It was September 1994, and my dream had come true: I was gigging with a jazz violinist.
Our Niagara-based duo played pop tunes and jazz standards, but above all, the music of our heroes Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, as well as Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli.
Best of all, there were even occasional gigs in which we would augment our duo with a jazz pianist and bass sax player and play the glorious music of the Venuti-Lang Blue Four!
My violinist partner was an expat Scotsman named Bill Murphy, aka “Murph”. Born in Glasgow in 1930, Murph began his studies of classical violin at an early age, but his world was forever changed once he heard Stephane Grappelli play on BBC radio, and he devoted most of his life to playing that style of music, first mastering that light-as-a-souffle Grappelli sound and then later the more volcanic stylings of Joe Venuti… and of course, other favourites such as Stuff Smith and Eddie South along the way.
Bill was not only a musical force to be reckoned with, but also one of those proverbial “well-balanced Scotsmen--- with an equal chip on each shoulder”.
Sadly, after doing a couple of cruise ship gigs which involved intense 24-hour togetherness, Murph and I parted ways in the late nineties.
We had very little contact for the rest of his life, until his passing on July 20, 2017 at age 87.
But going back to 1994: my daughter Olivia was in high school, and she befriended a girl who was newly arrived from Philadelphia.
On one of my trips to pick up Olivia from her friend’s house, I got talking to her parents, and mentioned that Philadelphia held a special place in my heart because two of my jazz heroes had grown up there.
Unsurprisingly, they had never heard of Venuti or Lang.
But surprisingly, a few months later, they called me to say that they had been visiting Philly and happened to see an article in the weekend Inquirer which they had saved for me.
The article was all about Eddie Lang and featured quotations from his two surviving relatives who still lived in the Philadelphia area: Lang’s nephews Tom and Eddie Massaro, who were sons of Lang’s older brother Tom Massaro.
It only took one call to “information” to find a phone number for the Massaro brothers and arrange a visit to South Philly for a guided tour of all of Eddie and Joe’s old stomping grounds.
Flash forward to March 2018: Murph’s widow calls me up unexpectedly to tell me that in going through all his old belongings, she came across a bunch of old photos, and perhaps I might want them?
It turned out that among the stuff was the photo record of our Pilgrimage to Philadelphia, which I had thought to have been long lost over the years, was found!
So now I am going to share it with you, and hopefully, with posterity.
The internet was made for this!
Murph and I were well aware that our September, 1994, pilgrimage to Philadelphia would be the trip of a lifetime, so we made sure we had a couple of cameras that worked and we also rented a video recorder.
Unfortunately, the video recorder’s battery failed almost immediately, so we had to abandon it in the trunk of our car.
But we did manage to get some fairly good snapshots during the tour, which will be seen in the postings below.
We also wrote copious notes on each photo, including the addresses of all the sites we visited, and these will also be included for fellow Venuti-Lang fans who may want to make their own pilgrimages.
Will aka “Lango-Django”
PS I haven’t made any effort to find out if Tom and Eddie Massaro are still alive.
They were born in the late 20’s / early 30’s, so it would be kind of surprising…
If anybody in the Philadelphia area has any good news about that, it would be great if they could share it.
Below: Murph and me, sometime in the 1990's.
I live in a little tourist town called Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada, which is about twenty miles north of Niagara Falls.
If you are ever planning on visiting the beautiful Niagara area, feel free to PM me and perhaps we can get together and do some jamming.