Saturday, December 21, 2013

Unreleased Howie Jefferson

By Chet Williamson

In his 18 years at Long View Farm recording studios in North Brookfield, MA, owner and founder Gil Markle amassed a recorded library of music that has become literally the sound of the generation.

Between the years of 1973 and 1991, he hosted such seminal artists and acts as Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, Arlo Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, numerous jazz fusion artists, and a cast of thousands more.

For the past seven years, Markle has been painstakingly preserving these recordings, rescuing them from oxidation in hopes of maintaining the integrity of their original quality. If you missed them the first time around, in the vinyl format maybe, he has recently reissued the material on his web site, Once there, click on “Media Library,” enter your email address, log in and enjoy the music.

Gil Markle at the board

In addition to the stars, Markle also captured hundreds of local and regional bands that also worked at Long View during his tenure. Among the jazz sides in the collection is a never-before-released 1980 session led by Howie Jefferson, which is quite possibly the last recording of the saxophonist. He died the following year.

The date featured Jefferson on tenor with pianist Jeff Lass, guitarist Jay Conte, bassist Paul Sokolow (overdubs) and drummer Grover Mooney. Bassist Bob Conte played bass during the original recording but his performance had to be scrapped after it was discovered that his track was damaged. 
Jeff Lass
Lass has since gone on to make a name for himself nationally in the film industry, scoring for such films as Dick TracyIron Jawed Angels and The Killing Zone. The New York-based Sokolow has appeared in a variety of settings, including with Leni Stern, Dar Williams and Herbie Mann. Grover Mooney is no stranger to local audiences having performed in the city numerous times with Rebecca Parris. Bob Conte is still active throughout Worcester County.

The song list is basically standards and blues, including “Green Dolphin Street,” “I’ll Remember April,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “One Note Samba,” “Secret Love,” “Summertime,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and untitled blues and another untitled jam. They are listed on the Studiowner Media Library as “J. B. Railstop,” named after the Spencer restaurant, where Carmella’s on Rte. 9 sits today. It was then owned by the Conte brothers.

Markle says he was a big fan of Jefferson and a regular at the restaurant. “I had eyes for one of the young waitresses,” he says laughing. “So I found myself going there to get a bit closer to her, which never occurred. The residuals involved Howie Jefferson.”

Markle was uniquely qualified for such recordings. His father was an audio engineer for NBC and his mother was the big band singer, Connie Gates. The Media Library is actually a page on Markle’s web site, which is virtually an interactive memoir titled, Diary of a Studio Owner

Markle's mom, Connie Gates

Today, Markle is the owner of Passports Educational Travel, which sponsors the overseas travel for several thousand American students each year. He no longer has any involvement with the recording studio.

As a fan of Jefferson, Markle arranged the session in 1980 on his time and his dime. “I invited them back there for the hell of it,” he says. “I wanted Jefferson to meet Jeff Lass, the piano player, knowing they were playing the same material. They just sat down together and played, basically with no rehearsal. It was all one session.”
Connie Gates sings Worcester songwriter Harry Tobias
Reading from notes he took on the session, Markle says the songs were minimally rehearsed. “Structurally, they were all classical jazz renditions,” he says. “They all typically begin with an intro piano. Howie then jumps in and plays the melody once or twice. Then there’s a guitar solo which plays a couple of verses. Then it goes back to Jeff Lass on piano. Then bass solo. Then Howie jumps back in on the finale, which generally ends with a piano outro. They are all the same.”

Markle recalls how Jefferson liked to set up in front of a microphone. “He put one of our condenser mikes into the horn of his saxophone. He said he liked to record that way. It rattled. Instead, we positioned him between two very expensive Neumann condenser microphones.”

When asked why the bass was replaced, he says, “I forget what the reason was. It was technically defective. Wouldn’t work. So it was a couple of weeks later that we replaced the bass using Sokolow -- one of Jeff Lass’ -- guys. Bob Conte may not even know about it, and it may not be apparent to him when he listens to it. Sokolow pretty much emulated his performance.”

Studio owner, Markle
The Media Library offers both audio and video files of exceptionally high quality. They can be played in real time (streamed) using Flash technology, encoded at uncommonly high bit-rates. Another exceptional feature about the site is that the archival files may be downloaded for personal (only) use, in iPod-ready format.

The amazing thing about the Jefferson material is that it was never mixed. “They were what we called board mixes,” he says. “I did it on the spot in order to check out the integrity of the Sokolow bass overdubs. I made a straight copy without any EQ, without any volume moves in order to focus the attention on the artist doing the solo. Just a flat, straight-across, board mix. It was a seven-and-a-half ips copy of that board mix that was recoveredquite by accident from a mis-labeled packing case, 25 years later, unplayed.”

Engineer, Jesse Henderson

Markle reports that the original 24-track tape may still exist at Long View Farm. “It should still be there, and someone competent should mix it. I’d love to do it. The fact is, that 24-track tape belongs to Howie Jefferson’s estate. I basically gifted the entire project to him. I’d involve myself with the mix project in a heartbeat. Maybe the studio will ask
me to do so.”
Markle on the road

After the session ended, Howie wrote Markle a letter of thanks that he (Markle) still has in his possession. “It’s a wonderful letter. I saw it just a month ago. It’s in one of our red Pendaflex files in the basement. He raves on and on about the experience and thanks me for having done it for them,” Markle says.

He also reports that he had used Jefferson on other dates as well. Howie can be heard on Markle productions including three tunes sung by Joanne Barnard, “Carnival,” “Brahms Lullaby” and “Second Time Around,” all in the Studiowner Media Library. 

