knowing “what kind” is helpful if you like what you hear and want to find more CDs like it. But knowing doesn’
t make the music any better. And with these guys, It will make you crazy. John’s old band mates include Chic Corea,
Archie Shepp and Carla Bley. Dan has worked with Gary Burton, Philip Glass and Blood Sweat and Tears. One of
Dave’s many projects is a Bruce Springsteen tribute band. Mark’s past includes Bid Band and Swing. If you can create
a “school” or “genre” that can hold all those ideas, you’re better than I am.
The members of the NJC have played all kinds of styles with lots of different people. They have scads of colors
available on their palettes, so they can go anywhere the song seems to require. And they do. The NJC moves so
effortlessly through genres during the course of the songs that I’d sound like a race horse announcer if I tried to keep
up with them. Besides, if I mentioned them, you might feel obliged to identify the points I was talking about.
[By the way, I’m sure I’m just hallucinating about Thump --that the guys didn’t have memories of Spike Jones floating
around in the back of their heads. But with resumes like these, you’re never sure.]
g Don’t think too much -- you’ll hurt your head and the music. The NJC lets people approach them on many different
levels. If you insist on trying to position everyone on the musical map, they’ll drop plenty of influences and quotes.
The tunes [five by John, two by Dave and one by Dan] are good enough to let you analyze the construction, if you’re
so inclined. And a budding player [hell, even an experienced pro] could benefit from memorizing and regurgitating
whole chunks of the CD; there are plenty of licks worth stealing. But you can also just lean back and listen.
Notes should help you enjoy the music, not give you homework. So I won’t identify any points where Mark displays
his knowledge of Gene Krupa or Elvin Jones, so you won’t feel obligated to try to spot them. It’s OK to say “That was
really nice.,” when it moves you, even if you miss a phrase or two. [It’s just a CD; you can always replay it.] Music isn’
t an intellectual competition; concentrating until your brain hurts doesn’t make you a better listener. The notion that
you have to study every freaking hemodemosemoquiaver of Dave’s cascades of notes in order to “appreciate” them
is one of the reasons people fled to rock for “entertainment” and left jazz confined to late night duty on non-
And if someone tells you that you can’t appreciate jazz without thinking, hit him with this quote from Charles Mingus:
“Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” Creativity is what the NJC
This album is dedicated to George and Mary Smilnak. At age 52, George a dedicated union leader, contracted
inoperable brain cancer.