Abate Joins Exclusive Class of Musicians

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 28, 2016

Sometimes a simple happenstance can propel a person into life’s mission. This happened to nine-year-old Greg Abate, when his mother, Elvira, rented a clarinet from a traveling salesman who just by chance came by their Woonsocket home. A rented instrument led to the youngster joining his school band, where he began playing clarinet and alto sax.

Abate has come a long from his first music recital to his elementary school classmates. More than 27 years of playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs, even being tutored by some of the greatest jazz players, has pushed him to the top of his craft.

Now, in recognition of Abate’s long musical career and being a driving force in the world of jazz, in April the Rhode Islander will be among the eight new inductees who are brought into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF). His fellow inductees include: Frankie Carle, Bill Harley, Carl Henry, Carol Sloane, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Richard Walton and The Fabulous Motels/The Young Adults/Rudy Cheeks.

According to Rick Bellaire, Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF)’s Vice Chair and Archive director, “Greg Abate is one of our state’s most popular and successful musicians. He has been well-known in southern New England for forty years and has been a star on the international stage for the past thirty. At the beginning, the board wanted to establish credibility by adhering to chronology and inducting historical figures first in many categories. With the inductions of Bobby Hackett, Dave McKenna, Paul Gonsalves, George Wein and George Masso, this year’s jazz inductions of Frankie Carle, Carol Sloane and Greg establish an unbroken line which not only stretches all the way from the 1930s to the present, but clearly illustrates Rhode Island’s truly important place in jazz history.”

Bellaire adds, “Greg is universally recognized as one of the finest players performing and recording today. His massive body of work and international touring history clearly place him on the list of all-time greats. Here’s a good example. Greg’s new album, Kindred Spirits, recorded with legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods, has just been released. Although the late Mr. Woods had been recording since the 1940s, Greg has clearly leveled the playing field. In a review of the album for the All About Jazz website, Edward Blanco declared, “…both masters are at their best.”

Before he died last September, Phil Wood, considered one of the best alto saxophone players, said, “I sleep a lot better knowing that there are alto players like Greg. It was a joy to make music with him and he writes good songs that are challenging.”

Playing With the Greatest

Upon finishing a four-year program at Berklee College of Music, Abate joined the Los Angeles jazz scene, playing with David Clark Expedition and other local rhythm and blues groups. An audition led to his first high-profile gig, playing lead alto for the Ray Charles Orchestra from 1973 to 1974. He would record his first record with this group.

Abate came back to the Ocean State in 1976 to launch his career, forming the fusion band Channel One, ultimately releasing his first album, Without Boundaries, in 1981. Playing throughout Connecticut to New York for seven years brought attention to this group and made it a favorite of many New Englanders.

At that time, “I wrote lots of music and did a lot of hard, serious playing,” he remembers. The young musician took an opportunity to play tenor sax with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra under the leadership of Dick Johnson from 1986 to ’87. For the next two years he would play with the Providence-based Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra, honing his musical skills. “I received some of my greatest musical education from some of the greatest players from this band,” he says.

Working and learning from the greatest, Abate would begin a solo career showcasing his unique style bring him worldwide notice.

Today, Abate, a sixty-six year old Coventry resident, is internationally acclaimed for his mastery of jazz. He says, “Music found me, I did not find it.” Over his musical career, the jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer and educator, has released 18 recordings.

Last year, Abate traveled over 200 days playing in Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs. He has performed in 30 countries, playing in every state in the national, except Montana, Alaska and Oregon.

Looking back at his career, Abate says, “The tradition of jazz is very important to me and I take it very seriously. Jazz is just in my blood.”

RIMHOF’s Fifth Class of Inductees

Robert Billington, Chair of the RIMHOF noted, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their success.”

“The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Rick Bellaire, vice chair of RIMHOF, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our planned online digital archive, we will have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artists.”

This year’s induction ceremonies and concert events will take place on three days, April 21, April 24, and April 30, and will take place at three separate locations.

The jazz inductions will take place on Thursday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. at Chan’s, 267 Main St., Woonsocket. Being honored on April 21 will be Frankie Carle, Greg Abate and Carol Sloane. Supporting Abate and Sloane in their musical selections will be Tim Ray on piano, bass player Marty Ballow and Marty RIchards on drums. Tickets for the April 21 event at Chan’s are $15.00.

The 2016 RIMOF Induction Ceremony and Concert is set for Sunday, April 24, 2:00 p.m. at The Met and Hall of Fame itself, both located within the Hope Artiste Village Complex, 999 Main St., Pawtucket RI. Sunday’s afternoon event will include the unveiling of eight new exhibits (now totaling 48 exhibits) as well as performances by The Young Adults, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and Bill Harley performing a set of his adult music. This concert will be proceeded by the unveiling of all eight 2016 inductee exhibits. Tickets for the April 24 event at The Met are $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. The 2 p.m. unveiling of the inductee exhibits are free and open to the public; a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3:00 p.m. concert in the Met.

