“Paul Whiteman billed himself ‘The King of Jazz’ and Benny Goodman was ‘The King of Swing,’ but I’m ‘The King of Schlep,’ ” says Vince Giordano with a laugh.
The bandleader, who will perform with his Nighthawks orchestra Friday, April 20, at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, not only travels with a van full of vintage instruments to the group’s gigs, but has even lugged a jazz-era upright piano to their shows. “It gives the music a more authentic sound — and look, too,” he says.
Growing up in Smithtown, Giordano, 66, discovered his passion for music on holiday visits to his grandparents’ home in Brooklyn, where he would sift through their expansive record collection and listen to old 78s on a windup phonograph. As a teenager, he scoured antique shops and later rescued period musical arrangements from basements, barns and movie theaters (where they were used for silent-film scores) across the country. The 60,000-plus collection of arrangements, along with 40,000 pieces of piano sheet music, fill Giordano’s two adjacent Brooklyn homes, along with other souvenirs of early jazz, including tubas, saxophones, drums, records and photographs.
While Giordano’s trove boasts work by big-name artists — Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby, Mary Lou Williams, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong, to name a few — there are also plenty of obscure findings.
Though regarded as the doyen of all things Jazz Age, Giordano’s decades-long obsession with the 1920s and ’30s idiom has had its challenges. “I have been told to get modern, to get with it,” says the musician. “But this is what I have to do. This is my calling.”
To keep the genre alive, he not only had to find the material and audience, but had to verse musicians interested in performing. Teaming up with radio DJ and big band enthusiast Rich Conaty in the 1970s, he had a realization. Why not seek out the original Big Band-era players for his ensemble? “The musicians had worked with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and were in their late 70s, early 80s and could still play,” says Giordano. “We said get your horn and let’s do it.”
Gradually the jazz veterans were succeeded by a younger generation attracted by the revived legends and their bandleader’s fervor. Giordano’s dedication to the period sound has also led to mainstream success through film and television, prompted by a chance meeting with pianist and composer Dick Hyman, who hired the tuba, bass and bass saxophone player for the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 1983 movie “Zelig.”
Giordano and the Nighthawks have since contributed both in the studio and on screen to a host of Allen films, including “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Radio Days,” as well as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road,” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” for which they won a Grammy. Also fueling “the renaissance of older music,” as Giordano puts it, are more recent projects like the Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Scorsese’s upcoming crime pic “The Irishman.”
Giordano recalls the great thrill he felt with his first foray on screen, in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club.” “The clothing, the automobiles, the music,” says the hot-jazz aficionado, “it was the closest thing to being in a time machine.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, April 20, Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St.
INFO $20-$50; 631-207-1313, patchoguetheatre.org