Vince Giordano: Brooklyn, Victrolas, Scorcese and All That Jazz

September 5, 2014 by

Vince GiordanoWhen he’s not pursuing his mission to help restore the smokestack at the site of former Vitagraph Film Studios in Midwood, Brooklyn-bred musician and arranger Vince Giordano is leader of the Nighthawks Orchestra. He sat down for a conversation with Brooklyn Roads, just before the premiere of the final season of HBO’sBoardwalk Empire.

When the jazz age was in full swing in the 1920s, music came out on hard, 10-inch discs that could be played on a Victrola or similar phonograph at a dizzying 78 rpm. It was this medium and technology that led a very young Vince Giordano to discover what would become a lifelong passion, culminating in a Grammy Award for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks’ work on HBO’s Prohibition-era drama, Boardwalk Empire.

I was first exposed to 1920s and ‘30s music via my grandmother’s wind-up Victrola,” Giordano tells Brooklyn Roads. ”She had 78s ranging from Caruso to Yiddish music to jazz and big bands. From the time I was 5 years old, I loved this great historic music. At 12, after listening to a scratchy 78 rpm, I said: ‘I want to play THAT music in MY lifetime!’”

And he has done just that–as a jazz musician, arranger and bandleader–for more than 40 years now. It was truly a revelation when he realized that he could make a living doing what he loved. “As a kid, I worked in a music store, an antique shop, had a paper route and did all sorts of odd jobs” to make a buck. When he started playing gigs, he not only enjoyed it much more than those other jobs, but, to his delight, he discovered that “I made more money, too.”

Giordano was born in Brooklyn, moved to Smithtown, L.I. when he was 2, but returned to his home borough in 1979. As he tells Brooklyn Roads: “Living in Brooklyn has made my life easier because I live in a nice neighborhood and I’m closer to gigs.”

The NighthawksRegarding Brooklyn’s reputation for inspiring and nurturing great musical talent, Giordano says, “I think Brooklyn has always been a great place to live and grow up…a real melting pot of many talented people. We know George Gershwin was born here, [pianist/composer] Eubie Blake lived his last years here…Barbara Streisand…just to name a few.” He also points out that Mel Brooks started as a drummer (“He took lessons from Buddy Rich!“) and that for Woody Allen, the clarinet came first.

Of course Woody Allen is best known as a filmmaker, and it was a string of his films, beginning with Zelig in 1983, that launched Giordano’s, and eventually his band’s, movie career. He credits jazz keyboardist and composer Dick Hyman (himself no stranger to Brooklyn) with getting him involved in Allen’s movies, which led to soundtrack and on-screen work in other films, including The Aviator.

“Martin Scorsese directed The Aviator, and when he took over Boardwalk Empire, I was chosen to do the music for this series,” Giordano says. And that, as noted earlier, netted Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks a Grammy.

While the band can be seen and heard Monday and Tuesday evenings at Iguana NYC in Times Square, Giordano tells Brooklyn Roads he has a soft spot for a certain venue in Gowanus. “We’ve done a few private parties at The Bell House,” he says. “That would be a neat place to play regularly.”

If he could go back in time, the list of artists he’d like to collaborate with “would be endless,” he says, adding that among artists of his own era, “It would be great to back up Bernadette Peters or Tony Bennett.”