SHAMOKIN — In the early 20h Century, Shamokin was a hub for entertainment. The city was known to popular touring acts of all kinds. Henry Mancini, a prolific composer for TV and film, penned the song “We Did the Samba in Shamokin.” From the late 19th to early 20th Century, the city had opera houses and three theaters, The Victoria, The Majestic and The Capitol. These venues became a destination for vaudeville, operettas, classical musicians, orchestras and entertainers such as Groucho Marx, The Three Stooges and Houdini.
Jazz hasn’t been a regular staple of Shamokin in decades. However, on Friday, a Lehigh Valley musician originally from Shamokin will bring his jazz trio to the Ale House Bar & Grill on Independence Street downtown. Joe Wagner has ties to the theaters that operated when Shamokin was a major live entertainment destination.
One of his relatives played the organ during silent movies in the early 20th Century when copies of written music accompanied the silent film reels sent to theaters. Local musicians were employed by theaters to play the soundtracks live, so the silent movies were not viewed in silence.
Wagner left Shamokin to pursue a career in music, and since then has toured the eastern United States with bands from Asheville, North Carolina, and has played in venues from Santa Fe to Morocco. He also records music for film and TV and maintains a guitar teaching practice.
A 1992 graduate of Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Wagner continued his education at Moravian College, where he earned a degree in music composition. His chamber works for combinations of orchestral instruments, percussion, electric fretless and nylon string guitars have been performed live. He also conducted his original composition, “The Eyes of Bach,” and composed a musical work interspersed with fictional narrations based on coal region stories he heard while growing up in Shamokin titled “The Flying Bobcat.”
As a composer, Wagner has recently been commissioned to recreate the orchestral music played during the opening of Machinery Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. He is recreating the music from archived manuscripts over a century old and is also supervising the audio
production of the soundscapes that will accompany an exhibit of historic machinery at the National Museum of Industrial History, a Smithsonian affiliate in Bethlehem.
Another musician with roots in the coal region of Pennsylvania will be performing with Wagner on Friday. Tony Marino, a world-class bassist who has played internationally with jazz greats such as Dave Liebman, Tal Farlow, Betty Buckley and many others, will be making his Shamokin debut with Wagner. Wagner was fortunate to do a live jazz recording with Marino at the Sellersville Theater recently, and the CD will be available for purchase at the Ale House Bar & Grill show. A limited run of CDs has been pressed with special packaging prior to its digital release in 2018.
A young drummer named Ron Bogart will complete the trio lineup. Bogart is already making a name for himself in the Jazz scene, playing venues in the Czech Republic, as part of a big band under the Arto Label, and was awarded best overall rhythm soloist in an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Jazz Collective.
Listeners can expect to experience the sound of a guitar-led ensemble reminiscent of the classic sounds of Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Les Paul, Joe Pass, George Benson and Grant Green. The tunes in a set by the trio could be of the standard variety, featuring well-known melodies by Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bossa Nova favorites, a Gypsy Jazz number by Django Reinhardt, or even a Charlie Parker cooker. Expect good energy and tasteful musicianship. Fans of the guitar, bass and drums will be delighted, as the players in this trio are all veterans of the music world.
“At one time Shamokin was considered one of the most musically advanced communities of its size in the state. This was a hundred years ago, but talent gets passed down, and I’m proud to say I know a good number of talented musicians who were born in this area. I think anyone who plays an instrument or genuinely appreciates music will enjoy the show on Dec 8.,” Wagner said.
The show runs from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Ale House Bar & Grill. There is no cover.