On Saturday, April 30, 2:00 p.m., Bill Harley will be presenting a family show featuring selections from his award-winning children’s recordings at the Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad St., Cumberland. Tickets for the April 30 event are $6.00 for children and $12.00 for adults with a family cap of $ 36.00.

Tickets for the three separate events can be purchased by visiting:
http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

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Red Bandana Fund to Recognize Henry Shelton and Providence Student Union

Published June 6, 2014

In just two days, look for the gathering of friends, Rhode Island College educators, progressives, folkies and family members of the late Richard J. Walton, who come to the Red Bandana Award to pay homage and remember him. With his prominent long white beard and red bandana, decked out in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap, Walton was a dedicated advocate of worker rights and committed to the nurturing of young people as a college professor at Rhode Island College. He gave hundreds of hours of service every month to organizations including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Providence Niquinhomo Sister City Project, the Green Party, and Stone Soup Folk Arts Foundation.

The Red Bandana Fund was also created to be a legacy to help sustain Rhode Island’s community of individuals and organizations that embody the lifelong peace and justice ideas of Walton. Through the Red Bandana Fund, an annual financial award will be made to an organization or individual whose work best represents the ideals of peace and social justice that exemplify Walton’s life work

Stephen Graham, a member of committee organizing the fundraiser, noted that 12 nominations received. “There were many deserving nominations, all of which one could make an excellent argument for the award,” he said.

“After much deliberation and agonizing, the Red Bandana Fund decided to give not one but two awards,” noted Graham.  “Awards will be given to longtime community activist and hell-raiser, Henry Shelton, and the other to the passionate, unrelenting organizing workers called the Providence Student Union (PSU),” he says, noting that their work embodies the spirit and work of Walton, a well-known social activist in the Rhode Island area who died in 2012.

“Richard would have loved the choices,” noted Graham, a very close friend of Walton’s and a retired community activist.

The Red Bandana Fund celebration takes place on Sunday, June 8 at Nick-a-Nees, 75 South Street. In Providence from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The event is open to the public and donations accepted.

Shelton, a former Catholic priest and long-time director of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, is known throughout the region for his steadfast commitment to bettering the lives of all Rhode Islanders, especially the poor and disadvantaged. As a longtime advocate for the needy, he has been a fixture on the streets and at the statehouse for decades, advocating for fairness in housing, public transportation, and medical care.

“It is not an understatement to say that Shelton is the conscience of this state and has been for a long, long time,” says Graham, noting that there was no way Shelton could be ignored.

The committee also honored a new generation of young people working to make a better world, added Graham. So, the Red Bandana Fund also recognizes the PSU for its groundbreaking work done in addressing important issues of education in creative and powerful ways. The PSU is an important voice in the debate over the value of high-stakes testing, challenging the NECAP tests as a requirement for graduation, and has forced officials and politicians to address their concerns, he said.

“It is their commitment to grass-roots organizing and social change, at such a young age, that has earned them the recognition and thanks of the Red Bandana Fund and for all those fighting for justice in today’s society,” says Graham.

Coming up with a name for Walton’s fundraiser was tied to his unique fashion sense and was the idea of his daughter Cathy Barnard and Richard, her brother. Like most people, Richard had a vivid, visual image of his father, who had long white hair and beard, being known for wearing his trademark worn blue jean overalls, a red bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap. After Walton died his close friends came over to his house and wanted one of his red bandanas to remember him. Thus, the red bandana became the perfect moniker and recognition for the annual fundraiser.

Says Bill Harley, also on the organizing committee, The Red Bandana Fund is a continuation of Walton’s tradition of having an annual birthday bash – usually held the first Sunday in June, to raise money for Amos House & the Providence-Niquinohomo Sister City Project and other progressive causes.

Over 24 years, Walton had raised over $40,000 for these favorite charities, attracting hundreds of people each year including the state’s powerful political and media elite to his family compound located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick

“We hope all the people who attended Richard’s parties in the past [1988 to 2011] will show up for the event and you can bring your favorite dish for the potluck,” adds Harley.

“This is our second year giving the award,” said Bill Harley, a member of the selection committee. “We chose the awardees from a great list of nominations, and decided to acknowledge both young organizers, and one of our long-time heroes. Too often, the people who are in the trenches working for us don’t get recognized. We hope the Award begins to address that shortcoming.”

According to Graham, “last year’s event was more of a concert and tribute to Walton.” Over 300 people attended the inaugural Red Bandana fundraising event in 2013 at Shea High School, raising more than $11,000 from ticket sales, a silent auction and raffle. At this event, the first recipient, Amos House, received a $1,000, he said.

