By Mike Greenlatt, The Aquarian
A Night At The Deer Head Inn
Someday (Deer Head Records), by father-son team Skip and Dan Wilkins, is a love letter of sorts to the hallowed environs of Pennsylvania’s legendary Deer Head Inn. Built in the eighteen-forties, it’s been operating as a jazz club since the nineteen-fifties. That makes it the oldest continuously running jazz club in America. Situated within the Appalachian Trail, surrounded by the picturesque Delaware Water Gap bordering New Jersey, the acoustics are superb, the drinks are strong, the food is delicious, there’s rooms-for-rent upstairs, yet the essence of this great venue is the feel. People go there to listen. The overall ambiance is that of studious jazz concentration like at the Village Vanguard or The Blue Note. And similar to those Manhattan venues, the history in this space is palpable. You can actually sense those who have performed in the past: Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian, Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Dave Liebman, Bob Dorough, Bucky Pizzarelli, and more than a few generations of jazzers who would all congregate here after their gigs elsewhere. Pianist John Coates, Jr., for instance, played here regularly for 50 years.
On Someday, the pianist father and the tenor sax son (with bassist Tony Marino and longtime Phil Woods drummer Bill Goodwin) make beautiful music together on compositions by Cole Porter (“Dream Dancing”) and the Gershwins (“Of Thee I Sing”), as well as six others. It’s a timeless swing-fest. Skip, for the last eight years, has lived upstairs (drummer Goodwin lives here too).
On the night we went, exquisite guitarist Bill Washer led his trio with poppin’ bassist Louis Pettinelli and right-on-time drummer Goodwin (whose fills were adventurous, yet, he came back to the beat every single time). Then Skip tickled the ivories behind singer Nancy Reed, whose mellifluous warbling added a distinct Ella/Sarah sense of majesty to the evening. All during the set, musicians could be seen lugging their instruments inside for the Thursday Night Jam Session (with no cover charge). The Poconos were never more alive than on this night! The musicianship on display was, in a word, sterling. I can’t wait to go back.