I don’t always wear a tuxedo,” said Vince Giordano, the Brooklyn-born bandleader and jazz purist, as he opened the door to his Midwood home. “But today I felt like dressing up.”
With slicked-back hair, a Fred Astaire–baritone and, more often than not, that impeccable tux, Giordano, 55, seems to have stepped right out of the past.
For the past 30 years, Giordano and his 11-piece orchestra, the Nighthawks, have devotedly replicated the sound of 1920s and 30s big-band jazz.
“I love the energy of early jazz,” he said. “To me, that was a much more interesting era for music.”
Befitting his devotion to America’s indigenous musical style, Giordano’s home is a time capsule of Depression-era jazz. In the living room are dozens of vintage instruments, including an aluminum stand-up bass, a violin with a horn on it, an immense silver bass sax, a collapsible drum kit, an old Steinway player piano and the only straight-baritone sax in existence.
The walls are covered with jazz posters, more old instruments and photos of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Joe Rushton and Henry “Red” Allen. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Stashed throughout the three-story house are 31,000 orchestrations and arrangements, 27,000 pieces of old sheet music and 10,000 silent movie scores.
Giordano has been collecting vintage jazz materials for over 30 years and he’s running out of room. Faced with the need for additional space, he took the only logical step — he bought the house next door.
“Space, as Captain Kirk said, is the final frontier,” Giordano cracked to GO Brooklyn this week.
Born in Marine Park and raised on Long Island, Giordano fell in love with big-band jazz as a kid.
“When I was 5-years-old, my grandmother let me listen to this stuff on her old Victrola and I just got inspired. At her house on Dahill Road, everyone would be downstairs eating, and I’d be upstairs listening to Al Jolson and King Oliver and Paul Whiteman. The emotion that came out of those old phonographs, the vitality of it, that’s what turned me on.”
After stints on the violin, banjo and guitar, Giordano took up the tuba in the seventh grade and never looked back. Soon, he was studying with legendary arranger Bill Challis, who had written for Bix Beiderbecke’s band. It was the jazz-fusion era of Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew,” but Mr. Giordano remained enchanted with the older sound of musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Fletcher Henderson.
“The musicians of the 1920s and ’30s had a certain quality,” he said. “They made things boil. There was a movement and tension in their playing that put you on the edge of your seat.”
Upstairs, amidst a collection of silent films and 78-rpm records, is the old Victrola that belonged to his grandmother. “It runs just as well today as it did back then,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine now, but they used to make things to last.”
Down a narrow staircase, Giordano lead me to the basement, where his vast library of arrangements, orchestrations and scores fills over 100 filing cabinets stacked tightly together.
“This is the morgue,” he said. Indeed, it had the feeling of a horror-movie set: dimly lit, claustrophobic and with dark, murky corners. The collection is provisionally open to students or the merely curious, but not without exceptions.
“My competition wants to come over here and Xerox everything, “ Giordano said. “I have to protect my turf.”
He plans to leave all of his memorabilia to the Jazz Institute at Rutgers University.
Giordano has parlayed his musical talent and spot-on jazz look into several small film roles, including “Sweet & Lowdown” and “Cotton Club,” and the Nighthawks recorded vintage jazz songs for the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s, “The Aviator.”
It’s partly this film work that has led to a growing interest in old jazz, he said. “It allows the music to reach a lot more people. We’re getting the word out.”
Still, he worries that the music he loves might be an endangered species.
“If we’re not careful, this music will evaporate like a puddle on a hot day,” he said. “We’re out in the strong seas and there are only so many seats on the lifeboat. We need to make the lifeboat bigger.”
Giordano plans to start a non-profit nightclub soon in New York that will serve as a music school for kids during the day. “If this music is going to survive, we’ve got to get the kids interested,” he said.
As far as his own survival is concerned, after 30 years in the business, he has no plans to retire. “I’m still excited about playing this music. I haven’t burnt out. I’m going to continue doing it for as long as I can.”
Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks will perform on Mar. 7 at 7:30 and 9:30 pm at Iridium Jazz Club (1650 Broadway at 51st Street in Manhattan). $30. For information, call (212) 582-2121 or visit www.iridiumjazzclub.....