Graham says the well-known nonprofit was chosen because of its very long relationship with Walton. He was a founding board member, serving for over 30 years, being board chair for a number of years. For almost three decades, the homeless advocate spent an overnight shift with the men who lived in the 90-Day Shelter Program each Thursday bringing them milk and cookies. Each Friday morning he would make pancakes and eggs in the soup kitchen for hundreds of men and women who came to eat a hot meal.

As to getting this year’s Red Bandana Fund off the ground, Harley says: “It’s been a year of fits and starts to make this thing work. I believe that the establishment of this award, and the honoring of people on a yearly basis, will help us build a community here that can transform our culture. It’s a little thing down the road, I can envision this award meaning more and more to recipients, and to the community those recipients come from.”
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Walton touched people’s lives, Rick Wahlberg, one of the organizers. “Everyone had such an interesting story to tell about Richard,” he stated, noting that the Warwick resident, known as a social activist, educator, humanitarian, very prolific writer, and a co-founder of Pawtucket’s Stone Soup Coffee House “had made everyone feel that they themselves had a very special, close relationship with him.”

Like last year’s inaugural event, Wahlberg expects to see many of Walton’s friends at the upcoming June 8th fundraiser. He and others attending will view this event as a “gathering of the clan” since those attending will be Walton’s extended Rhode Island family.

So, block out some time on your busy Sunday. Come to the Red Bandana Fund event to remember our good old friend, Richard Walton, and support his legacy and positive impact in making Rhode Island a better place to live and work. Enjoy the gathering of caring people who come to recognize the advocacy efforts of Shelton and the PSU to carry on Walton’s work.

Spread the word.

Core participants in organizing this year’s Red Bandana Fund include, Bill Harley, Stephen Graham, Jane Falvey, Barbara & Rick Wahlberg. Other participants included Jane Murphy, Jodi Glass, Cathy Barnard and Richard Walton, Jr.

For more information about donating to The Red Bandana Fund, go to http://www.soup.org/page1/RedBandana.html.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a writer who covers health care, aging, and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

Red Bandana Fund Concert to be Walton’s Legacy

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 7, 2013

           Richard Walton, who died on Dec. 27, would have loved it.  Five months after his death one late Sunday afternoon, over 40 people including the musicians who had just played at The Red Bandana Fund Inaugural Concert (that was attended by hundreds), family members along with the organizers and volunteers of this fundraiser, gathered to drink beer and reminisce about Walton’s extraordinary life at his favorite Pawtucket hangout, Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub.

          People swapped favorite stories for hours, detailing how the late Walton “touched their lives,” noted one attendee, Richard Wahlberg, one of the organizers.  “Every one had such an interesting story to tell about Richard,” he stated, noting that the Warwick resident, known as a social activist, educator, humanitarian, very prolific writer, and a co-founder of Pawtucket’s Stone Soup Coffee House “had made everyone feel that they themselves had a very special, close relationship with him.” 

         Seeing so many of Walton’s friends at June 2nd concert, Wahlberg and other attending viewed the event as a “gathering of the clan” since the audience was really Walton’s extended Rhode Island family.    

 Walton’s Legacy of Supporting the Needy

         The idea to organize last weekend’s fundraiser concert to raise money to support the causes of the late Richard Walton and others like him who work to improve the human condition was literally kicked around a few days after Walton’s death by his daughter, Cathy Barnard, his son Richard and a few close friends, noted nationally-acclaimed children’s entertainer and storyteller, Bill Harley.   

          According to Harley, an annual fundraiser, supporting the newly formed Red Bandana Fund, would replace Walton’s annual birthday bash – usually held the first Sunday in June – to raise money for Amos House & the Providence-Niquinohomo Sister City Project and other progressive causes.  Over 24 years, Walton had raised large sums of money for these favorite charities, attracting hundreds of people each year including the state’s powerful political and media elite to celebrate his progressive causes at his family compound located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick. 

         Coming up with a name for Walton’s fundraiser that would ultimately be tied to his unique fashion sense and was the idea of her brother, Richard, states Barnard.  Her brother, like most people, had a vivid, visual image of his father, who had long white hair and beard, being known for wearing his trademark worn blue jean overalls, a red bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap.

          “When Dad’s closest friends came over to the house after his death they wanted one of his red bandanas to remember him,” Barnard remembered.

       “It was like a talisman to them,” stated Barnard, that became a great way to create the perfect moniker and recognition for an upcoming fundraiser.

          Barnard says that her father didn’t opt for a traditional burial, so there would be no monument of stone over his grave to remember him or a place for family and friends to visit.  His cremated remains were scattered the day before the Sunday fundraiser by his family and very close friends in his beloved garden and sent by paper boat from the inlet where his compound was located into Narragansett Bay.

