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New York Big Band Caroling

From the Queens Q-guide, Thursday, April 15, 1999.

Astoria-born Sudhalter hits big time with own jazz band.
by Roy Fox

There are two quotes that come to mind as I listen to the hip jazz band sounds created by Carol Sudhalter and her surrounding cast of merry musical men. First, is the response of Satchmo when asked what jazz really is. Said Louie: “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know”. Along those same lines is the comeback of Fats Waller when asked to explain rhythm: “Lady, if you got to ask, you ain’t got it”.

Carol Sudhalter need not ask. She’s got it. And she knows it. Let me rework that. With the confidence that comes from being good, she knows she’s got it. But then, it runs in the family, with a brother who plays trumpet and a father who played sax. A guy thing. Like father, like son. Yes, and typical, too, of jazz musicians, Pop (Albert) Sudhalter wanted something better for his daughter, better than the difficult life that often seems to haunt jazz musicians when they step offstage. The current Broadway show, “Side Man”, is a story of exactly that kind of troubled life. Tough enough for a guy, but a daughter? Pop Sudhalter’s verdict: unthinkable. Not my daughter.

And so, Carol headed off to school, made the effort towards a ‘legitimate’ career of some kind or other and satisfied her musical longing by taking up the flute. After all, what kind of trouble could come from playing the flute? It’s such a refined instrument, both in shape and in sound, that it conjured up visions of chamber music; polite Sunday Afternoon concerts at a park gazebo. Something right and proper. Civilized. Carol Sudhalter’s jazz scene gene was left to bide its time. Until her epiphany, that is; her moment of self-discovery. For Carol, it arrived with the death of her dad. The same day, she both defied and honored him by picking up the saxophone and declaring music her life’s true ambition.

Alright, so words like ‘epiphany’ are too highfalutin’ for the life of a jazz musician. And maybe this didn’t happen in one fell swoop. Yet, the vision that I’ve created for you is not far off the mark. In short order, she packed her Boston bags, followed the rails to New York, marked out Astoria as her home turf, and lives for music just as she brings about music that lives. Currently, the Astoria Jazz Band under Carol’s direction is performing a month of Mondays at Danny’s Skylight Room in Manhattan. With two Mondays still to go (April 19 and 26), you can sit in for an hour’s worth of the big band jazz sound. More than that, you will be part of a recording session as the Sudhalter group is using these get-togethers to create a new CD. The end result: incorporating music by Sudhalter groups of various sizes, but all of it in the big jazz band tradition of hip sounds that swing pretty good. Actually, there is something extra special about the Astoria Jazz Band sound. The arrangements of Charlie Camilleri and Mickey Tucker. The night I was at Danny’s I heard fabulous arrangements of “Moonlight Becomes You”, “Stairway to the Stars”, “Gone with the Wind”, “Close Your Eyes”, “Slow Boat to China”, “Lullaby of the Leaves” and more.

The individual musicians (as with Mae West, Carol surrounds herself with the male element, a female at the piano being the exception) are all very good when taking their turn in the spotlight, but then blend perfectly into the unifying force, that driving sensation that pulsates with excitement, a musical kaleidoscope that so fills my brain that it is saturated with joyful exaltation. No wonder that jazz can so easily be incorporated into the church experience. Something else that the Astoria Jazz Band has done, right here in Queens. The group is still getting its feet wet and this is a wonderful time to see and hear them in action. Action is the word, alright. Action, active, and alive. Carol provides various sized versions of her band for all kinds of gatherings, depending on the occasion, and they perform throughout the area. Many of the other musicians in the band are also Queens-based, and as with Carol, are involved in any number of additional tasks waiting for those moments when they can come back and together make wonderful music. Next time you have the opportunity of enjoying the Astoria Jazz Band, pay special attention to Carol as she oes a solo with her baritone sax. Here is a woman who has obviously found her niche.

In listening to this talented musician blowing to her heart’s content, I got to thinking about her father. Perhaps, he would disapprove of his daughter’s decision to live the life of a jazz musician. But, he’d have to love the way it sounds. After all, it was music to his ears.

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