Howard Fishman's pre-rock pop-jazz

Howard Fishman Group

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 26, 2003) -- Hartford native and Vassar College alumnus Howard Fishman comes to music from an early career in the performing arts as an actor, director and playwright, leading one to wonder just how to take a bandleader who comes across as the Leon Redbone of pre-rock, pop-jazz of the 1940s and ‘50s. On his latest album with his quartet – which has five members – Fishman, who sings like a jazzy, peppier Jonathan Richman, hops from mariachi trumpets to organ jazz to honky-tonk fiddle to Charles Aznavour-like French chansons, sometimes all in the course of one song. Equally at home playing Brooklyn subways and the Oak Room at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, Fishman brings his quartet to Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) on Sunday at 8.

Noah Baerman

With his trio, Kenny Barron protégé Noah Baerman plays jazz that is as soulful and funky as it is thoughtful and lush, as heard on U-Turn (Lemel), a collection of original compositions by Baerman and trio members Tyler Goodwin (bass) and George Mastrogiannis (drums). But Baerman’s trio isn’t yet another jam-band disguised as jazz trio jumping on the Medeski, Martin and Wood-inspired organ-jazz craze. Baerman, of Middletown, Conn., is active as a jazz bandleader and educator, teaching at Wesleyan and Central Connecticut State universities and writing several instructional books on jazz keyboard. Baerman’s jazzy melodicism, his penchant for unusual chord changes, and the fact that his chosen instrument is a Fender Rhodes electric piano, give much of the material on “U-Turn” a hint of sophisticated, Steely Dan-like jazz-rock – territory that is woefully overlooked by many on today’s scene. The Noah Baerman Trio, with Sean McClowry on bass, returns to the Castle Street Café (413-528-5244) in Great Barrington on Saturday night.

Old Songs, new supergroup

Among the performers at this weekend’s 23rd annual Old Songs Festival at the Altamont (N.Y.) Fairgrounds is Fourtold, a new, folk supergroup bringing together North Bennington, Vt.-based, husband-and-wife duo Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen with singers Anne Hills and Michael Smith. The four have performed together previously in various configurations, but Fourtold – “a concept, a recording and touring project” – marks the first time these Traveling Wilburys of traditional-style folk have officially been a foursome. The quartet of folksingers trade harmonies and verses on its eponymous debut album – released last month on Appleseed Recordings – consisting of a dozen story-oriented songs, including well-known ones like Ian Tyson’s cowboy song “Four Rode By,” Peggy Seeger’s “Ballad of Springhill,” about the famous mining disaster, and Gillette’s own “Darcy Farrow,” originally recorded by Ian and Sylvia in 1966 and subsequently covered so many times (over 300 by last count) that it is frequently mistaken for a traditional ballad.

Over 100 other artists will perform at Old Songs, which runs Friday through Sunday and features blues, gospel, Celtic, world music and folk dancing, with the likes of Fairport Convention, John McCutcheon, Magpie, Faith Petric, Le Vent du Nord, Mike Seeger and the Berkshires’ own Roger the Jester, among others. The family-friendly festival takes place about 10 miles west of Albany and includes workshops and classes in pennywhistle, shape-note singing, uilleann pipes, onsite camping. For more information call 518-765-2815 or visit

Blue Dogs

Friends since their Cub Scout days, Charleston, S.C. natives Bobby Houck and Hank Futch formed Blue Dogs in the late-1980s. While band members have come and gone since then, the two remain the core of the country-rock group, whose sound has evolved into a rootsy blend of Wallflowers-like moody, modern rock, Grateful Dead country jams and Dire Straits-ish roots-rock. The group’s latest studio album, Letters from Round O (Black River) was produced by Cracker’s David Lowery and includes instrumental contributions from members of Hootie and the Blowfish. Currently touring with fellow southerners Cast Iron Filter, Blue Dogs brings its “Fetch and Filtered” tour to the Iron Horse (1-800-THE-TICK) in Northampton on Friday night at 7.

Backstage bits

Check out the guy behind the drum kit during Michelle Branch’s opening set at Friday night’s Dixie Chicks concert at the Pepsi Arena in Albany – it’s none other than Stockbridge native Kenny Aronoff. Aronoff plays on Branch’s new album, Hotel Paper, and appears in the video for the first single, “Are You Happy Now.”

Guitarist Leo Kottke will be the musical guest on Saturday night at Tanglewood for the live staging of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” public radio variety show.

The North County-based pop-rock band Plum Crazy recently made it to the “Battle of the Band” finals at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, N.Y. The group, which performs at AJ’s Place in Bennington, Vt., on Saturday night, at La Cocina in Pittsfield on July 12, and at Key West in North Adams on July 18, is currently recording its debut CD. Formed out of the ashes of Dr. Isosceles in 2001 by Jamie Choquette, who works in the office of lifelong learning at MCLA, and Matt Jenkins, a middle-school band director in Pittsfield, the group also includes guitarist Greg Caproni, drummer Davey Luczynski, who owns a bike shop in Williamstown, and lead singer Krissi Long, a recent graduate of MCLA.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 26, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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