Aug 26, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
After seven years of entertaining New York State Fair goers with authentic Dixieland jazz, the State Fair Four have been let go.
“We received a letter from the New York State Agriculture & Markets Department informing us our contract wouldn’t be renewed for this year’s fair,” said bandleader Bobby Morris, who plays trombone.
“We had a chance to do a one-day gig at the colonnade, but we didn’t want to do that,” Morris said. A representative from Ag & Markets told Morris that the band could apply again next year, if interested.
The local trad-jazz quartet features trombonist Bobby Morris, tuba player Burt Dunlap, trumpeter Woody Peters and banjo player Dick Sheridan.
Morris and Dunlap are, respectively, the president and vice-president of the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse.
The State Fair Four had performed daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for 12 days in a row at the New York State Fair. Each musician was paid $1,250 per man per fair. Morris initially viewed the layoff as a cost-cutting measure by fair administrators. “But,” he said, “it appears that the fair decided to change some of the street acts, of which we were one, instead of having the same thing every year.” The quartet worked under three state fair directors, Peter Cappuccilli Jr., Bebette Yunis and current director Dan O’Hara.
‘Down at Papa Joe’s’
Each and every day — rain or shine — the band jammed joyously on jazz standards such as “Wolverine Blues,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “China Boy,” under a small tent just inside the fair’s main gate.
“People would tell us we seemed like official greeters of the fair, “Morris said. “The ticket-takers too, they said the music could be heard by people standing in line to get in, and they’d be dancing as they stood in line.”
The quartet opened each morning’s performance with “Down at Papa Joe’s,” a cover of the Dixie Belles’ 1963 Top Ten hit. The band also led spirited sing-alongs and occasionally jammed with visiting acts such as The Harmonicats, the Philadelphia Mummers and even stilt-dancers.
Morris estimates that –—over its seven years of service — the State Fair Four entertained “millions of people 15 seconds at a time.” The bandleader predicted that many of those people will be disappointed by the band’s absence at the 2011 fair.
“One little girl would dance right in the middle of the band as soon as she got to the fair,” Morris recalled. “She did that every year from age 4 to 11. I don’t know what she’s going to do at age 12.”
Oscar Mayer finalists
In 2008, the State Fair Four was one of four finalists in the Group category in a national jingle contest sponsored by Oscar Mayer. That’s right, the four Central New York jazz musicians performed that familiar hot-dog ditty, “I’d Love to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener.” The Four fared well but fell just short of winning the national contest.
“Now we just want to let our fans know that we won’t be back at the fair this year,” he said. “But we really enjoyed performing. We always tried to live up to the slogan which we coined, ‘Smile. You’re at the Fair!’”
Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, considered professional sports’ leading trade publication, has ranked Syracuse the No. 6 minor-league market in the country.
That’s a huge improvement over our city’s standing the last time the journal rated minor-league markets. In 2009, Syracuse came in at No. 159, alongside places like Fargo, N.D., and Amarillo, Texas.
The 2011 rankings were published Aug. 15. The Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa., market topped the list of 241 markets.
Better than Boise
As No. 6 in the nation, Syracuse tops such prominent places as Spokane, Wash., Savannah, Ga., Richmond, Va., Boise, Idaho, Omaha, Neb. and Reno, Nev.
The listing tracked 47 leagues in five pro sports — baseball, basketball football, hockey and soccer. College activity was not included.
The Syracuse Crunch, which plays in the American Hockey League, and the International League’s Syracuse Chiefs have grown their combined attendance by 12 percent despite a doubled unemployment rate and a population growth rate of less than 1 percent over the past five years.
In other words, no matter how tight money gets, Central New Yorkers remain ready and willing to support their pro teams.
Rochester is ranked No. 20, Auburn No. 48, Binghamton No. 62, and Troy No. 120. Port Huron, Mich., landed at the bottom of the list at No. 241.
Russ Tarby’s column appears weekly in The Eagle and online at theeaglecny.com. He also covers the arts and sports. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.