Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Conversation About Jazz with Mike Abene

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

This is the sixth in series of Jazz interviews that have appeared on the blog and I consider each of them to be a hallmark of my work on JazzProfiles.

Previous interviews have featured conversations with Doug Ramsey, Ted Gioia, Gary Giddins, Howard Mandel and Bill Kirchner.

Each represents the epitome of what I hoped to achieve when I started these pages - in depth profiles of a particular individual’s contributions to, and/or perceptions of, Jazz and its makers.

Although we’ve never met, Mike Abene and I go way back to some of my earliest years in the music when I first checked out the records by the Maynard Ferguson Band of the late 1950s and early 1960s  Two in particular remain among my favorite Jazz recordings to this day: [A Message from Newport] featuring drummer Jake Hanna and [A Message from Birdland] featuring drummer Frankie Dunlop. Both recordings are still available as Roulette CDs and both are the epitome of exciting big band Jazz. Listening to Jake and Frankie on these sides was like attending a big band drumming clinic on kicks, licks and fills.

As Mike explains in the following interview, he came on the band in 1961 and joined an already impressive arranging corps made up of Don Sebesky, Slide Hampton and Willie Maiden.

Two aspects of Mike’s arrangements always impressed me: they swung, mightily, and their textures [sonorities] were drawn from an encyclopedia of big band Jazz arrangement elements. Mike has what musicians refer to as “big ears.” He hears everything, and I mean everything, and incorporates much of what he hears into his big band charts [arrangements], a characteristic that makes them constantly interesting and challenging.

I mentioned that the “texture” of Mike’s music is one of the qualities that made it so unique and so appealing to me, but what is a musical definition of “texture” which joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition?

Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

Beyond the texture or sound of his music and the lasting physical and emotional impact it can create, Mike’s music is also heavily rhythmic – the most visceral and fundamental of all the musical elements.

Music takes place in time and like many great composers, Mike uses rhythms and the relationships between rhythms to express many moods and musical  thoughts. He uses rhythm to provide a primal, instinctive kind of foundation for the other musical thoughts [themes and motifs] to build upon.

This combination of powerful, rhythmic phrases and the manner in which he textures the sound of his music over them provides many of Mike compositions with a powerful almost magisterial quality.

Mike’s skills and talents are constantly in demand, both at home and abroad, and I’m very grateful to him for taking the time to address his thoughts to the following questions.

At the end of his responses, Mike has provided an overview of his career which I have left essentially unedited to give you some appreciation of the breadth and depth of his time in the World of Jazz.

Following this background information, I have appended video montages featuring four examples of Mike’s arranging skills.

Michael Abene has his own website which you can visit by going here.

If you are interested in Mike’s arrangements, these are on offer at ejazzlines.

How and when did music first come into your life?

As a young child growing up in Brooklyn. My father played guitar in the Freddie Green tradition and had a big band playing in the greater Brooklyn area. He was also a barber and would get home from a gig two or three in the morning and open up the shop seven or eight. After awhile the strain became too much and he decided to give up the band. The families would get together and party, singing, playing, eating and drinking. I had an aunt who played great stride piano but couldn’t read a note of music. When my father would play with her they hit a serious groove. I had an uncle who played drums, another who had a whole set of kazoos and an aunt who was quite a good singer plus my mother’s parents had a player piano and would sit there pumping away being totally mesmerized listening and watching the keys.

Did you play an instrument?

I started piano lessons for a couple of years when I was quite young, had more fun just playing than practicing.

What are your earliest recollections of Jazz?

My father had a record collection, 78’s of course, of Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, the bands of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, some Ellington and some Dixieland. I remember playing those recordings over and over again.

Many conversations about Jazz invariably turn to “impressions” and
“favorites.” Okay, so let’s turn to “impressions; who were the Jazz
musicians who first impressed you and why?

As a young child, being a pianist, my favorites were Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Art Tatum. Teddy for his touch which later reminded me of Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. Earl Hines in the way he used his right hand and Tatum for sheer virtuosity and harmonic approach. When I was about eleven or twelve and listening to big band recordings I was curious of what the music would look like on paper and how did they do that. I started slowly transcribing some of the Benny Goodman and Basie charts. It was great ear training.

Staying with your impressions for a while, what comes to mind when I mention the following Jazz musicians:

- Louis Armstrong

Sound and and his time, loved the way he played quarter notes.
Loved the Armstrong/Earl Hines recordings especially. What more can
you say.

