Once a month the Hardboiled Sextet turns Duffy’s Tavern into the coolest spot in town
You don’t know what love is/ ’til you’ve learned the meaning of the blues./ Until you’ve loved a love you’ve had to lose/ you don’t know what love is.—Billie Holiday
On the first Sunday of every month, when the Hardboiled Sextet lets loose with an evening of jazz standards and the occasional new composition, the tavern atmosphere of Duffy’s transforms into a Parisian cafe, full of bohemians, actors, artists, revolutionaries, laborers and musicians.
For Duffy’s co-owner Roger Montalbano, jazz in his blood. When he first pointed to a picture on the wall to tell a story about his father, I thought, “My god, Roger’s father is Sammy Davis Jr.! He’s even cooler than I thought.” But it was to just below the Candyman’s framed portrait that Roger was pointing.
“My father was a saxophone player in New York with Jerry Rio and his Continentals, whose slogan was they played ‘for popular prices.’ It was during the early 1940s, when he was about 20 years old. The band also featured my mother’s brothers. I was immersed in a total appreciation of jazz, saxophones in particular. I grew up listening to Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. I liked the be-bop of the ‘50s and moved right on to Stan Getz. As I got older I had to hide from my father the fact that I liked rock ‘n’ roll.”
Duffy’s Tavern and jazz have a long history. The Motets used to tear the house down, but the torch has now been passed to the Hardboiled Sextet. This high-profile aggregation consists of many Chico musicians, but on a recent Sunday night the core group was on hiatus. The kingpin, drummer and maestro of the band, CSUC graduate Scott Cummings, explained that regular bassist Nate LeFranchi was on vacation and trumpeter Rocky Winslow, director of the Jazz Studies program at CSUC, was on tour with Paul Anka. Also out of town was guitarist Ty Tuschen. Filling out this evening’s version of the band was Mario Silva on trumpet, Bruce Calin from Redding on a beautiful stand-up bass, Dave Elke on guitar (he also plays with his own trio and the bluegrass band Greebo), and one of Chico’s best horn men and a former member of Blue Plate Special, Mike Newman, on saxophone. Newman’s brother Ryan also stepped up to play bass for a tune.
The late world-famous critic Ralph Gleason once said of a jazz legend, “Charlie Parker gives the feeling that he doesn’t care for the consequences; all’s he is interested in is right now.” When the Hardboiled Sextet hits a Parker song on the mark, the community huddles around the tiny stage to share some of the fire that jazz brings. The guitarist for the local group Gumboots, Sloan Tash, refers to it as “the best show in town.”
A legend himself, David “12er” Sorenson credits the work of Cummings, Elke and Newman as “genius.” And local actress and upcoming vagina monologist JessLeanne Perry says, “I’ve been searching for a cool place to hear jazz in Chico, and this is it.”
Collected, calm and at the center of the cyclone, Cummings explains it like this, "I like playing in restaurants like the Black Crow, but there’s a certain level of letting go we can achieve at Duffy’s that you cannot do when people are eating a steak. It could be dangerous." Mad-cow jokes aside, the Hardboiled Sextet is able to draw on sounds from the past and create something that is equally nostalgic and progressive.