Parade Street Jazz Band plays out 2012 Season

Harry Aldrich, founder of the Parade Street Dixieland Jazz Band

Lori HumphreysStaff Writer

The Parade Street Dixieland Jazz Band begins its Chautauqua debut performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

The seven-member band features Harry Aldrich, tenor banjo; Sonny Froman, drumset; Keith Lenz, trumpet; John Marszalek, clarinet; Marilyn Marszalek, piano; Kent Tucker, trombone; and Gary Viebranz, sousaphone.

The group will play a program of musical favorites in a jazz interpretation including “Hello Dolly,” “Armed Forces Medley” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Jazz favorites include “Bourbon Street Blues,” “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Dark Town Strutter’s Ball.”

Singer Brittany Barko, Erie native and Mercyhurst College student, joined the group in May.

Aldrich, the band’s founder, said, “Brittany is someone really special as a jazz singer and a person. Our motto is, ‘If our audience ain’t clappin’ their hands, bobbin their heads or tappin’ their toes, then we ain’t communicatin’ our music. Brittany makes that happen.”

The Sunday performance is a perfect concert for the waning summer — upbeat tempo and jazzy. However, behind the singin’ and playin’ hides Aldrich’s story of personal valor which begins in silence but ends in a crescendo of achievement.

For Aldrich, silence is neither wise nor golden, it is an imperative. Cancer abolished his vocal chords, and they were removed in 1997. He describes himself as “effectively silent,” and his speech is difficult to understand though he taught himself to talk using the esophageal method of speaking.

Learning to play the tenor banjo became a way of communicating, of engaging life. He developed into a proficient performer appearing with two banjo bands, one in the Erie area and one in Pittsburgh. Aldrich played on the Amp stage with the Pittsburgh Banjo Club in 2000.

During the intervening years, he has developed an admirable ability to converse in writing over the Internet. He is an energetic, colorful email conversationalist and the best author of his determination to create music and to ignore the ravages of cancer. His style, with its short phrases and dots, captures his spunk and humor.

“In April 2009, at the age of 76, I sent a call out for musicians to join me … six signed up … at the age of 76. What else does a 76-year-old great-grandfather, a cancer survivor who cannot talk and has to learn quickly how to transpose music for B-flat and bass-line instruments? What else? … Start a Dixieland Jazz band, right?”  he wrote.

The Parade Street Dixieland Jazz Band, modeled on the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans, is popular in the Erie, Pa., area. Erie Times-News nominated the band for the RockErie Music Awards three times, though it was not a winner.

Aldrich takes the nominations with a big dose of salt, though he is competitive enough to enjoy the possibility that the band might win the award this year.

“Son of a gun, if we didn’t get nominated again for the fourth time for the 2012 contest. We’ll find out September 23 if we won,” he said.

Regardless of the Erie award, Aldrich is enjoying “the prize” of playing on the Amp stage. Let him tell the tale of how the group got here.

“Having been to Chautauqua many times, I started pestering Marty (Merkley, Institution vice president and director of programming) to let us come and play on the greens outside the bookstore some Sunday afternoon. No luck. I finally met Marty in person after the (banjo player) Cynthia Sayer show two years ago up by the T-shirt and gift shack, and said hello, etc.,” he wrote.

“Marty sent me an email last December with the offer … WE ARE HONORED. Naturally, I accepted.”

Sunday’s afternoon concert promises to be a fun-filled musical valentine to jazz. The story of Aldrich’s winning joust with windmills gives the music the aspect of a prayer.