Joanne Barnard-List

Continuing to read from his notes, Markle says, “Howie Jefferson was a consummate gentleman — no indication of any illness. His wife [actually girlfriend at the time, Joyce Burrell] however was always and painstakingly deferential to him.”

“Now that I think back on it,” Markle says. “She knew something that we didn’t, and was obviously taking care of him.”
Though some of his parts may have ended up on the cutting room floor, bassist Bob Conte fondly remembers Jefferson and the session.

“Gil used to come into the restaurant a lot,” he says. “He used to like listening to the music. He had also heard of Howie Jefferson. So he set up this session at Long View for Howie with brother Jay and myself and a drummer from Boston, who did a lot of work around town, Grover Mooney. He was a little bit high the day we recorded that.”
Louis Armstrong and friends backstage at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium (Howie at far left).

Soft Winds

Now in his 70s and active, Conte lives in the Stiles Reservoir area of Spencer. His real surname is Contestabile. Before Jay died 12 years ago, the Conte Brothers worked together for more than 40 years. In the early 1950s they replaced the famous Soft Winds that featured Herb Ellis, Lou Carter and Johnny Frigo at the Darbury Room in Boston. 

In the mid-’50s they worked at the Maridor in Framingham and in the ’60s at the Sea & Surf. A list of those who sat in with the rhythm mates include such jazz stars as Errol Garner, Zoot Sims, Bobby Brookmeyer, Slam Stewart and Dave Bailey. In the two decades that they were active in Rte. 9 East clubs, young players such as Chick Corea, Steve Kuhn, Akira Tana and John Abercrombie had joined the brothers.

Young pianist Steve Kuhn

Jay’s daughter is in the business. She is the jazz singer, Zephryn, who works in the Arizona area. When asked how he hooked up with Jefferson, Bob says, “My brother and I were playing a duo thing at Spencer Seafood. It was Saturdays. One night Howie came in with Bill Fanning, a piano player. Howie was digging all the stuff my brother was doing. On the break, he says, ‘Yeah, I heard of you guys.’ My brother says, ‘Howie Jefferson. Yeah, I heard of you all these years.’ He heard of us but never heard us.

Zephryn Conte 
“So he and my brother struck up a warm relationship. He started going to my brother’s house with records. Then he started bringing his horn and sitting in down there. 

"Before you know it, we were in the process of opening the restaurant out there. He used to come out all the time. He’s the one that suggested having jazz on Sundays.”

J. B. (Jay and Bob) Railstop was owned by the Conte brothers. “We were there for four years,” Bob says. “We used to play nightly. We were there all day and we would play at night. Sunday was the jazz thing. We had various musicians — guys that we knew from Boston that would come in and sit in and play.
Bobby Sherwood
“One night this fellow came in and said, ‘I heard that you had jazz on Sundays. He was kind of bent-over, a skinny looking guy. He says, ‘My name is Bobby Sherwood. That name might not mean anything to you, but this guy had a band in the ’30s. He did this thing called, ‘Elks Parade,’ it was a famous song. He was married to Judy Garland’s sister, Dorothy Gumm.”

Sherwood, who was also a guitarist who replaced Eddie Lang in Bing Crosby’s band, was living in Auburn at the time of his illness. “He was staying with this woman. He was going to the Dana Farber Cancer place to get treatment,” Conte says.

Conte says playing and having guests sit-in was the best part of owning the restaurant. “The rest of it was a lot of headache,” he says. “See what happened was my brother got sick while we were there. He had congestive heart failure. He wound up in the hospital. Then I was running the place with my sister in-law and my wife. We were working our heads off. Eventually we sold the place.”

Stones taking the Long View

Conte says he certainly knew of Long View before recording the session.“They used to get a lot of big names up there recording,” he says. “They’d stay over. They had the facilities. Gil had the Rolling Stones up there recording and they all came down to hear us play one night. I never got into rock stuff but they were all there sitting in the bar drinking. What’s his name, Keith Richards? He was diggin’ Jay’s playing.”

When asked if he recalled the Long View session with Jefferson, Conte says “I have a rough copy. It was all done in one session, everything was impromtu. We recorded in the house. Howie played very nicely. I enjoyed his work. Gil Markle enjoyed it too because he got it all on tape, smilin’ all the time. Jeff Lass was the piano player that Gil brought in. Excellent piano player. He was leaving to go to California right after that session.

“I actually didn’t know Howie was sick. He was going with Joyce. She used to come out with him all the time. She called me and said, ‘Howie is real sick. He’s got cancer.’

“A strange thing happened. My sister-in law had to rush my brother to the hospital one night. He couldn’t breathe. She took him to City Hospital. Howie was there at the same time. They were both being treated at the same time.”

Howie, Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Jay recovered. (He died of a heart attack in 1995. He was 68.) Howie did not, dying after being hospitalized in June of 1981. He was 67. “Howie was a real gentleman, a very nice person,” Bob says. “My brother was really sad about the whole thing.”

This piece was first published on July 25, 2007.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.



  1. Jay Conte was my grandfather - Thanks for sharing the history and the music!

  2. This is so wonderful to see. Thank you for writing this story about these great local musicians. They were a rich part of my musical history and heritage and shaped me as a musician! Singing with my Dad and Howie was a real treat and an on stage education.
    Zephryn Conte

  3. This is so wonderful to see. Thank you for writing this story about these great local musicians. They were a rich part of my musical history and heritage and shaped me as a musician! Singing with my Dad and Howie was a real treat and an on stage education.
    Zephryn Conte