Friday November 16, at 7:30pm. The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects are a sextet of musicians performing a wide variety of jazz standards, swing, and music from the great Broadway songbook. Their mission is to perpetuate the legacy of this uniquely American musical art form for present and future generations.
The group had its inception in late 2016 when Dan Evans, a parishioner and usher at Grace Episcopal Church in Utica, New York became acquainted with Philip Olmstead, formerly of Cazenovia, New York, who had taken a part-time position as Weekend Sexton at the church where he had been a boy chorister in the mid-1960s.
Evans overheard Olmstead singing hymns from his station at the Choir Door. Dan complemented Phil on his singing and asked him if he’d be interested in learning jazz standards. The two rehearsed in the choir room and began to perform with other area singers in the B Sharp Extension, an informal nonprofit association of amateur singers that performed at area nursing homes and elder care facilities.
Dan Evans has been a professional jazz pianist for at least sixty of his eighty-three years. Dan, the adopted son of a prominent Utica business executive, against the urgings of his parents to take up a “respectable” profession, was, after returning from a hitch in the U.S. Army Band in Puerto Rico, where he learned to play swing, promptly put on a train to New York City by his mother to find gainful employment. Although he eventually fulfilled his mother’s mandate, becoming a caseworker for the Department of Social Services for seventeen years, his first job was to sell sheet music at Schirmer’s Music, a mecca for musicians and performers of all stripes from jazz to classical and the musical theatre. It was here that Dan found himself at the crossroads of the music publishing business and the performing arts, ranging from classical to jazz and broadway show tunes. Dan cites numerous influences among top jazz pianists of the late fifties and sixties, among them: Cy Walter, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Hal Galper. Dan’s friend and mentor, jazz pianist Al Haig, who was formerly a member of the Charlie Parker quintet, has been credited as contributing to the introduction of “bebop” to the jazz scene in New York. Haig also played with Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Miles Davis. Dan met Al where he was living and playing at the Drake Hotel piano bar and succeeded him in that position for several years, following the tragic and untimely death of Haig’s wife; a tragic incident in which Haig was indicted, tried and subsequently acquitted of his wife’s murder. A primary stylistic influence that Dan ascribes to Haig is to eschew playing “too many notes”. This is the jazz milieu in which Dan formed his unique improvisational style of swing. As Dan says, “I never play a piece the same way twice, but I do ‘pick my own pockets’!”
Pete Ruben, who plays saxophone and clarinet, has performed with Dan at various venues around the Mohawk Valley for over twenty years. He’s a graduate of the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. With the Navy Band, he spent two years in Orleans, France.
He’s played with numerous groups in the Utica-Rome Area, among them: the Rome Civic Band, the Utica Civic Band and the Sal Alberico Big Band.
Mike Plehn, a self-taught drummer and percussionist has, accompanied Dan Evans for the last few years and played with various musicians and groups in a range of styles for twenty-five years. In his present incarnation as a jazz drummer, he’s using a softer pedal on the kick drum experimenting with novel rhythms and wielding the brushes with panache!
Phil Olmstead, vocalist, spent his youth in Clinton and much of his adult life in Cazenovia. As circumstances dictate, he currently sings as either a tenor or bass in the choir at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cazenovia. Before he began his apprenticeship as a jazz vocalist at Mr. Evans’ behest, he was initially a cellist, an alternate soloist with the
Kenyon College Choir, sang with the Hamilton-Kirkland Oratorio Society and is a self-taught acoustic guitar player with harmless delusions of grandeur!
Michael Scott Ferris, vocalist and master of ceremonies, has a BFA in Musical Theatre from SUNY Fredonia. He has performed in national and international tours with Evita and The Rocky Horror Show, as well as tours with several cruise lines. He has put out his own CD entitled YesterdayDream. Currently, Michael teaches voice at the Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center in Boonville, NY when not facilitating Summer Art Workshops in Italy.
Bill Thistleton. Bassist Bill will be performing with the group for the second time. Bill is a professor of Mathematics at SUNY Poly, a parishioner and choir member at Grace Episcopal Church in Utica. He performs regularly with area bands and with his wife, Tina Toglia, at The Barn in Paris Center, New York.
These are The Usual Suspects!