- Duke Ellington

Melody and orchestration. Again what more can I say. Sometimes I would hear “I love his music but not the band”. To me it was one and the same. I have been witness to where a wonderful group of musicians would play Duke’s charts and they never sounded the same. The notes were there but not the feel. Would love to have been a fly on the wall as they say to watch Duke and Strayhorn and how they came up with their ideas. I never get tired listening to the recording starting with Duke’s Jungle Band. The Blanton/Webster period will always be one of my favorite periods.

- Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker

Virtuosity. Bird’s incredible melodies based on blues and rhythm
changes. Dizzy’s big bands and the fact he was a great teacher and
you were not even aware of all that he was giving you. Incredible

- Bud Powell

In his prime absolutely astonishing, the ideas just kept coming. One of my favorite recordings of Bud, one side is him playing solo with his originals and the other side with Buddy Rich and Ray Brown.

- Stan Kenton

Whether you agree with many of his musical decisions, Manny Albam told me he never told a writer what to write. Very open minded and some thrilling music came of it. I recently did a workshop with composition students focusing on the music that Bill Russo and Johnny Richards wrote for Kenton and the reaction was quite interesting. The music still sounds fresh. Needless to say they never heard of either of these composers. I understand George Russell wrote some music for Kenton, would love to hear it.

- Gerry Mulligan

When I first heard his quartet it was like “where’s the piano player!” After a while In fell in love with the sound, love the space. Of course it had to do with the fact that Mulligan was a superb melodist and soloist, thought like an arranger and had wonderful people like Chet Baker and Brookmeyer who were both superb melodists and soloists. Loved Mulligan’s big band writing  and was a big fan of his Concert Jazz band. Total original and loved the fact he recorded with people like Johnny Hodges and Monk.

- Shorty Rogers

Liked a lot of Shorty’s writing, both big band and small group. There was a period of West Coast records not only by Shorty but Lennie Niehaus, Bobby Enevoldsen, Bob Cooper amongst others emphasizing more orchestration ideas than the East Coast groups were doing. Some of the recordings featured more woodwinds, Bob Cooper for instance would play oboe. I just felt that as an arranger/orchestrator it was more interesting to me.

-Charlie Mingus

I am a major fan Mingus’ music. He could write some of the funkiest music and turn around and write some of the most sublime, beautiful melodies. You definitely hear the Ellington connection. Overlooking his sometime volatile personality, I thought he was great band leader. He and [drummer] Dannie Richmond played like one person. There was some wonderful surprises in his music even when performing existing pieces. Always wanted to play with him. One of my most favorite Mingus recordings was with Ted Curson, Eric Dolphy and of course Dannie Richmond. I believe it was on the Candid label and my favorite piece was an original called “All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother”. The whole recording has brilliant playing by everyone. Loved all his recordings.

- Miles Davis

I don’t remember when I first heard Miles but the Birth of the Cool records absolutely mesmerized me. The whole groove, the blending, the orchestrations, the use of the french horn and tuba, something I fell in love with after hearing the Claude Thornhill band which of course Gil Evans did a lot of the writing. Loved the Miles Prestige recordings, his sound, his note placement, use of space. When Miles first started to use electronics I was taken aback for a moment but realized there’s some great new shit happening. His ballad playing is one of the most beautiful sounds you will ever want to hear and his recordings with Gil was one of the greatest collaborations in Jazz.

- Bill Evans

One of the most remarkable pianists in the history of jazz. He could swing his ass off, his ballad playing sublime, wonderful accompanist, his original compositions extremely melodic. I love the fact that he elevated the trio format into three equal parts as opposed to pianist with a bass and drums. There’s a George Russell recording from the late 1950’s called “Concerto For Billy the Kid”. The personnel is Art Farmer, Hal McKusick, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson and Bill. His piano solo on that track is astounding. Beautiful touch.

- Manny Albam

I have the greatest respect for Manny as a writer, teacher, mentor and friend. Manny and Dick Lowenthal, who was the head of the Jazz Department at Manhattan School of Music at the time, wanted to know if I was interested in teaching Composition at the school. I told Manny I was basically self taught with no degree, he said my background and experience was my degree. I was also involved with Manny and Jim McNeely teaching at the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. Two of my favorite Manny Albam recordings, but don’t remember the titles was The Jazz Greats of our time East Coast players [Vol. 1] and one with West Coast players [Vol.2]. Sorry if I don’t remember the exact titles. Just fun, happy good writing and playing. Miss him.

