Notes of joy: Diane Moser’s band pays tribute to her Tuesday at Tierney’s
By GWEN OREL
For Montclair Local
Sometimes, there’s an echo.
Music that has died out still rings in your ears.
A memorial concert at Tierney’s Tavern this Tuesday honoring pianist and bandleader Diane Moser, who died of cancer and other health issues in December 2020 at 63, will be that kind of reverberation.
The concert was initiated by Miki Orr Hatcher, of West Caldwell, a classical violist and close friend of the late musician. It will raise funds for the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund, which helped pay some of Moser’s medical costs when she fell ill; the fund supports jazz musicians who are un- and under-insured.
A memorial took place on Zoom in January 2021, but plans for a concert had to be postponed due to COVID-19.
On Tuesday, July 27, more than 100 musicians, former members of Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band, and Mark Dresser & Friends will perform at Tierney’s Tavern, 136-138 Valley Road.
The concert honors what would have been Moser’s 64th birthday, on July 29.
Mark Dresser & Friends will perform at 8 p.m., followed by two big band sets at 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Seating is limited to 50 per set due to space restrictions.
Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band had a loyal following, and had been praised several times by critics in Downbeat.
In addition to works by members of Mosers’ band, the concert will include work by the late alto saxophone player Ed Xiques (pronounced “Iccus”), who died of COVID-19 in 2020.
Among the artists participating will be Barbara Cifelli, Craig Yaremko, Tom Colao, Paul Ostermeyer, Erick Storckman, Ben Williams, Matt Haviland, Dennis Argul, Mike Soengler, Jim Cifelli, Chris Rogers, Rob Henke, Larry Maltz, Scott Neuman, Matt King, Bill Moring, and, with Mark Dresser & Friends, Dresser, Marty Ehrlich, Angelica Sanchez and Michael Sarin. King will play Moser's piano parts.
Hatcher said organizing the event happened quickly — that the whole community jumped in when she posted about it on Moser’s GoFundMe page (which Hatcher had set up in 2020 to help deal with Moser’s medical bills) and still extant Facebook page.
“I would get emails saying, ‘I want to help, tell me what I can do,’” Hatcher said. Moser’s son, Chad Moser, also helped organize the concert.
The eagerness to participate did not surprise Hatcher: Moser’s devotion to music would bring out the music in others, she said. "She inspired people to strive to be their best, and explore their talents and abilities.”
Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band, founded in 1997, showcased the new work of many musicians, including Moser herself. It began playing at Tierney’s, then moved to the now-closed Trumpets.
Bass player Mark Dresser is flying in from San Diego for the event. He had known Moser since the 1970s, when she was a single mother living and playing in San Diego.
“We became like family,” he said. “She was a person of great innate intellectual curiosity, who could connect with anyone.”
Instead of becoming an internationally renowned touring pianist, he said, she chose to focus on raising her son, and working as a piano teacher in the Montclair area. She inspired him artistically because of the way she continued to grow: “She became enchanted with the music of the spheres, with astronomy and the planets. She became involved in the burgeoning field called ethnomusicology [the study of music from varying cultures], and created startling soundscapes, with songs built around birdsongs. That was completely based out of her ability to communicate across species.”
Moser and Dresser released an album together, “Duetto,” in 2012.
Her 2018 album, “Birdsongs,” was inspired by playing music to the sound of birds during a residency at the MacDowell Colony. She founded The Birdsong Trio, named for that album. She launched the album at the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair, and said at the time, “Every day I was recording with [the birds] and improvising with them, and at night I’d listen to the recordings.”
Dresser said Moser “was a real ‘sender.’”
“She had a lot of knowledge at her fingertips, but it was always synthesized with feeling,” he said.”
Trombonist Erick Storckman, of Warwick, New York, played with Moser for 23 years, and knew her for close to 30.
“The great Edgar Meyer, a bass player, said ‘If a band stays together for more than a few years, that either means the money is great or the music is great,’” Storckman recalled. “The money wasn’t great. But the music and community were really wonderful.”
Moser, he said, “brought us all together.”
Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band debuted in January, 1997, “when things are slow for musicians. We had an anniversary concert every January. I remember getting to five to six years and cracking jokes about lasting,” he said.
The last Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band concert was in February, 2020, at the Baha'i Center in Manhattan, just weeks before the pandemic shutdown.
Moser’s band became an incubator for peoples’ creativity, Storckman said.
“A lot of other projects were spawned as a result of this, including my own band. She nurtured people, that was her way,” he said. “She used to joke she was the den mother.”
(Moser had also been an actual den mother for her son, Chad, in the Cub Scouts.)
“She brought together a community of musicians that would not have necessarily come together because of different approaches to music and different interests,” Storckman said.
Moser’s band included musicians whose approach to jazz was very traditional, avant-garde musicians and those on the spectrum in between.
“It was a great, great melting pot of musicians,” Storckman said. “We loved it.”
Dresser is one of the musicians whose style differs from Moser’s, but who trusted her implicitly.
When he had a new composition and had questions, he would often run his work by her.
“There are very few people on the planet I would trust,” he said.
In addition to teaching piano locally, she also served on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA music composition program, and of the The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City.
Moser also connected musicians as a teacher, Dresser said, and showed her creativity with her classes. At the New School, she taught a class on songwriting titled “Words and Music,” as well as one titled “Sound and Time.”
“The younger musicians that I know that studied with her always felt so safe, including some musicians that I’ve gone on to become colleagues with,” Storckman said.
Montclair’s Rob Middleton, a saxophone player and composer, said jazz musicians aren’t always open minded. They can be competitive, with strong opinions, he said. But not Moser.
“She was remarkably open to things different to her bag,” he said.
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE?
Middleton is looking forward to the concert.
“For me, it is a way to remember Diane Moser’s work as a musician, as well as a person,” Middleton said. “The two things go together; you can’t really separate them. It’s a great chance to memorialize her and play some of her music.”
One of Middleton’s compositions will be on the bill.
After enduring the loss of both Xiques and Moser, and the long time of not playing together during the pandemic, this concert is “coming out of our cocoons, a chance to do all those things in the community with other musicians who feel the same way about Diane,” Middleton said.
The concert, he said, “will be a celebration through music.”
Middleton, who teaches at Caldwell University, was a founding member of Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band.
But after this event, Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band likely will be no more, Middleton said.
“There are ghost bands. … Glenn Miller’s and Woody Herman’s bands outlived them. But she was somebody who had a special gift to make people feel accepted and valued, that their contribution was really worthy. A band is so much a reflection of its leader,” Middleton said. “She was larger than life.”
- Tuesday, July 27, 8 p.m.
- Sets at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., with a 50-person maximum for each seating
- Tierney’s Tavern, 136-138 Valley Road
- Fundraiser for Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund. $15 donation requested.
Diane Moser's Composers Big Band Members for the evening are:
- Alto 1: Craig Yaremko
- Alto 2: Tom Colao
- Tenor 1: Rob Middleton
- Tenor 2: Paul Ostermayer
- Bari: Barbara Cifelli
- Trumpet 1: Mike Spengler
- Trumpet 2: Jim Cifelli
- Trumpet 3: Chris Rogers
- Trumpet 4: Rob Henke
- Bone 1: Erick Storckman
- Bone 2: Ben Williams
- Bone 3: Matt Haviland
- Bone 4: Dennis Argul
- Guitar: Larry Maltz
- Piano: Matt King
- Bass: Bill Moring
- Drums: Scott Neumann