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Remembering Sam Falzone, a Buffalo jazz master


By Mary Kunz Goldman

The news is spreading that saxophonist Sam Falzone has died. It is a sad loss. We feel it in a particular way at The News because for years, Sam was central to The Buffalo News' Jazz at the Albright Knox summer jazz festival.

Now that I think about it, without him there might have been no festival. Former News publisher Stanford Lipsey once told me that he had the idea to start it because, walking past the Albright-Knox Art Gallery one day, he heard saxophone playing.

"I looked to see who it was," he said, "and it was Sam Falzone."

Sam affected countless younger musicians. He taught at UB for a while and he was an encouraging presence at local jazz clubs. Kelly Bucheger of What Would Mingus Do? was just recalling in an email today about how Sam would come to the Central Park Grill and hear his band.

"He was always very encouraging, with insightful observations on my playing and writing and great stories of a life lived making jazz all over the world," he wrote.

I spent a year or two way back when playing the piano in Sam Falzone's jazz combo at UB. I hadn't expected to win the audition, and I will never forget how dazzled I was when Sam announced the players. He called me a girl and he called the guys cats. Then he proceeded to put us through the wringer. There were two jazz combos at UB at the time, and everyone said that Sam's was the tougher one. I think the rumors were right.

At the same time I still can name most of the wonderful songs he had us playing. Most of them were new to me. I still love them. One was Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird." Another was Joe Henderson's "Recorda-Me," and then there was this beautiful laid-back bluesy thing by Gerry Mulligan, "Line For Lyons."

Those were the easy numbers. Sam liked tricky rhythms from his association with California bandleader Don Ellis, and we did songs in 7/8, things like that. These intricacies were reflected in his own originals, some of which were collected on his album "A Family Sweet."

Up above is a recording I found of a Falzone original I had not known before, but it reflects the energetic Sam Falzone I knew. He was a great spirit and a heck of a horn player.

Buffalo is not quite the same without him.


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