New Black Eagle Jazz Band, The Last Of The First: A Memorial Concert For Chester Zardis, New Orleans Bassist 1900–1990 (Black Eagle)
New Black Eagle Jazz Band, Goin' to New Orleans (Black Eagle)
The video footage of the DVD The Last Of The First is from a November 1990 concert at the Rhode Island School of Design. It featured, along with regular members of the band Tony Pringle, Stan Vincent, Eli Newberger, Bob Pilsbury, Peter Bullis, and Pam Pameijer, special guests Danny Barker, Tommy Sancton, Brian Ogilvie, and remarks by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. The DVD well captures the live concert feeling, 108 minutes of music and talking.
The original plan for the concert was to include Chester Zardis but, as Tony explains in the DVD’s liner notes, “Sadly though, and not long before the concert, Chester passed away and the planned event became a memorial concert for him.”
At some point during The Last Of The First, cornetist and leader Tony Pringle observes, “It’s somewhat impromptu,” and indeed that characterizes this slightly informal, and delightful, tribute to the pioneer jazz bassist Chester Zardis, whose career spanned seven and a half decades. From the mid- 1960s, he was a mainstay at Preservation Hall and toured the world with one or another of its bands. The audience, frequently zoomed in on by one of the RISD Film & Video Department cameras, was clearly captivated by the lively music and charmed by the good time the musicians were obviously having. Scratching his head as the band awaits his announcement of the next tune, which for a moment he cannot recall the title of, Tony alludes to the “very fine wine.”
It was wonderful to receive a review copy of the DVD, for it brought to mind the many times I had seen the band perform. It was also a heartfelt reminder of its late leader, cornetist Tony Pringle. Clarinetist and saxophonist Billy Novick, with the band this past quarter of a century, sent out an email to the band’s e-list:
I have very sad news to deliver—somewhat devastating to the Black Eagles’ musical family. Tony Pringle, our musical leader and cornet player, passed away last Thursday, May 3rd, due to complications from heart surgery. Even though he'd been in the hospital for six weeks in a very compromised physical condition, it was still shocking to us.
Tony had expressed numerous times that he would want the band to keep going if he ever stopped playing, and that we should continue to perform the soulful and uncompromising style of New Orleans jazz that he helped create. We fully intend to do that, for many reasons, not the least of which would be honoring his spirit.
I look forward to sharing brighter news with you sometime soon. In the meantime, thanks for all of your support over the years. We hope to see you at some of our performances in the near future.
The double CD Goin' to New Orleans is of previously unreleased concert material from Holland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, California, and New Hampshire, 1989-2013. The band is of the regular members as listed above with, on some numbers, bassists Barry Bockus or Jesse Williams replacing Newberger and Bill Reynolds in place of Pameijer. Especially gratifying to me is the rendition of “Deep Henderson,” a favorite of mine that I had long awaited a reprise of from the band’s version on their 2000 Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya.
My experience of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band began in the 1970s with their earliest recordings, which I frequently played on my WGTB-FM radio show “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say . . . .” I wrote the liner note for the NBEJB’s 25th Anniversary CD Skeletons in the Closet. I interviewed Tony Pringle both for it and for my 1991 The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press).
One of my most memorable exposures to the band was in the spring of 1975 when I took the Traditional Jazz Band of São Paulo, Brazil on a three-week tour of the eastern U. S.—my only ever entrepreneurial effort vis-à-vis jazz—and we shared an evening with the NBEJB at the Sticky Wicket Pub in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Upon learning of Tony Pringle’s death, TJB leader and multi-reed player Tito Martino emailed me from São Paulo that he well remembered the gig and that he would never forget Tony Pringle. Upon Tony’ death, The Syncopated Times wrote, “He was the best musical import America ever received from Liverpool. . . . In 1969 he joined The Black Eagle Jazz Band, led by Tommy Sancton. . . . The Black Eagles separated after a final performance at the 1971 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Soon after, a group of former Eagles began appearing as the Boston Bayou Jazz Band. With some additions they would become the New Black Eagle Jazz Band.” (The full obituary plus “Getting Started in Jazz,” an autobiographical essay by Tony Pringle, and a thrilling video of the NBEJB playing “Nothing Blues” is at https://syncopatedtimes.com/tony-pringle- obituary/)
And the rest, as they say, is history, for the New Black Eagle Jazz Band became one of the best known and most respected traditional jazz bands, here and abroad. It recorded forty or so albums and played all over the world at festivals and concert halls, often with historic figures of jazz. The band has had only limited personnel changes in its nearly half-century of activity.
Tony’s friend Ron L’Herault, quoted in The Syncopated Times, said it well:
From the first moment I heard Tony play, I knew I was in the presence of a great horn player. And as I listened to the New Black Eagle Jazz Band more and more, I came to realize that he was an equally gifted leader of the band. He could build incredible excitement without increasing volume, altering tempo, or changing key. By the time he piloted the band to the out chorus, the audience, me included, were about ready to burst with joy. I’ve never heard anyone else do what he did.