Interview with Paul Cosentino of the Boilermaker Jazz Band
I woke up this morning, all ready to publish Part 2 of “The Old Timer” 5-part Essay, when I discovered someone had replaced my penetrating and thought-provoking work with a rambling post full of ambiguous prose. This happens to me a lot. So, while I rework it over the next few days, I hope you will enjoy this:
Paul Cosentino, the leader of the Boilermaker Jazz Band, has done countless gigs in the DC area, and with his group, still inspires even the most cynical dancers to come out anytime they play. If you’ve never been to DCLX before, this is a great year to go.
Do you recall any memories from the first time you played for dancers?
I played for dancers with George Gee’s Band when he was based in Pittsburgh in the late ’80’s. I also played with Gee at the Cat Club in NYC in 1988 where the New York Swing Dance Society had their events. It was a really nasty punk club. But that was the first time I saw the Shim Sham lead by none other than Frankie Manning himself. The first time I played specifically for dancers with my own band was at the Edgewood Club in Pittsburgh which is a really cool old hall where they have had dances on Sunday nights for years. And we also played for the first Pitt Stop Lindy Hop which was about 9 years ago. But even when we played mostly Jazz Festivals, a lot of the old timers would get up and dance.
As a dancer, there are a lot of qualities that go into making us want to dance that a lot of jazz bands filled with “great” musicians don’t necessarily have. Did you make specific changes to your group when you started playing so often for dancers? If so, what were those changes?
Mainly just making sure that the tunes were not too long. Each solo generally should just be one chorus instead of as many as you want. You don’t want to kill anyone out there. Other than that, it is not too much different from playing a concert- change up the tempos so that it doesn’t get boring, pass the vocals around. It’s not too complicated if you just give it a little thought.
What are some of the worst gigs/ performing experiences you’ve ever had?
We got hired to play for the openings of a bunch of bagel shops. The gigs were at 7am and they would pass out free bagels to everyone. We did a street band type set up, and were outdoors. It was about 5 degrees on one of the gigs. On the other end of the spectrum, we once played for a car dealership right on the blacktop with no cover and it was around 100 degrees. Those are rough ones. We also played a wedding once where they started to raise a video screen right in front of the band in the middle of a ballad with a full dance floor. That was humiliating.
Playing at Lincoln Center for Midsummer Night’s Swing was great- but really, there have been numerous dance events that just had so much energy. You never know when one of those will happen! We also did a wedding many years ago where they flew us into Vermont, the family had rented an entire country inn, and they also brought up the head chef from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. That was one hell of a shindig!
Alright, who are your favorite clarinetists?
Well, it depends what I am in the mood to hear. The guys from the early era that I like are Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds, Omer Simeon. Of course I also love the swing era guys- Goodman and Shaw- and some of the side players- Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Buster Bailey… There were so many greats!
Your favorite bands all together?
Again- how much time ya got? I love Ellington… and anything by Fats Waller!! Of course Basie, Chick Webb, Shaw, Goodman, Lunceford, Hampton, Fletcher Henderson. I like small groups sessions with men from those bands as well- stuff lead by Teddy Wilson for instance.
The boilermakers have a rhythm that’s not exactly Dixieland, not exactly Charleston, not exactly late-era swing, but sounds like it belongs alongside all of those. Was this a conscious choice?
Nope. We are a jazz band in the truest sense of the word. We take songs from different eras, and by different composers etc., and try to give them our own treatment. We don’t talk about trying to play a song a certain way (unless, for instance, we are playing for a Charleston competition- and then of course we would play a Charleston rhythm/ tempo). Rather, we prefer to let a tune develop stylistically, and in terms of tempo and feel, to where it is comfortable and we like how it sounds. We are not a repertory band. We are not trying to imitate anyone else, or sound like anyone else. We want to have our own unique sound. And I think we do. That was always the goal for bands that we admire. You know when it is Basie or Ellington or Waller! Louis Armstrong once said that he wanted people to know it was him playing before they saw him- just from his sound and his tone. That’s jazz. True jazz musicians take a “standard” song and interpret it their own way- using tone and rhythm and tempo- and that is what we try to do as well.
If the boilermakers were allowed to go out swinging with one song before the world ended, which would it be?
Ha! I guess it would have to be “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” I think we have had more fun with the tune than any other…
[Editor’s Note: Dancing to the Boilermaker’s All God’s Chillun is one of my favorite experiences in dancing.]