By Luke Baynes
The Old Brick Church, built in 1832 in the heart of Williston’s now historic village, is no longer a place of worship. Unless, that is, you’re a devotee of the Great American Songbook, in which case Friday night was a cause for veneration.
The occasion was the second installment of the 2012-13 Brick Church Music Series, featuring vocal triumvirate The Blue Gardenias, with accompaniment by the Tom Cleary Trio.
Cleary, who brought his accomplished jazz piano chops to last season’s Brick Church Music Series, is the husband of Amber deLaurentis, who forms one-third of The Blue Gardenias with fellow songsters Juliet McVicker and Taryn Noelle.
Joined by bassist John Rivers and drummer Caleb Bronz, Cleary opened with “Simone,” a jazz waltz by tenor saxophone journeyman Frank Foster, presumably written in homage to musical chameleon Nina Simone.
But unlike most Brick Church concerts, which typically feature an opening act separate from the featured performers, Cleary and company were quickly joined onstage by the Gardenias, whose serpentine harmonies weaved fresh life into the old standards “The Glow-Worm,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Just You, Just Me.”
While the majority of the program consisted of standards in the jazz idiom, the highlights of the evening were a pair of countrified ballads: “Long Black Veil,” a 1959 Lefty Frizzell hit later immortalized by 1968 recordings from both Johnny Cash and The Band; and Karla Bonoff’s paradigm of 1970s California folk-rock “Home,” which deLaurentis introduced as “one of our favorite songs.”
The ad hoc sextet also broke out some original material in the form of the Cleary-penned “The Girl That the Song Is About”—inspired by such kitschy pop classics as Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” The Association’s “Windy” and the theme song from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”—and a three-song suite from what Cleary termed “an imaginary musical” about Depression-era bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd.
Friday’s concert was hosted by the Champlain Valley Union High School varsity hockey team, with proceeds benefiting Camp Joslin, a summer camp located in Charlton, Mass. for boys with Type 1 diabetes between the ages of 6 and 16.
The evening’s cause took on added significance by the presence of CVU hockey captain Alexander Bulla, a Camp Joslin alumnus who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes six years ago and will serve as a camp counselor next summer. Prior to the concert’s second set, Bulla addressed the nearly 70 attendees.
“I think the best thing I’ve done in my life is go to camp and realize that there’s other kids that are similar to me out in the world,” Bulla said. “Without going to Joslin, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because it really gave me the confidence that I’ve carried with me through my academics and outside school life.”
Mark Bissell, a Richmond resident who serves as director of Camp Joslin, also spoke during intermission. Like Bulla, Bissell has Type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump.
“We’re here to educate and empower these kids with insulin-dependent diabetes to still live normal and healthy lives,” Bissell said. “What we try to do in the week to three weeks the children stay with us is to educate them on nutrition, on exercise and on insulin management, and the main thing that we do is really to try to give these kids a feeling of normalcy.”
Brick Church Music Series co-organizer Dave Yandell told the Observer in an email that he credits the “unprecedented” level of sponsorship and community support for Friday’s concert to the participation of Bulla and other members of the CVU hockey squad.
“The average person does not realize what it’s like to be a high-functioning athlete in intense sports like ice hockey but also diabetic. When the other kids are warming up before the game, Alex is checking his sugar in the locker room,” Yandell wrote. “I think the reason so many businesses and individuals have stepped up to sponsor this concert is because of the hockey team connection and Alex’s role as captain this year. People want Alex to know we all respect and admire the example he sets for his teammates, and for others.”
The Brick Church Music Series will continue Dec. 21 with the holiday choral group Maple Jam. Other upcoming concerts include Americana band After the Rodeo on Jan. 18 and jazz from the Bruce Sklar Trio on Feb. 15. The series will conclude with performances by the Vermont Youth Orchestra on March 15 and the Bluegrass Gospel Project on April 12.