A St. James resident’s inheritance has become a treasure for a local museum and music venue.
Recently, John Diana, a periodontist and clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine in the Department of Periodontology, donated the musical archives of renowned bandleader Xavier Cugat to The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Tom Manuel, the Loft’s founder, said the collection contains many of Cugat’s original manuscripts.
Manuel added that manuscripts like the newly acquired ones include various musical notations.
“That’s incredibly important because that means the music can be performed again, and that means, in many ways, the music can live on,” he said.
Diana is the only child of Robert W. Kasha, who was the pianist in the Sammy Kaye orchestra in the 1940s and ’50s. He said his father went on to become vice president of Willard Alexander Inc., and the theatrical agency had many of the big bands on contract. When Kasha met Cugat, he made an offer to purchase the bandleader’s name, music and rights to the band, and Cugat accepted the offer.
The periodontist said his mother, who used the stage name Ada Cavallo, was a singer, and she became the conductor of the band after his father gained the rights.
“Also, being Latina, she instilled the Latin rhythm required of a Latin band,” Diana said.
His father would play piano in the ensemble, and the New Xavier Cugat Orchestra was together for nearly 20 years, according to Diana. He said his parents traveled with the group numerous times to Japan, and both were inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Diana said his wife, Kathleen, was the one who suggested he contact The Jazz Loft to see if they would accept the Cugat material.
“Tom, from The Jazz Loft, was more than kind in accepting the music, and many of the exhibits in his museum were from bands and musicians that my dad booked and knew personally,” Diana said. “I feel, and I believe my folks would feel, that the music found a good home.”
Manuel said there aren’t many places like The Jazz Loft with a museum and educational component, and many people have reached out to them about musical archives they own but no longer have room for in their homes.
“It’s really amazing that we’re getting these incredibly important — historically important — collections,” he said.
Manuel said every collection is different and may include not only manuscripts, but also photographs, receipts, date books, tour schedules, instruments and more.
Some of the collections The Jazz Loft has acquired through the years have been from jazz trombonists Ray Anderson and Benny Powell and jazz and pop singer Keely Smith. The museum currently has the collection of piano player Jack Wilson on display to coincide with its July tribute to the entertainer.
The collections are rotated throughout the year in The Jazz Loft museum because it would be impossible to display everything at the same time, Manuel said. In October Anderson’s collection will be on display and the trombonist will also be performing at the venue. Next year Manuel plans to display the Benny Powell and Xavier Cugat exhibits.
Manuel said some of his favorite pieces from the Cugat collection include manuscripts that were written while the bandleader was in Cuba, parts are in Spanish, and the paper was made in Cuba.
Diana also had his favorite pieces.
“Being of Latino heritage, I enjoyed it all, but my favorite piece was a newer version of the ‘Peter Gunn’ theme, and from dad’s personal piano archives, his rendition of the classic ‘Laura,’” Diana said.
The Jazz Loft crew will begin sorting through the material from the Cugat collection. Manuel said first everything must be entered into a computer and initially placed in an envelope. Once the memorabilia are grouped together and categorized, the items will be put in archival boxes to help keep them preserved.