Jeff Machota Interview

When I was back in Urbana last August, I was able to interview longtime Table employee Jeff Jeff MachotaMachota and record some of his memories of the Table’s evolution, the final weekend, and some interesting stories from the kitchen and the stage. He also gives some context to the development of the jazz scene in Champaign-Urbana and what helped create the environment that allowed the Table to flourish.

The interview can be found in the Oral History section.

The Willis Conover Collection

My love for shortwave radio was already strong by the time I was six years old. It was fascinating to me to tune in radio stations from around the world and hear different languages, news from places I had to look up on the map, and stories from cultures I knew nothing about.

And, of course, new music.

From an early age, while listening to our own shortwave international powerhouse, the Voice of America, I would regularly hear this:

 

As a kid, the music was new and exciting to me, and that voice was soothing. That was Willis Conover, who went on the air at VOA for over 40 years, broadcasting jazz to the world. He was all but unknown in the US; around the world, however, he was bigger than life for bringing American music and culture over the Iron Curtain. Many people learned English or even became jazz musicians themselves because of Willis Conover.

I have wanted to hear some of those old recordings for many years. This summer, after many years of archiving Conover’s material, the University of North Texas received a grant and began digitizing some of the thousands of recording they have of Willis. I was excited to learn they’ve started releasing the material for all  to enjoy, thanks largely in part to Maristella Feustle, UNT Music Special Collections Librarian (and jazz guitarist).

The initial batch of material includes two compete episodes of Music USA on VOA, interviews with Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, a set from Bill Evans, and much more.

If you enjoy jazz, check out this site and learn more about Willis Conover and his role in jazz history.

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Summertime Done Come And Gone

Happy almost-October! The summer has flown past and there haven’t been any additions to the Archives. However, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any activity.

The big news is that NTAP has officially formalized a relationship with the Sousa Archives imageand Center for American Music at the University of Illinois. Jeff Machota donated over a dozen vintage Nature’s Table shirts to the Sousa Archives, Here’s a photo of Jeff and I (left & middle) making the donation to Sousa Archivist Scott Schwartz (right):

This formally creates a procedure by which donated materials to NTAP will be transferred to the Sousa Archives for safekeeping, cataloging and preservation. In the case of recordings, the physical media (cassettes, reel-to-reels, etc) will be handed over to the Sousa Archives after NTAP digitizes them.

Scott Schwartz also provided Jeff and I guidance on creating a Deed Of Gift form for NTAP, similar to the one we fill out when NTAP gives material to the Sousa Archives. Many thanks to Scott for his assistance!

Another noteworthy item: during my last visit to C-U in August, I managed to get an oral history recording from Jeff Machota, describing his time at the Table from 1984 until the end. I hope to have that posted to the Oral History area soon.

Of course, the main thing folks are interested in is the music. Jeff and I have had very busy summers with work, and life has simply gotten in the way. I hope to get back on track and start providing new recordings at a minimum of once every month. Keep following the What’s New tab here on the ste, or the Nature’s Table group on Facebook,  and you’ll see the latest devlopments

Thanks for the support! Drop us a line if you have any questions or donations; we’d love to gear from you.

Sean

Nature’s Table Archive Vol. 11: The Spores – September 22, 1989

Volume 11 finds us on a hot, late-summer Friday afternoon, hanging out on the Table’s front steps for a happy hour rock gig. If you try hard enough, you can smell the red beans and rice mixed with Augsburger Dark and some chips and salsa drifting out the front door along with the music.

I was hesitant to put a show of my own band in the NTAP; it just felt self-indulgent somehow. However, Jeff Machota told me The Spores were just as much a part of history as any other band, so I finally agreed. Besides, it dawned on me later, that it’s hard to ask other musicians to post their recordings of a time when they were younger and less-experienced musicians and still developing their chops if I’m not willing to post my own music of my younger, less-experienced self out there, too. In the interest of fairness and equality, here ya go.

The Spores were constantly in a state of flux. Personnel changes were always occurring; we had anywhere from six members to, at the largest, ten pieces, including a four-piece horn section (tenor and alto sax, trumpet and trombone). Our musical backgrounds came from everywhere: Jazz, Punk, Grateful Dead, Steely Dan, African, Soul. We were all over the musical map, playing the whitest rendition of tunes by The Meters, and then throwing down feedback and an African talking drum solo during the Motown classic “Respect.”

Spores gigs had this feeling of split reality. The summer of 1989 involved a lot of extremes for a few of the members, which are probably best left out of print. It was about just being in the moment, playing whatever we could muster together at the time. We worked hard, practiced regularly, and grew a lot as musicians, but the non-lethal chaos surrounding the summer of 1989 kept shows sufficiently random that you never knew quite what to expect when you got on the bandstand. It was strange that a group so seemingly random developed a following of any kind whatsoever, but we did….only at Nature’s Table. To those regular attendees, thank you.