         But, there is The Red Bandana Fund now, says Barnard, noting that “we cannot think of a more appropriate memorial.”  Over 300 people attended the inaugural Walton fundraiser, bringing in more than $12,000 from ticket sales, silent action and raffle.

          At this event, the first recipient of The Red Bandana Fund Award, Amos House, was chosen because of Walton’s very long relationship with the Providence-based nonprofit.  He was a founding board member, serving for over 30 years, being board chair for a number of years.  For almost three decades, the homeless advocate spent an overnight shift with the men who lived in the 90-Day Shelter Program each Thursday bringing them milk and cookies.  Each Friday morning he would make pancakes and eggs in the soup kitchen for hundreds of men and women who came to eat a hot meal.

 Putting the Pieces Together

         The organizers were gathered by Bill Harley on the advice of Richard’s family and those closest to him from the progressive community and organizations Richard was affiliated with.  In true Richard Walton fashion this was a largely self organizing group built on the complementary strengths of the members, noted Wahlberg.  Over five months, this group had planned all the organizational facets, from marketing, pre-selling tickets, booking Shea High School, recruiting volunteers for the day of the event, along with getting items donated to be sold at a silent auction and raffle.

         With the decision to host a fundraising concert, “it became incredibly painful to have to limit the list of who we would invite to play,” said Harley, noting that every one who knew Walton wanted to perform to pay tribute to him.

          As Rudy Cheeks, of Phillipe + Jorge’s Cool, Cool, World, would remark in his May 31st column, the two hour concert would be an amazing blend of folk and traditional music, a little bit of classical, along with singer-songwriting greats, all sharing the same stage for the evening.  They included: widely recognized singers and song writers, Bill Harley, Kate Katzberg, Atwater-Donnelly, Sally Rogers and Howie Bursen, Christina Tompson, accompanied by Cathy Clasper-Torch on fiddle and Marty Ballou on stand up bass.  Consuelo Sherba opened the concert by playing a short classical set.

        According to Harley, who served as the event’s musical director, internet files of the selected music (three songs for each performer) went back and forth between those chosen to play, to help them to quickly learn the music to be played at the upcoming concert.  He noted that each song had to have simple chord arrangements with words that the audience could easily remember. Most important, “these songs were chosen to reflect who Richard, the person was,” he said.  Amazingly, the musicians would gather just two hours before the performance to practice with each other.

 Those Who Knew Him

         At intermission, I caught up with Andy Smith, former music critic at the Providence Journal who now covers hard news for that daily paper.  He knew Walton for years covering Stone Soup Coffee House and sporadically attending his legendary birthday party over the years.  “No one could hang out in Rhode Island without knowing about Richard Walton,” he says.  That’s true.

         The Red Bandana Fund Inaugural Concert was a “very sweet, very nice chance for people who know Richard to come together and celebrate his life,” observed Smith, noting that “the best way to do this was through music.”  He would have had a good time if he were here today, says Smith, adding that  “May be he is here [in spirit].”

         Like many attendees, Jane Falvey, treasurer of Stone Soup Coffee House noted, that Walton touched many lives. “Like stones cast into a pond, the ripples form ever-widening circles that overlap, and so it was at the inaugural Red Bandana Concert – Richard’s many circles embracing each other in remembering and celebrating his wonderful life and the purpose he created in all of us,” she said.

        Also in attendance, Dr. Michael Fine, Director of Rhode Island’s Department of Health, who came with his wife, Carol, called Walton  his “old friend,”  giving him a unique descriptive nickname, the “Prince of Pay it Forward.”

         Dr. Fine believes that Walton understood the value of living in a democracy. “He taught us about this value and gave us examples of what we would have to do each and every day to keep it alive,” he said.  Walton also taught us how to take care of each other,” stated Dr. Fine. 

         Linde Rachel, a resident of Maureillas, France, and companion of Walton’s for 9 years who traveled with him throughout Europe, Africa and the Baltic States, sees an important message in the songs sung at last Sunday’s The Red Bandana Fundraiser.  “The songs were all about being part of a community, the one that he helped to create and was part of,” stated Rachel.   

         Days later, Barnard tells me that she is thrilled with the success of The Red Bandana Fund Inaugural Concert.  “We were amazed at the large turnout,” she says, noting that she even met people in person she had heard her father talk about over his long years.

         “We’re hoping that this will be just the beginning and not the end of it,” says Barnard, the beginning legacy of her father’s long-tradition of giving back to those in need.

       Her father would surely nod his head in agreement.

          For more information about donating to The Red Bandana Fund, go to http://www.soup.org/page1/RedBandana.html.

         Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a writer who covers health care, aging, and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.