Nov 01, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Syracuse bass player Phil Flanigan once played bass for Benny Goodman, the King of Swing.
“I never played in his orchestra, but I did about 50 gigs with him over a period of about five years in the early-1980s” Phil recalls. “We played as a trio with guitarist Chris Flory, who’s also from my home town of Geneva.”
If that isn’t amazing enough, 28 years after launching his professional career Phil reunited with a long-lost childhood sweetheart, Syracuse vocalist Hanna Richardson.
Theirs may well be one of the greatest love stories in American music.
Flanigan, 55, is still considered one of the best upright bass players in the Western Hemisphere. He’ll perform this Sunday, Nov. 6, as part of Randy Reinhart’s Gang performing a tribute to Eddie Condon from 4 to 7 p.m. at McNamara’s Pub, 5600 Newport Road, in Camillus. With any luck, Hanna will be asked to the bandstand to sing a tune or two.
Swing era roots
Launched by masterful mentors, Phil’s musical journey was driven both by his talent and his unwavering fidelity to the golden age of American music — the Swing Era. In recent years, his life and his career have been rejuvenated with the magic of rekindled romance.
At age 17, Phil left Geneva to play jazz in New York City. Two years later, he found himself alongside giants of the genre.
With saxophonist Hamilton, Flanigan toured Europe and Japan and made recordings on the Concord Jazz label. The quintet became the Sunday night band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City. Phil frequently sat in down the block with trumpeter Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s.
At Condon’s, he played with musicians such as Jack Maheu, Vic Dickenson and guests like Jimmy McPartland and Wild Bill Davison.
Soon Phil was working with world-famous artists like Rosemary Clooney, Maxine Sullivan, Kenny Davern and, of course, Benny Goodman.
Highly respected both as a soloist and as an ensemble player, Phil was described by clarinetist Bob Wilber as the “most melodic bass soloist in jazz.” And now, thanks to his marriage to Hanna, Phil’s branching out on four-string guitar as part of Tenor Madness.
Rewind to 1965
But to fully appreciate the serendipitous turn of events we must rewind several decades.
In 1965, when he was 8, Phil noticed a new girl with an impressive tan sitting in his school lunchroom. It was Hanna, who’d moved to Geneva from Surinam, South America.
“A few years later, in sixth grade,” Hanna remembered, “I noticed Phil filing into the auditorium at High Street School with his trombone to play a Christmas concert with the school band.” By 1972, he’d switched to bass, and their friendship had grown to the point where the couple was sometimes spotted in Pulteney Park, pounding out obscure rhythms on garbage cans.
Fast forward 27 years
“We didn’t even communicate for maybe 19 years,” Phil recalled. “We were really out of touch for about 25 years.”
Over that quarter-century each of them had married and later divorced.
In 1999, Hanna received a change-of-address card from Phil and realized it was written in the first-person singular — “I’ve moved.” She’d been divorced for nine years. Suddenly Phil was also now single.
They reunited the following year.
“On our first visit in early January 2000, Phil met my dog, Reese, and it was love at first sight,” Hanna remembers. “We decided to get married, and we recorded ‘But Beautiful’ in the basement.”
Condon tribute set Sunday
In this century’s first decade, the husband-and-wife duo won three Syracuse Area Music Awards for their recordings, Something to Remember You By (2004), Things Are Looking Up (2005) and Live at the Fleece (2008).
Celebrating their 11th anniversary this month, Hanna and Phil continue making music together.
“Music has always been a major portion of our friendship,” Phil says, “and now it’s an important part of our marriage.” A few years ago, Phil suggested that Hanna switch from mandolin to four-string guitar. The result is Tenor Madness, an exceptional trio featuring the couple on tenor guitars, Hanna’s molasses vocals and Skaneateles bass prodigy Jared Mulcahy.
TM has often showcased downtown at L’Adour and recently played a gig with Ithaca clarinetist Brian Earle at the Westcott Community Center. In July, the trio began waxing its first CD, tentatively titled Do Something! at Syracuse’s Subcat Studios.
This Sunday, however, Phil will pluck the bass lines for Randy Reinhart’s Gang with some of the best traditional jazz players on the East Coast: pianist Rod Blumenau, clarinetist Peter Ferran, trombonist Ray Skalski, drummer Tom Kasperek and the leader, trumpeter Randy Reinhart.