Rochester Music Hall of Fame Awards serve up surprises 

click to enlarge Local band Majestics performs Sunday, April 30 during the 10th annual Rochester Music Hall of Fame awards. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Local band Majestics performs Sunday, April 30 during the 10th annual Rochester Music Hall of Fame awards.
The Rochester Music Hall of Fame promised a big surprise for the celebration at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. And, besides the fact that the notoriously long-winded event came in at under four hours, the Hall of Fame did indeed deliver on that big surprise.

After taking two years off due to COVID, with a cautious return last year, the 10th Hall of Fame drew a nice crowd of several thousand on Sunday night. And that crowd patiently sat through early show sound disasters. This would not do, and an impromptu intermission was called to set the dials right.

It worked. When Rochester’s Majestics hit the stage – the time out splitting the difference between the band’s induction and its performance – all was right with the reggae-rockers.

The Rochester Music Hall of Fame inductees tend to fall into one or two categories. One historical, the other foundational to the Rochester scene. In the first category is Cab Calloway, who was born in Rochester, and lived here for the first 11 years of his life. Or Al Jardine of the Beach Boys. Jardine’s father worked at Eastman Kodak, and as a child, Jardine lived in an Irondequoit house overlooking the mouth of the Genesee; I’ve been there, a friend of mine now lives in that house. Right by Lake Ontario, the first beach of a Beach Boy.

In the historical category, this year the Hall recognized Tweet, or Charlene Keys, as she was known. At Dajhelon Studios – now a private residence on East Avenue in downtown Rochester – she holed up with other unknowns at the time, Missy Elliott and Timbaland. They all emerged as R&B hitmakers. Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)” was a No. 1 hit on Billboard magazine’s R&B chart in 2002.

Will Hollis fits into that category as well. A late addition to this year’s class and a music- and stage-driven graduate of McQuaid Jesuit High School, Hollis has gone on to roles such as keyboardist for The Eagles and music director and arranger for national tours with Shania Twain and Gwen Stefani, as well as the television-bred “America’s Got Talent” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

That is the history connection with this year’s inductees.

And that other category? The people of the arts who were foundational to our scene, and remained so for years, even decades? They tend to be people with long histories here. Chuck and Gap Mangione, who were born and stayed here. They were even caught up in the midst of the 1964 Rochester riots.

So Sunday night, Rochester honored Garth Fagan. The Tony Award-winning choreographer who we share with the world, including the Broadway smash “The Lion King.” A longtime Rochester resident, Fagan would be the first to tell you: Dance is about the music.

click to enlarge Local radio DJ Brother Wease was honored at Sunday night's award ceremony. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Local radio DJ Brother Wease was honored at Sunday night's award ceremony.
And Brother Wease. Longtime morning radio host. A Vietnam veteran. One of the main onstage hosts of the 1994 and ’99 Woodstock revival concerts.

Also Fred Costello, believed to be the longest-reigning baseball stadium organist in the sport today. A keyboardist who, in the 1960s, played music clubs throughout the country. Including the ones here operated by the mob. You cross those guys and you get a broken nose, as Costello could bear witness.

Then there’s the Majestics, now entering the band’s 52nd year. The three originals were on hand Sunday night. Keyboardist and guitarist Ron Stackman, bassist Jim Schwarz and drummer Lou LaVilla. Over the years they’ve lost percussionist Brother Fitzroy James. But the band also made additions, who were present: guitarist Rudy Valentino, Jr. and, most recently, guitarist Kevin Hart and saxophonist Vince Ercolamento.

And how about Sebastian Marino? He was truly one of ours, a graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School, and a student at The Hochstein School of Music and Monroe Community College. He fits both sides of the equation. A guitarist with the heavy-metal bands Anvil and Overkill. Then working behind the scenes with his Batavia-based Audio Images Sound & Lighting, setting up concerts in Rochester and across the country. Marino was only 57 when he passed away from a heart attack this past New Year’s Day.

All different plot lines in a very rich history.

House band Prime Time Funk was its usual jack-of-all-trades self on Sunday. Sometimes whole, sometimes in pieces where needed. Music came from all corners: The Douglas Lowry Award, named for the late Eastman School of Music dean, goes to a graduating high school music student. This year it was Hilton High School’s Luke Pisani, who showed off his prowess on the violin.

Ten of Fagan’s dancers opened the show, moving to an upbeat rhythm before Fagan himself was brought out. Always a man of immense style, the sequins on his trousers sparkled as he walked to the podium with the slight aid of a cane. Confessing he is not much of a singer, Fagan instead spoke of the excitement and joy that came from the creation of his art, “and love from the audience.”
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And love from jazz trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, leading a jazz set. The two have been collaborators for decades.

Costello, before slipping behind the organ for some jazz quartet, made some amusing remarks about his history of playing at mob-controlled clubs, including the once-blooming Blue Gardenia here. Although, he warned, reflecting on the fate of one mobster who was leaving the club, you had to be concerned that you hadn’t upset anyone that night, or, when starting your car, it just might blow up.
The love poured from the stage during a celebration of Marino’s life. With Marino’s wife and five children onstage, Joe Comeau – the guitarist and vocalist in many of the bands Marino played in – described how Marino, after backing away from playing bars and churches, worked 100-hour weeks with the production company he built. And despite those hours, he still managed to devote time to his family.

Comeau then joined a one-off performance by The Brothers of Metal, a band of musicians who’d played with Marino over the years.

Tweet’s homecoming was a powerhouse R&B performance, her gracefully surrendering the stage to a handful of vocal cohorts, each one seamlessly picking up where the last left off.

Or did the night belong to the powerhouse pop of Joan Osborne? Once again on a female-vocal driven set that included her first big hit, “One of Us,” backed by Rochester musicians such as Mike Gladstone on guitar and Prime Time Funk’s Jim Richmond on vocals as well. It was a celebration of Brother Wease’s support for Osborne in the early stages of the singer’s career.

Or maybe was this a night for The Eagles? Backed by many of the same local musicians as had accompanied Osborne, Hollis handled the vocals on “One of These Nights” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” It went down as easy as if Don Henley himself were singing them.

Which he could have been. Because in the best-kept secret of the night, the promised surprise was delivered. Henley, all the way from Hotel California. Or his home in California, anyway. Henley didn’t perform, but he did confirm what most people who follow rock music suspect: that it is filled with musicians who are eccentric, with many personality quirks. But, Henley insisted, not Hollis. Hollis was level-headed, sane, “a drama-free zone.”

Once the initial sound troubleshooting was straightened out, the evening emerged as a proper showcase for the music. The reggae and rock dressing of Majestics shone. This was a dressed-up Majestics, filling the stage with frequent collaborator Herb Smith on trumpet – yes, that guy who plays for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra – Richmond on sax and Celtic fiddler Linda Rutherford.

As the Majestics took the stage, Stackman noted that their blend of reggae and rock had never produced a hit record. But what of it? After playing a set at the Hall of Fame ceremony, Majestics did what it has always done best. The band headed over to Abilene Bar & Lounge to play more music.

Jeff Spevak is Senior Arts Writer at CITY. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 or [email protected].
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