Impactful music scenes bring people together to share their lives. The need for a vital local scene is important, particularly after the isolation and disconnection caused by the pandemic.
Patti Smith Group co-founder Lenny Kaye wrote in his 2021 book “Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll” about the development of scenes, such as the New York punk scene of the ’70s and the Seattle grunge scene of the ’90s, that have defined the contours of rock history. While the vast majority of local scenes do not do that, they do connect people in a similar way that the venues and artists in Kaye’s book did.
The Doug Hall Trio — composed of Hall on keyboards and vocals, David Goldman on djembe and Bill Meyer on bass — has created a joyful Montclair scene playing at a bi-monthly gig at the Allegory restaurant in the MC Hotel. The space encourages different levels of engagement: You can sit for several hours for dinner or grab a quick drink at the bar; you can chat with your neighbor and you don’t have to stay in your seat unless, like me, you get lost in the music and don’t want to move.
The trio — accomplished musicians playing a range of genres — started playing in April 2022 in a corner of the sprawling first floor at the hotel, and has exceeded my expectations of what I might find in such an informal setting.
When I saw them perform on Feb. 24 (with Michael Aharon sitting in for Meyer), they started their first set with jazzy, quieter tunes, but then, as the evening progressed, they pivoted to rousing rock and catchy folk. They will play again on March 10 and 24; visit themchotel.com/food-drink/allegory.
Hall welcomed extraordinary guest musicians to play with the trio throughout the evening, creating a communal, celebratory mood.
“It’s almost never simply a trio,” said Hall. “Lately we have been regularly augmented by Ira Siegel on guitar and (singer) Iris Schaffer-Hall always comes up for a few songs, along with a variety of other guests.” Siegel is a captivating guitarist who has worked on Broadway in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and with artists including Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Luther Vandross, Faith Hill and The Bacon Brothers.
“Doug is the hub musician,” said Bob Mellman, a member of the band The Reticents who has played with the trio. “He is an accomplished pianist and composer and all-around good guy who is conversant with many kinds of music, and regularly calls upon local friends to sit in.
“The friends — many of whom happen to be A-level professional musicians who have toured, performed in Broadway pit bands or have written and performed songs, jingles and soundtracks — always accept Doug’s invitation to play.”
Other guest musicians at the trio’s MC Hotel concerts have included Baron Raymonde (Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen), Frank Vilardi (Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin), Don Sarlin (Van Morrison), Gregg Fine (Harry Belafonte), Mike Levine (The Reticents, Big Mamou), John Sherman (Big Mamou, Mr. Rose) Fred Parcells (Big Mamou, Mr. Rose), Scott E. Moore, Steve Skinner, Steve Bryant and Yanni Fotiadis.
Hall, Skinner and Siegel all have recorded at Montclair’s Sound on Sound Studios, whose founder and chief engineer David Amlen makes guest appearances at the trio’s gigs. “Doug Hall Trio is a great meeting of Montclair talent,” said Amlen. “Many amazing musicians sit in regularly. It brings the community together.”
The trio will perform at a fundraiser for Toni’s Kitchen at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair, May 12 at 8 p.m., along with Big Mamou, The Reticents, Ira Siegel & Lenie Colacino, the Trisonics and others.
“We wanted to take the positive energy that’s developed around our gigs at the hotel and use it to give back to the community,” said Hall.
Hall and Richard Reiter, who often sits in with the band on sax and flute, conjured up this fundraiser to address issues of food insecurity. “There is food insecurity right here in Montclair, and Toni’s Kitchen does a wonderful job of helping to address that,” said Hall.
After a long career in advertising, where he created music for more than 1,000 TV commercials, Hall is mostly retired, though he still teaches piano in addition to playing with his trio.
Hall’s son, Evan Stephens Hall, fronts the rock band Pinegrove. “When he was in third grade,” Doug Hall said, “we wrote a little batch of songs together just for fun, and recorded them at home for an album called The Reptiles.” They performed live at Rand Elementary school in Montclair, now called Charles H. Bullock School.
“Around this time, Evan met Zack Levine, whose dad, Michael William Levine, has played in several bands with me,” said Hall. “Years later, Evan and Zack would form Pinegrove.
“Pinegrove has graciously allowed Mike and me to be contributors to some of their recordings, culminating in inviting us both to sit in when they played The Wellmont Theater on October of 2021. Of course, singer Iris Schaffer-Hall, who has also been in bands with Mike and me, is Evan’s stepmom. I should add that another Pinegrove member’s dad, Steve Skinner (father of Sam Skinner), joined Mike, me and Iris in a band called Julie’s Party, making the intergenerational music connection even stronger.”
Hall was thrilled when Evan and Zack Levine sat in with his trio when they played at the MC Hotel over Thanksgiving weekend.
The band has become “the world’s largest trio,” Schaffer-Hall said, “and the gig “has become a hidden gem in Montclair, it seems.”
I would agree.
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