Just as you can’t hold a moonbeam in your hand, so can words fail to wholly capture the magic of music.
Coming alive to the strains of the Swinging Foxes, local jazz enthusiasts sprawled across the greens facing the Honey Brook Borough’s new park pavilion, soaking in the first of this year’s Summer Concert Series.
By parts sassy, soulful and seductive, Amber Rae’s warm, lilting, dulcet crooning swept across the golden kaleidoscope of a summer afternoon, a cool breeze lightly brushed against the brightly colored curtain props, sending slivers of sunlight skittering across the buffed brass of Pete Souders’ saxes and Ellen Houle’s drums.
The Swinging Foxes are a genre-blending collective with a sound that is Vintage Blues, 1930s and 1940s Swing, R&B and Soul, blending the sounds of swingers like Anita O’Day, soul soothers like Billie Holiday, and rockers like Ruth Brown.
During the break, Amber throws light on the genesis of the Swinging Foxes. Ellen, Andy Buraz on guitar and herself started the band six years ago. Then Jonathan Davenport on the double bass came on board about three years ago. On Sunday, the band was missing member Patrick Hughes on trumpet.
“All of us are involved in a lot of different musical projects, but what we have in common is an intense love of the music from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,” Amber said.
Perhaps that was what caught Jeanne Jenzano’s interest. “We try to do different genres. Last year, we had a band playing Celtic music and we had around 200 people which was rather surprising. One never knows what draws the crowd out and I am always on the lookout for new bands,” said the Honey Brook Borough’s concert organizer.
Enumerating on the initiative to provide entertainment across the summer, Jeanne said, “The borough has an entertainment budget and money for the band comes from it.”
Volunteers also make the concerts possible. She said Borough Councilmen, both current and previous council, appreciate the support of volunteers Chuck Zirkel, Carrie Zirkel, Ted Ford Sr., Ted Ford Jr., Matt Ford, Bill Ford, Public Works Director, Chief of Police Pat Ely, Patrolman Tony Howe, Jason Mooney and Dennie Patterson.
Next on the Summer Concert Series is Spirit Wing, an acoustic/electric band with Native American influence scheduled to perform on Sunday, Aug. 10 and Rizzetta’s Tones, an American Celtic World band, on Sunday, Sept. 7.
“I was told about the Swinging Foxes by my neighbor across the street who had heard them in Reading. A quick check on YouTube and the band’s website and I was wowed by their sound,” reveals Jeanne.
The sound of beats also defines Ellen’s instrument of choice. “Growing up, I tried a lot of different instruments, including the violin and piano, but somehow it was the drums for me.”
A self-confessed “roots country rock drummer, not so much jazz”, Ellen is quick to acknowledge the role of her parents in cultivating her love for music. “As a kid, my parents took me to a lot of live music fests and that got me interested; I also remember playing the drums they had from New Mexico. My first performance was when I was 15 with a band in Kutztown that at first called itself The Velvet Belly and later, The Vedas. From then on there was no looking back.”
Ask Andy Buraz, the guitar man, to look back on his journey so far and he says with a chuckle, “I started when I was 12 and now I am in my late 50s, you do the math!”
“My first gig was in 1968 and it always gets better. It feels like it was only yesterday that I would listen to records as a kid and want to play as good as the masters. My friends today say I am very good, but for me I have a long way to go and the journey is more important than the destination.”
Andy’s sister Marcia Nolte readily agrees. “Andy is the musician in the family. He would sneak into my room and steal my records and guitar and that’s how it all started.”
For Pete Souders, renowned saxman and creator of world-famous Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus in Philadelphia, there are 52 years to look back on. “August 1962, my first gig as a 19 year old with Phil Long’s Romans in Exeter Township.” More than two decades later, and after years dabbling as a computer programmer, he would again return to his first love with the launch of Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus in 1987, devoting the next 20 years in running a jazz club that would attract some of the best names ever to have graced the genre.
Today, the saxophonist conducts classes for six to seven students at a time, “the youngest a 10-year-old fifth grader”. “I used to be a computer geek but I always played, I never stopped playing,” he signs off to go back on stage, the saxophone gleaming not unlike a sunbeam in his hand.