New Black Eagle Jazz Band: 40 Years of Jazz

Mick Carlon on the noted traditional jazz band based in New England

The New Black Eagle Jazz Band—in many people’s view, the premier traditional jazz band in the world—will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Sunday, September 18 from 1-5 p.m. at the Collings Foundation Museum in Stow, Massachusetts.

The band, fresh off a triumphant appearance at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, will be playing its lively mixture of rags, New Orleans and Chicago jazz.

Says New Black Eagle trombonist Stan Vincent, “We present our interpretation of early black jazz as it was played from, say, 1900-1938. We recreate without copying the black New Orleans style, which was originally created by a mixture of the Creole and the working-class black musicians.”

The band is renowned for its seamless ensemble playing. “Solos are secondary to the ensemble playing, which has a way of building tension through control of dynamics and use of extended ensemble choruses,” explains Vincent.

The New Black Eagle Jazz Band played its first gig in the summer of 1971 aboard the cruiser Peter Stuyvesant in Boston Harbor. According to long-time fan Lew Shaw, “Five of the original musicians will be on the bandstand for the September 18th event: Tony Pringle, leader and cornet; Stan Vincent, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano; Peter Bullis, band manager and banjo; C.H. “Pam” Pameijer, drums. Bill Novick, reeds, has been with the band for the past 25 years, and Jesse Williams on string bass came on board this year. Also in attendance will be drummer Bill Reynolds, who fills in regularly whenever Pameijer is not available.”

“I love playing with Tony Pringle,” says Vincent. “Before every set he gives us the list of tunes we’ll be playing. You have to be on your toes because there are always different keys and different tempos. I prefer to play ensemble trombone, which is a supporting role, and I consider myself a good team player.”

Vincent, who put together his first band while in junior high, says, “At first we played for our own fun in someone’s basement—but then it all grew. We try to treat the music honestly.” He gives credit to Tommy Sancton and Jim Klippert for forming the Black Eagle Jazz Band in the late 1960s. “Tommy took the name from the Black Eagle Social Club, which was a black organization in New Orleans at the turn of the century. When he and Jim left town, we became the New Black Eagle Jazz Band.”

The Collings Foundation Museum, located at 127 Barton Road in Stow, includes, according to one critic, “a treasure trove of World War I and II airplanes, stage coaches, and swanky antique cars. It’s all nestled in a gorgeous estate tucked off the shores of Boon Lake.” According to Vincent, “it will be fun and interesting to play our music with the airplanes overhead.”

The New Black Eagle Jazz Band has made many albums on labels such as Stomp Off, Lake, GHB, and their own BE. Among my favorites? Echoes of New Orleans; The New Black Eagle Jazz Band at Symphony Hall; and Higher Ground. Cape Codders enjoy recalling the many summer evenings when the band played beneath the stars on the grounds of the Heritage Plantation. Pure bliss.

And Stan Vincent enjoys recalling the evenings when his band played Scotland or the Netherlands or Belgium or Singapore. “We played the Breda Festival in the Netherlands. Thousands of people simply took over the village of Breda. We played in front of five thousand people from midnight ‘til three and they were going crazy. It’s a great feeling because you know that your band is producing something that makes people happy.”

Vincent says that “true listening” is the key for playing jazz. “As a musician, if you don’t hear what the other guys are doing, then you simply aren’t listening. Tony (Pringle) plays in a way that leaves a lot of space—but I have to be constantly listening. Plus, our show is different every night due to improvisation. Every time we play a song it’s new. That’s what makes playing jazz so much fun—its freshness. A musician is supposed to take his training, absorb it, then move beyond the training to true listening.”

For forty years, the New Black Eagle Jazz Band has entertained and inspired audiences all over the world. September 18 at the Collings Foundation Museum will be a beyond special occasion. “We will have some wonderful musical guests on hand,” says Vincent.

For travel directions and ticket information, visit the Colling Foundation website.

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