As jazz musician Vin Cassotta played his trumpet Tuesday night, it was easy to imagine, with eyes closed, being somewhere other than the program room at Tolland Public Library.
Duane Mathews, of Tolland, said Cassotta's music carried his mind to a smoky jazz club, in another time and another place.
"You don't hear jazz like this," Mathews said after Cassotta presented an evening of music and the history of jazz to a small but appreciative audience at the library.
Cassotta, 51, a jazz trumpet player who now lives in Enfield, toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has performed with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sergio Franchi, The Four Tops and Sammy Davis, Jr. He is founder of A Touch of Jazz / Cassotta Music Agency and has taught instrumental music in the Enfield Public Schools for the past 17 years.
He was invited by the Friends of Tolland Public Library to present a lecture on the history of jazz. He highlighted the program by playing jazz pieces of various periods and styles accompanied by digitally-recorded backup musicians.
"Jazz is really my passion—ever since I was a little kid," Cassotta said during a brief, pre-program interview. The trumpet is his main instrument, but he also plays the keyboard, "just to break it up."
Tuesday night, he opened with a description of the African and South American influence on ragtime circa 1895, which included syncopated rhythms—stresses on beats normally un-emphasized. Cassottta played John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," the famous march composed in 1896. Then followed "The Entertainer," a 1902 jazz classic by Scott Joplin.
Cassotta moved on to Robert Hoffman's 1909 ragtime melody, "I'm Alabama Bound," a piece that hints at the blues that began to emerge from the African-American culture in the late 1800s. The tonal quality of the music also began to change with the seventh note of the scale dropping a half tone.
Cassotta took listeners to New Orleans for a funeral, where mourners would follow a casket to the somber gospel sounds of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Then he cut loose after the burial with a rousing rendition of another gospel favorite, "When the Saints Go Marching In."
He touched on Dixieland with "Back Home in Indiana," then moved on to "In the Mood" and "Take the A Train." Afterward, it was on to the quick tempo and broadening improvisation of the bebop era with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Cassotta spoke of Miles Davis' habit of playing with his back to audience. As he searched his laptop computer for the backup on "Someday My Prince Will Come," Cassotta promises not to do that now. When he couldn't find the song on his computer, he nearly gave up on it but remembered he had a copy of it on his iPod.
"Music is my excuse to buy electronic toys," Cassotta said as he connected the iPod to his computer.
"It's a much smaller prince," came a voice from the audience which drew smiles from everyone, including Cassotta.
Wires connected, the show went on with Cassotta playing the piece on a muted trumpet.
Cassotta touched on the influence of Brazil's bossa nova genre, then briefly spoke of the decline of jazz's dominance of the American music scene in the late 1950s and early '60s with the arrival of the Beatles.
He finished up with "Velvet," a piece that features a muted trumpet that he wrote in the "smooth jazz" style.
"This is a nice way to spend a Tuesday evening in Tolland," said Irene Pudelkewicz, who had helped arrange Cassotta's appearance on behalf of the Friends of the Tolland Public Library. Pudelkewicz said the Friends of Tolland Public Library sponsors such events to "try to get more people to come to the library and see what else it has to offer."
Cassotta said he loved jazz because each song is just a little different each time it's played, even by the same musician.
People end up hearing songs played exactly the same way, over and over, Cassotta said. "They don't want to hear anything different."
That same cannot be said of true jazz, Cassotta said. "Jazz is different."