On this hot September afternoon, our main vocalist Laura Leonardo was stricken with a flu-like crud, so she stayed at her apartment and slept. As a result, we changed our name to White Dopes On Funk for the gig and played a lot of standards and jazzier stuff we normally wouldn’t do. Four of Joe’s original tunes are on this recording: Blue Funk, Bossa Nervosa, The Ride, and Geeks For Armageddon. He knew how to write.

The Spores – September 22, 1989 (Nature’s Table Archive Vol. 11)

The Band:
Joe Sejud: Guitar, Vocals, Percussion
Sean Kutzko: Congas, Percussion, Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Dave Tcheng: Keyboards, French Horn, Percussion
Larry McMillian: Bass
Taimur Sullivan: Saxophone, Percussion
Ben Grosser: Trumpet, Percussion
Matt North: Drums

Nature’s Table Archive Vol. 10: The Last Straw – January 27, 1990

Well hey, we’ve hit double-digits in the recording archive! Great news all around, and thanks to all the folks who have brought recordings forward to post here.

Volume 10 came to us through outreach. Guitarist Tim McKeage heard about what we’re up to and very kindly gave us all this little nugget from his group, The Last Straw. This comes from Tim’s collection, and I’m glad to see another non-jazz recording make the archive.

The Last Straw was… I don’t know what you’d call them. Folk? Country? Alt-Country? All I know is they were fun and a hoot, and my band, The Spores, was fortunate to play a couple of double-bills with them, including  Nature’s Table PA benefit (the Mango Zowies were also on that bill), and a gig in Chicago where the memories have all but faded away.

So good to have a recording with Karen Lee Larson on it, and hearing Thad Bales on banjo after a very long time is just great. Hope you enjoy it.

The Last Straw: January 27, 1990 (NTA Vol 10)

The Band:
Paul Budin: Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Tim McKeage: Lead Guitar, Vocals
Alton Patches: Bass, Vocals
Karen Lee Larson: Violin, Vocals
Thad Bales: Banjo, Vocals
Matt Quirk: Drums, Vocals

Nature’s Table Archive Vol 9: Boneyard Jazz Quintet – February 9, 1990

Volume 9 of the Archive keeps us in the later days of the Table. This is another from trombonist Morgan Powell’s collection of recordings; Morgan gave us quite a few recordings from his collection to help get the NTAP off the ground, and we’re glad he did!

This iteration of Morgan’s “Boneyard Jazz Quintet” is heavy on the ‘bone. Indeed, no other horns are present at this gig. While Morgan plays his slide trombone, the group also features Mike Gabriel on valve trombone.  Gabriel once turned down an offer to play in Woody Herman’s  band in the early ’60s, choosing a career in academia instead. Mike is now in St. Augustine, Florida, and still playing; you can find recordings of his current group here. This is also the first recording in the NTAP to feature the electric bass of Glenn Scheutz, a longtime Champaign-Urbana musician. Glenn’s gigging down in Austin, TX these days.

This is a nice, clean recording with a good balance of instruments. Hope you enjoy it!
The Band:
Morgan Powell: Slide Trombone
Mike Gabriel: Valve Trombone
Woody Woodward: Piano
Glenn Scheutz: Electric Bass
Bill French: Drums

Boneyard Jazz Quintet – February 9, 1990 (NTA Vol 9)

Nature’s Table Archive Vol 8: Russell Cheatham and Friends – May 24, 1990

Updated January 24, 2015

I originally released this set (NTA Volume 8) on December 21, 2014 as “Mitch Paliga Quintet, May 23, 1990.” It turns out that date and band is likely incorrect. Bear with us for an explanation.

This was originally thought to be a recording of the Mitch Paliga Quintet from May 24, 1990. The source tape came from Jeff Machota’s collection and was labeled Mitch Paliga 5/23/90.

The recording sounded very well-balanced to me, and was a cut above the standard “boom box on the bandstand” recording a lot of  our material comes from. The recording levels in Audacity were pretty even, the visual audio wave patterns looked remarkably even and well-formed in the audio editing software, and it sounded like the recording was a couple cassette generations away from the source tape. There was also approximately 60 minutes of usable material, with 30 minutes of very distorted audio on the remainder of the recording. It sounded like digital noise to me, the kind where a digital tape machine misreads the material. This digital noise, coupled with a very uniform, clean wave pattern on the recording, led me to believe it was recorded by Paul Wienke for airing on WILL-FM at a later date, and he’d had some sort of digital error when recording the second set.

However, a few weeks after posting the show, there developed two rubs:

1) Mitch Paliga had no recollection of this gig, which would be strange if he was the bandleader.

2) My theory of the source of the recording was questioned by Jeff Helgesen, who played on this gig.

Mitch, Jeff Helgesen and Scott Frillman are listed as personnel this night, and all agree that the lineup is correct. Jeff Machota found the monthly flyer advertising the coming shows, and saw that Russell Cheatham and Friends was booked on Saturday, May 24, the day after Paliga was headliner.

