Northwestern Press

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Jerry Rife brings Dixieland to Pennsylvania Jazz Society concert

Friday, May 31, 2019 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

Jerry Rife and his Rhythm Kings bring their take on hot jazz to the Pennsylvania Jazz Society, 2 p.m. June 2, Dewey Banquet Hall, 502 Durham St., Hellertown.

Rife’s lifelong love of jazz started with a “Dukes of Dixieland” vinyl album he received as a youth.

Says Rife: “It changed my life. I wanted to be those people. With some friends, I formed a Dixieland band in my junior high, high school days. We played the ‘Ted Mack Amateur Hour’ and we actually did gigs for money.

“I learned a lot about playing. I just played by ear, let the music come in my ear and come out my horn.”

Rife had started playing trumpet but switched to clarinet. He studied classical piano for 11 years. He received two degrees from Kansas State University in music education and clarinet performance and a doctorate in musicology from Michigan State University.

He recalls the first Rhythm Kings band during his time at Michigan State: “In the music building, there was this postcard with other notices. They wanted Dixieland musicians to play in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, for the summer. I sent my letter and got a call in May.

“I played in a six-piece Dixieland band all summer, six hours a night for 11 weeks in Doerr County. We got $100 a week, plus a room. I did that for six summers. After the first year, I was the leader. We called ourselves the Great Lakes Rhythm Kings.”

After stints teaching at a small college and directing a high school marching band, Rife came to Rider University in 1984. He teaches music history and directs the bands at Rider University. He is also on the faculty at Westminster Choir College. Since 1985, he has conducted the 70-member Blawenburg Band. He’s led the latest version of the Rhythm Kings since 1984.

Joining Rife on the bandstand are Pat Mercuri, banjo and guitar; Clint Sharman, trombone; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Gary Cattley, bass and tuba, and Sean Dixon, drums, Mercuri and Cattley are original members of the band.

Tobias studied music at Trenton State University. He plays trumpet and cornet with the Midiri Brothers’ Sextet and has performed with Warren Vaché, Vince Giordano, Wycliffe Gordon and Howard Alden.

Says Rife, “Danny Tobias is phenomenal. He just did a CD with Mark Shane on piano. He’s been with us since almost his student days at Trenton State. He has an amazing mind for setting up riffs or trading fours. He always does just the right thing.”

Sharman is on the faculty at Rowan University, teaching jazz trombone. Sharman was principal trombone with the Harrisburg Symphony for three years and then moved to New York. He has performed with The Bee Gees, the Buddy Rich Big Band, the Louis Bellson Big Band, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Natalie Cole. He’s also played numerous Broadway shows and on albums, CDs and radio and TV jingles.

Mercuri plays guitar, mandolin and banjo in a range of genres, including jazz, pop and classical. He plays in the Midiri Brothers’ Sextet. He has performed with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Princeton Symphony, Opera Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Ballet.

Cattley received a PhD from North Texas State University. Equally at home on bass and tuba, he has appeared at jazz festivals across the country with numerous ensembles and as a guest soloist. He has also appeared with the Princeton Symphony.

Dixon is a composer, producer, drummer, bassist and educator based in New York City. He has performed with Andy Akiho, Aloe Blaac, Doyle Bramhall II and Amy Helm. He co-led the Chesterfields, SLV and played in the critically-acclaimed Zammuto.

The Rhythm Kings’ Pennsylvania Jazz Society concert will owe much to the Dukes of Dixieland. Says Rife, “We’ll play some traditional Dixieland jazz, revival style and some swing things in a more modern style. We like to really mix it up: different keys, tempos, sentiments.”

Tickets at the door: Pennsylvania Jazz Society, Dewey Banquet Hall, 502 Durham St., Hellertown; pajazzsociety.org