[JPL] Russ Layne talks about all that jazz

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Fri Mar 9 10:23:59 EST 2007


Russ Layne talks about all that jazz

By Chris Farlekas
March 09, 2007

For the Times Herald-Record
The smile on Russ Layne's face after a recent concert at the Lycian Centre
in Sugar Loaf is borrowed from a sunflower ‹ big and sunny, with a touch of
God. It's been another triumph for the Warwick man, who has been producing
jazz concerts locally for nearly a quarter-century under the Sugar Loaf
Music moniker. Afterward, he does some quick math (not his strongest
feature) and says this was probably his 144th concert. Recently, he's
partnered with another "great jazz fan," Craig Waxman.

As Sugar Loaf Music inches its way to silver, he's making final plans for
the March 31 concert by the Malvinas, a wonderful three-lady singing group
from New Orleans, that will wind up National Women's History Month. One of
the Malvinas' finest cuts from their new CD is "Sweet and Sunny South,"
which "captures all the intensity of a William Faulkner story."
Following the end-of-month concert at the Lyceum, he's producing a Latin
Jazz Festival June 1-2 featuring a 12-piece Latin band led by Alex Torres.
When Layne talks about jazz, the 57-year-old sparkles with encyclopedic
knowledge. He owns nearly 10,000 vinyl records and about 2,000 CDs at home,
adding that his wife, Maripat, "doesn't deal with that room." Its not just
the number of items. He can tell you dates of recordings and the minutiae of
circumstances and personnel, such as the sidemen that backed Billie Holiday,
for instance, on a 1936 recording. More importantly, he can tell you about
the soul of the jazz.

When he's asked mundane questions such as how old he is or how long he's
been married (24 years), there's a pause for calculation. He was off a year
on each. It took a second calculation to get it right. The couple has two
sons: Erik, a senior at Warwick Valley High School, and Sheehan, in college.
Layne tells a funny story about his courting days: "Do you remember the
scene in 'Diner,' where the guy quizzes the woman he wants to marry about
baseball? It was like that; I quizzed Maripat about jazz before I proposed
to her."
Obviously she passed with flying colors.

Layne was born and raised in Asbury Park, N.J. His mother was a classically
trained pianist who had performed on radio, "But it was hard to have a
career, so after she married my father, she started a health food store in
the basement," he said. His father was a conscientious objector during World
War II. Given a choice of prison or working for the Defense Department, his
dad decided that working for the government was better than being in the
Layne says his father worked as a photographic engineer, installing spy
equipment on airplanes sent over to bomb Hitler's Germany. The family
sometimes traveled by car with him to various locations. One trip took them
to New Orleans. Layne was young but was "absolutely fascinated by the sounds
and music."
He's been back to New Orleans several times, most recently with Maripat to
help build what's been dubbed Musicians Village, a cluster of brightly
colored homes for musicians who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. This
was "very, very, very important for me to do. They were jazzmen," says
Layne. When asked if he had any photos taken while he worked, he seemed
surprised. "No. I went to help the people. I wasn't a tourist touring the
area on a bus," he says, adding, with outrage in his voice, "It's still a
terrible scene of desolation, all these months later."

When Layne was growing up, one of his mother's customers was Bruce
Springsteen's aunt. The Springsteens lived nearby, but he never had a desire
to see the Boss, because Springsteen didn't play jazz. Layne says that one
night when he was a teenager, friends wanted to go hear Bruce playing at a
small club three or four blocks away. "I said to hell with that, and I went
to a jazz club, the Orchid Lounge, to hear George Benson play. They thought
I was a weirdo, because I was the only white kid in the neighborhood to go
to black clubs."

The Orchid Lounge became an important part of his teenage life. Even though
he was usually the only white guy in the place, he was accepted without
question, in fact with enthusiasm, when the people saw his love for jazz.
When he went to Montclair State College, he discovered other black jazz
clubs in Newark.

"I was the only honky who hung out in those clubs," he says. Not old enough
to drink, he'd sit with a ginger ale and listen to greats such as Dizzy
Gillespie. And Layne got to meet and talk to "the giants." In his sophomore
year in college, he started setting up concerts. "Even then, I was promoting
jazz," he says with the kind of proud purpose evangelists use.

Growing up, he played guitar and trumpet, "but I never practiced enough to
be really good. My mother said I should be practical and get a degree I
could use." For 33 years, he's been a speech therapist in the Paterson
(N.J.) school district, a job he "loves very much. I see where I make a
difference." His two-hour commute is studded with jazz, something that
relieves the tedium of driving.
azz is the holy of holies for Layne. He gives an example. The most ecstatic
experience he had at a concert was seeing a double bill of John Coltrane and
Ornette Coleman at the Village Theater. "It was the single most spiritual
experience of my life. That's what great jazz can do. It allows you to touch
God, and it allows God to touch you."

The Malvinas will perform at the Pavilion at the Lycian Centre, Kings
Highway in Sugar Loaf, at 8 p.m. March 31. Tickets are $25 and are available
now at 469-2287 or at the Lycian Centre box office.

Visit http://www.sugarloafmusic.org/ for more info

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