Then, a rather nice thing happened: Paul Wienke chimed in out of the blue, and stated he didn’t record the gig. While it turned out my theory on the recording source was completely incorrect, it’s far better to have concrete information.

The common accepted information among the musicians who played the gig is that this is the Russell Cheatham and Friends gig from the next night, May 24, 1990. The recording is likely what Jeff Helgesen speculated: a recorder of unknown origin set up on the front table. Jeff Machota had the source tape in his personal collection; it was likely he asked the original recordier for a dub of the tape, which was made shortly after the gig, and either he or the original recorder simply mislabeled it.

In any case, the statements I made at the time of the original posting are still true.  We find Scott Frillman playing baritone sax. This is the first recording I’ve heard that has Scott on bari, and he’s certainly doing a great job with it. Second is Russell Cheatham playing in a group that’s not Sorgum. While I’m an unabashed Sorgum junkie and love the funk-jazz they made, it’s great to hear him in a more bop and standards-oriented group, too. Jeff Machota told me this gig occurred when Sorgum guitarist Chuck Tripp was out of town, hence the different lineup.

So, my apologies for getting the info wrong the first time. Even with all of the collective brain power used to try and get as many of the details on these tapes correct, there will no doubt be some mistakes along the way.

The Band:
Mitch Paliga – alto, tenor, soprano sax
Jeff Helgesen – trumpet
Scott Frillman – baritone sax
Russell Cheatham – organ
Danny Deckard – drums
Russell Cheatham and Friends – May 24, 1990 (NTA Vol 8)

 

 

We’re Still Here!

Hi all-

Wow, has it really been a month since we’ve posted anything? Sorry about that… Jeff, Jeff and I all got busy with life and work. As much as we enjoy doing the work to get shows posted, we have to earn our daily bread.

We’ll be getting back to posting musical goodness on a regular basis. Jeff Machota just did a transfer of a great jazz set, and I’ve got some leads on our first rock set from the Table, too. Stay tuned!

Sean

Nature’s Table Archive Vol 7: Peter “Madcat” Ruth – November 9, 1985

Volume 7 of the NTAP gives us our  first “national” act. Down from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Peter “Madcat” Ruth is one of the best harmonica players around.  He studied harmonica with Big Walter Horton in the late 1960’s and toured with jazz legend Dave Brubeck in the 1970’s. By the early 80’s Madcat had gone out on his own, and put on one hell of a show wherever he went.

Madcat appeared at the Table numerous times, as early as 1980. I remember eating there one afternoon in October 1985, and I asked Terry who this guy was; they were making a big deal about him on the Table schedule and on WEFT-FM. I was 18 and just learning about blues and jazz, thanks to both of those places. “He’s great,” Terry simply said. “Just be here.” I was, and brought the recording gear. Madcat was gracious and let me record, and I’m really glad he did. He opened my eyes that night, and I learned how to play a couple tunes on guitar from listening to these recordings that have been a part of my own acoustic sets for many years. Somehow, his LP “Madcat Gone Solo” ended up in heavy rotation on my weekly show on WEFT after this night.

There are three recordings of Madcat at the Table that we’ve found so far: two of my masters and one that just showed up from 1980 in the collection of Jeff Helgesen.

When we started putting together this site, I emailed Madcat to ask if he would allow us to post the tapes we have of him up here.  Here’s what he wrote:

Dear Sean,

I always had a great time at Nature’s Table.
I knew it closed, and I saw Terry one time after it closed, but I did not know that he died…  He was a fine fellow.

Yes, I would definitely like to hear any recording of any of the shows I did at Nature’s Table.

And, yes- you have my permission to put these recordings on your website and share them on line.

Peace & Joy,

Peter Madcat Ruth

So, Madcat, thanks a lot for the great music, the permission to post the tapes here, and the great bright yellow t-shirt with the harmonica-playing feline that I wore until it fell apart.

Madcat is still playing tons of music around Ann Arbor. If you like what you hear on these recordings, please be sure to visit his website and support the man.

Peter “Madcat” Ruth – November 9, 1985 (NTA Vol  7)

Another Nugget Discovered

Jeff Machota sent me a copy of a mish-mash of Guido Sinclair stuff on two cassettes. While there are a lot of cuts and edits, the bulk of the material is of Sorgum backing Guido for  a Happy Blues Band gig n June 29, 1985.

At the end of one of the sets, Guido lets Sorgum play a few of their own tunes while he takes a break. It’s smoking!

This 30-minute MP3 snippet I’m posting is mostly the Sorgum Trio: Russell Cheatham on organ, Chuck Tripp on guitar and Walter “Jelly” Hines on drums. A tenor player joins them for the last tune, who I believe is Kevin Kizer…at least that ‘s who Guido announces is playing at the end of this stuff.

Emulsified Bird Jank >
Drum Solo >
The Yodel >
The Way I Feel (w/ Kizer?)


A nice little tidbit for you on this Saturday afternoon. This show won’t be released to the Archive soon; too many things to sort out on it first. But I’ll have a nice surprise coming out later today.

Sean