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Vince Giordano


In 30 years as a bandleader, VINCE GIORDANO has become the authority on recreating the sounds of 1920s and '30s jazz and popular music. Giordano and his big band, the Nighthawks, recorded a series of Depression-era hits for the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, ripping through instrumentals and serving as the back-up band for singers like David Johansen and Rufus Wainwright.

"I just love the energy of the early jazz," says Giordano, 53. "I wanted to recapture some of that." Early appearances on "A Prairie Home Companion" and in the movie The Cotton Club led to work in half-a-dozen Woody Allen films, including Sweet and Lowdown and Zelig. His diverse musical involvements also include backing up Madonna doing a striptease in Bloodhounds Of Broadway, and working with such varied institutions as the New York Philharmonic and Leon Redbone.

While he doesn't call people "Pops" or wear vintage duds, Giordano is obsessive about musical authenticity in resurrecting heroes like Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson, and Jelly Roll Morton. The Nighthawks use period instruments and arrangements, and play solos transcribed from the original recordings. Even the Kellogg microphone that carries Giordano's Astaire-like baritone is an antique spring-suspended beauty.

This purist's Brooklyn home is filled with instruments. Many are rare - a folding bass drum, a one-of-a-kind six-foot straight baritone sax, and a Goofus, a novelty wind instrument played by 1920s jazzman Adrian Rollini. In the basement are 30,000 big band charts. In the bedroom, there's a wooden box. "This is my Rosebud," he says, opening his grandmother's Victrola, which is what first ignited his love for the hot and sweet sounds on 78-rpm records when he was five.

You can hear the Nighthawks' authenticity on records like "Quality Shout" but to really "get it" you've got to see them live. As the syncopated stomp and roar of brass, reed and rhythm section wash over you, it's clear that this music was the rock & roll of its day.

Watching Giordano riding herd through vintage sizzlers like "Riding High" - head back, arms furiously slapping the aluminum string bass, and an enormous smile stretched across his face - you wonder if this band isn't just a time machine Giordano built to launch himself back to the days of Busby Berkeley and bathtub gin.