Walking down a path near the edge of the lake, Marty Fogel spotted a young man leaving with a fishing rod in hand. A smile broke out on the 76-year-old musician’s face.
“He’s a man after my heart,” Fogel said, his eyes darkened by a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. “We can talk jazz all day, man. But I To do love to fish. You have to be in the moment to fish. Same for playing music.”
Fogel knows something about music. With a career spanning over 60 years, Fogel has a resume few musicians could match. The Elizabeth, NJ native has performed with legends such as singer-songwriter Lou Reed and jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and toured with everyone from 1960s funk band Parliament to the singer-songwriter James Taylor. After a long and successful career overseas, Fogel moved to Colchester in 2017. He immediately immersed himself in the local jazz scene, bringing with him a musical history like no other.
“I had a very musical family,” recalls Fogel. “My dad was untrained, but he was a great singer. He would sing Jewish cantorial stuff, music from his youth. My mom would join him when he sang in the car. So, I always had music in my ear.”
The music bug really bit Fogel when he first saw the 1954 film Glenn Miller’s Story. By age 12, he had learned tenor saxophone, and he never looked back.
After earning a degree in music education from Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) in 1967, Fogel decided to turn professional. He had been playing since the age of 14, but as he began his higher education, he realized that working part-time was no longer going to be enough.
“I gave up,” he admitted with a smile and a shrug. “I wanted to play all the time, you know? So I joined this band, Pig Iron, which was a Columbia Records band. Blues rock, that kind of thing. It was a crazy, wild time, doing all these tours.”
In 1973, Fogel formed his own band, called Everyman Band, with his friends Grover Kemble, Larry Packer, Michael Suchorsky and Bruce Yaw. The Everyman Band would be a near constant throughout Fogel’s career. The group has released two funk-tinged jazz albums on ECM records: 1982’s Everybody’s gang and 1985 Without warning.
The Everyman Band brought Fogel to Reed’s attention in 1975. The enigmatic rock star hired the band to back him up after his previous band quit.
“Yeah, it started off a little rough,” Fogel admitted of that first tour. “Lou hired us but said to the guitarist just before we left, ‘Hey, you’re not going.’ Then he fired Larry Packer two weeks into the tour and sent him home. So that’s not the best start.”
Fogel insists he and Reed had a good relationship, however. He would go on to tour with the famous prickly star for five years and play on four of Reed’s albums. He even co-wrote “The Bells” with Reed on the album of the same name, a song the late Reed considered one of his favorites.
Another legendary musician will soon enter Fogel’s life.
“It must have been 1976,” Fogel said. “We were at the airport, and I’m on this payphone. Who’s coming next to me, but Don Cherry! I couldn’t believe it. Now Don’s wife owned a little shop next to my studio in the Lower East side of Manhattan, so I had seen him before, but I was way too shy to say hello to him.”
After Fogel told Reed he had just bumped into Cherry, the singer’s reaction was instantaneous.
“‘Go get him!'” Fogel remembers telling Reed. The chance meeting launched an important part of Reed’s career: it ushered in the jazz fusion he would create with Cherry on The bells.
Reed and Fogel’s relationship eventually soured. Reed’s management told Fogel that a planned tour had been cancelled. Fortunately, Cherry wanted to bring the Everyman Band on the road, and the band happily agreed.
“Of course, right before I leave, the people at Lou call me and tell me the tour is back,” Fogel says. “I had already agreed to go on the road with Don, though. So that was it for playing with Lou.”
Fogel toured across Europe with Cherry. But when he returned home to New Jersey, the prodigal son found his prospects limited. He had toured the world with Reed and Cherry for years, but had barely set foot in his home country as a musician. “Nobody knew who the fuck I was,” Fogel said.
He started playing with wedding rings. “They were terrible. None of them could play!” he called back. He also resumed teaching music.
“It was kind of weird going from being treated really well on the road to having to squeeze into a greasy kitchen to get on stage,” Fogel admitted. “But I had to, you know? I needed to establish myself as a local player.”
And he did, eventually becoming a regular at a top jazz club in Montclair called Trumpets. Thanks to its proximity to New York, the North Jersey scene was teeming with great musicians.
Over the next few years, Fogel focused on raising his family with his wife, Nan, and two daughters, Samara and Eliana. By the 2000s, Fogel had carved out a local career, playing in New York and Montclair. Years passed, and Fogel began to consider finally leaving New Jersey.
“One of my daughters ended up marrying a Vermonter, which kind of got the ball rolling,” he explained.
So on June 7, 2017, the week of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, Fogel and his family moved to Vermont. Although he didn’t play that year, Fogel has performed in every BDJF since, seamlessly joining the Burlington jazz scene.
“I was pretty ambivalent at first,” Fogel confessed of playing in Burlington. “All my contacts were in Jersey, but they all said there were good players in Burlington. I kept hearing the name Ray Vega come up.”
Vega, an accomplished trumpeter, teacher and host of Vermont Public Radio’s “Friday Night Jazz” show, was thrilled with Fogel’s arrival on the scene.
“I feel like I’ve known Marty all my life,” Vega said. Seven days by telephone. “I love this cat. He brings so much experience to the scene, but also so much class. He’s a very, very good player.”
David Beckett, a longtime jazz DJ on Saint Michael’s College radio station WWPV-LP 92.5 FM, was shocked when Fogel moved to town.
“When someone shows up in Burlington and they have recordings on ECM records, it’s really amazing,” said Beckett, who helped organize the first BDJF 38 years ago. “That kind of pedigree is just something you can’t ignore. It elevates the whole scene. It’s greatly to our cultural benefit and to the Burlington jazz scene.
“And for someone like Marty to think about the talent here is really something,” he continued. “He’s not just going to blow smoke.”
“Burlington jazz players are as good as players anywhere,” Fogel said. “And listen, I’m not the granola type, you know? I’m Jersey Marty,” he continued. “But I’m moved by the love here. I saw it at the last jazz festival. Everyone loves playing music so much.”
Fogel now performs concerts all over the Burlington area, often with his Mixed Bag Quartet, performing at Foam Brewers in Burlington this Saturday, October 2. The band’s rotating lineup includes musicians such as pianist Tom Cleary, drummer Geza Carr and bassist Jeremy Hill.
To see Fogel play is to see a man completely in his element. While leading the group, he is connected and present. When the solos roll in and Fogel’s eyes close, it’s easy to hear what makes him such a special player.
“Marty is free from cliches when he plays,” observed Vega. “He’s not trying to play lines or licks. The man plays with his heart. And he writes that way too. He ain’t got nothing to prove to anybody, so he just plays pure music, man .”
“A lot of players – and this is not a criticism – are very clinical and well studied but don’t show emotion when they play,” Fogel said. “It’s not my thing. I play with emotion.”
Fogel watched another fishing couple heading for the shore with appreciative looks.
“If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to tell the truth with your game,” he says. “If I have a secret, this is it.”