Jazz gestator: The Falcon and the Inexplicable Local Miracle

Photo of Tony Falco by Jim Rice.

There’s a joke out there among musicians: Folk/rockers play three chords to thousands of people; jazzbos play thousands of chords to three people. And both play regularly at the Falcon in Marlboro. (I added that last part.)

What has happened at the Falcon in the last decade approaches the status of Inexplicable Local Miracle. If there were a central Church of Jazz, I am sure that some cardinals would be sniffing around this unassuming hamlet on the Hudson. The story even involves an original venue built of a dismantled and, uh, re-mantled church. Fishy. Best not to question it too much.

What we know for sure is that Tony Falco likes jazz. The rest is kind of foggy, and I’d prefer to leave it that way for as long as the Falcon continues to bring forth the miracles. If you care to know the particulars, the sanctioned story is well-told at www.liveatthefalcon.com.

From its beginnings in Falco’s barnlike loft (not nearly so rustic a space as it sounds; it was finely appointed and acoustically pristine), the Falcon has presented top-tier jazz talent in an intimate setting, usually for donation only. In the obscure strata of a genre like contemporary jazz, it may be hard to locate where exactly the “top tier” begins, but here are a few names who have performed at one and/or the other Falcon: Brad Mehldau, Dave Liebman, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Don Byron and recently Pat Metheny – yes, that top tier, plus a host of other world-class talents that you’d have to be a jazz fan to know; but if you’re a jazz fan, you either know them or you will. In the few conversations that I’ve had with Tony Falco at shows (he and my mother used to work in the same office), I would mention the names of some of my favorite jazz players and composers, and Tony would invariably say, “Oh yeah, he was here.” I owe myself a lot of kicks in the head for the shows that I’ve missed.

But the Falcon – especially the new Falcon on the main strip in Marlboro, a much larger and more accessible space that is now a fine restaurant as well – is not a jazz club. It’s a music club with a varied roster of acts, featuring easily as much singer/songwriter, soul, roots and world action as proper jazz these days – a lot more, actually.

The breadth of the venue’s focus creates…not tension, exactly, but a definite texture of disparity in the renown of the acts, night to night. Let’s create some analogies here. First, purge from your mind the idea that sales are a determinant of status. If they were, you’d have no idea who T. S. Eliot was. Is it gone yet? Are you sure? Okay: One of the greatest living jazz guitarists, John Scofield, plays the Falcon one night, trailblazing saxophonist and composer Don Byron a few weeks later. Now scale that story to the singer/songwriter scene. To present acts of a roughly commensurate prestige, it would have to be someone on the order of Gillian Welch one night, followed by Rickie Lee Jones or even Paul Simon. Bon Iver, maybe? Wilco.

Well, that’s not going to happen in a venue of this size and location. So you see a bit of the growing pains that the Falcon has faced. When your jazz roster is simply the best – top of the pops, as it were, in a genre that does not enjoy a large popular audience – the singer/songwriter roster, by contrast, is necessarily going to recruit from the ranks of the scrappers, the up-and-comers, the National Public Radio buzz bin and a bit of the local.

The factor that makes the Falcon so dependable, however, is that it is an actively curated talent roster. It is not just anyone with an NPR spot to her credit. Tony and his son Lee Falco, a prodigiously talented young drummer familiar to local music fans, know what they like, do the legwork and have created a remarkably coherent aesthetic at the club. Stylistically, it is not all jazz, but it is all congenial to people who like jazz. That’s one way to describe it.

Modern jazz is a difficult genre. The bar is set high for listener as for player, and that has commercial implications. Blending in some easier listening makes sense on a variety of levels (and if we’re talking about, say, Ornette Coleman, easier listening includes just about everything except Arnold Schoenberg). As a local non-jazz musician who has been privileged to play at the Falcon, I should be thrilled that the Falcon ranges well beyond the jazz that is its forte, and I am. The point I am trying to make here is a bit touchy. Bear with me.

The Falcon’s artist choices and business model are none of my business or yours, and in any case our permanent stance in relation to this venue should be “on our knees in gratitude,” no matter where it goes from here. But I will say this: Quite a few local and regional clubs serve a steady stream of high-grade national and international singer/songwriter and roots acts, each with its own slant. There are Club Helsinki, the Bearsville Theater, the status-uncertain Towne Crier, Infinity Music Hall and several others; and the Falcon is right there with them. But nobody has, nobody does and nobody possibly could provide what the Falcon does for the jazz fan. Remember: It’s a miracle.

The Falcon may or may not need singer/songwriters in order to be sustainable, but jazz itself absolutely needs the Falcon. That’s a pretty high calling for a restaurant in Marlboro, New York. As Tony Falco says before every show and in every mass mailing (and if anyone has put his money where his mouth is, it is this guy): “Support living musicians.” Support the Falcon. Now.

Bassist Stephan Crump and the Rosetta Trio will be playing at the Falcon on Thursday, March 8. This is a remarkable, adventurous modern-jazz string trio that does not sound at all like the retro swing that you’re imagining. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m., music at 7. Visit www.liveatthefalcon.com to see the upcoming schedule and get on the mailing list.


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