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Ed Polcer: Improvising His Way to Fame PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Tuesday, 26 July 2005 18:00
For Ed Polcer, bandleader and performer with the much-loved swing ensemble Ed Polcer’s All Stars, a musical career shouldn’t have come as a surprise. He hails from a horn-playing family – his father performed weekends at the Majestic Theatre in Patterson, New Jersey, and his uncle was a jazz musician who toured with Benny Goodman’s orchestra. And in a recent phone interview in anticipation of his appearance at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, he admitted to beginning on the cornet “as soon as my second set of front teeth came in.”

But it wasn’t until Polcer was earning an engineering degree at Princeton University that the possibility began to seem a reality, brought on by the influence of two individuals: Stan Rubin and Grace Kelly.

Rubin, the legendary clarinetist and bandleader, was a fellow student at Princeton in the mid-1950s, three years Polcer’s senior, and had already made a name for himself as an emerging jazz artist. Polcer performed improvisational jazz with Rubin numerous times while at school – “Rubin realized I could play,” Polcer says, modestly – but was still unsure about pursuing music full-time. “I was good in math and physics,” he says, “and America needed engineers in the ’50s.”

Then Grace Kelly’s engagement to Prince Rainier was announced.

Rubin had been acquainted with Kelly years earlier, well enough to call her personally and ask if she had any American bands playing at her wedding. Kelly said no, and invited Rubin and his group to do the honors. Rubin’s regular trumpet player wasn’t available, so Rubin asked Polcer if he would consider it, “and then I had to make a decision,” Polcer says. “Do I play Grace Kelly’s wedding or ... ?”

Clearly, he made the right decision. In the nearly 50 years since that wedding reception made international news, Polcer has enjoyed a résumé to make other jazz musicians salivate – including an invitation to play for the 1994 Congressional Ball, a command performance for the King of Thailand, and concert appearances in Canada, Japan, Vienna, Switzerland, and Ireland – and his love of and appreciation for jazz haven’t dulled in the least. “I’m having fun doing what I’m doing, and I love that we provide something upbeat, especially in these times,” he says. “I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.”

Polcer reveals that he and his All Stars will entertain Bix festival audiences with a wide variety of jazz stylings – “ ... traditional, ragtime, blues, New Orleans, swing ... ” – and he doesn’t think the band’s style can be easily categorized. “I’m dedicated to a collective improvisation,” he states, which has proven as true in his life as it has been in his music. “Improv is the essence of jazz.”

In fact, if there’s one guarantee that Polcer can make about his group’s performances this weekend, it’s this: “You won’t see a sheet of music in front of us.”
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