- Maynard Ferguson

I joined Maynard’s band in 1961. I had been playing with Don Ellis who had a quartet at the time. I believe the bassist was Jimmy Garrison and the drummer was Al Francis. This of course was before Don moved to the West Coast forming that innovative big band. Jaki Byard was the pianist on Maynard’s band at the time and he would sometimes come to Don’s rehearsal and play alto. By the way, Jaki was one of the most original pianist and composers; an all time favorite of mine. Anyway Jaki was leaving the band and asked if I was interested in coming on the band. Well my first gig was playing for a dance in Buffalo and then three weeks at Birdland. I started writing for the band almost immediately. Some of those charts were, What’ll I Do, Born To Be Blue, Fox Hunt, Knarf, Chicago, Whisper Not, Green
Dolphin Street, Cherokee, Airegin, I Believe To My Soul, Maryann.

Those are some of the ones I remember. I really enjoyed working with
Maynard, beside being a great band leader he let the cats play.
Sometimes it felt like playing in a small group, allowing the rhythm
section and soloists to stretch. Maynard was such a phenomenal
player, he knew the trumpet from bottom to top and was the most
incredible lead player. Can’t say enough good things about him, overall
a fun and creative learning experience. Made some good friends, Willie
Maiden, Lanny Morgan, Rufus Jones, Linc Milliman, Tony Inzolaco,
Ronnie McClure, Rick Kiefer, Don Rader, Kenny Rupp to name a few.

- Oliver Nelson

Big fan of Oliver’s writing and playing, “Blues and the Abstract Truth” being one of the great jazz recordings. At one time Oliver was living in an area of Long Island and had the opportunity to play with him and got into some interesting musical situations, very free and open. Got that really big fat sound out of a band. Always fun listening to his writing.

- Bill Holman

Always loved the way Holman could make a big band have the flexibility of a small group. Felt the same way about Mulligan and Brookmeyer. I remember hearing his writing as a very young teenager and it absolutely knocking me out. His line writing, the way he would set up the soloists, his approach to writing backgrounds, his rhythmic figures. A number of years ago I was out in LA producing a project for GRP Records and Holman would rehearse at [Musicians Union] Local 47. Lanny Morgan, who was playing on the band at the time, asked me if I wanted make the next rehearsal. It was very interesting sitting in the middle of the band and listening to all that wonderful writing first hand. Also realizing how deceptively difficult his music is. Always swinging.

Switching to the subject of “favorites:”
- What are some of your favorite Jazz recordings?

Have so many so here goes: Basie-Chairman of the Board,
Atomic Basie. Ellington-Far East Suite, Such Sweet Thunder, And His
Mother Called Him Bill, the Blanton/Webster Period. Most any Gil Evans
recording, Most any Miles Davis recording. Many Mulligan recordings
especially the those by the Concert Jazz Band. Any pianist Bill Evans
projects. George Russell recordings from RCA Victor with Art Farmer,
Hal McKusick and Bill Evans plus George’s sextets and most anything
by Clare Fischer. I have too many favorites.

- Who are your favorite big band arrangers?

Ellington, Strayhorn, Gil Evans, George Russell, Eddie Sauter,
Thad Jones, Brookmeyer, Gary McFarland, Bill Holman Jaki Byard, Tadd
Dameron for starters. There’s also George Handy and John Carisi, both
of them very under appreciated.

- Who are your favorite Jazz vocalists?

Louis Armstrong, Ella, Nat Cole, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billy
Eckstein, Dianne Reeves, Patti Austin, Chris Connor, Anita O’Day, Jon
Hendricks, Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Dena
DeRose and Shirley Horn for starters.

- Who among current Jazz musicians do you enjoy listening to?

Since I do a good amount of teaching in Europe I would like to
answer this question by mentioning some of the young writers and
players who I have dealt with and am sure you will be hearing about.
Writers like Emiliano Sampaio, Claudia Doefinger, Vincent Veneman,
Christoph Ressi, Viola Hammer, Simon Kintopp, Marco Antonio
DaCosta. Matyas Gaya, Matyas Bartha and Anil Bilgen all wonderful
pianists and trumpeter Skylar Floe.

Let’s talk about how you technically approached creating some of your arrangements:

How did you approach the arrangement you wrote for the GRP All-
Stars Big Band on Horace Silver’s “Cookin’ at the Continental?”

I believe that was from the last GRP All Star Big Band recording which was all blues based compositions. I had written two other charts for that project, “Misterioso” and “Aunt Hagar's Blues”. I was looking for something of Horace’s and decided on “Cookin’” mainly because I had come up with a way to reharm [re-harmonize] the line [melody]. After listening to Horace’s solo, I decided I wanted to orchestrate that solo and phoned my good friend Bill Kirchner and asked if he would transcribe it for me [off the record] and I would check it out.

Bill did his usual fine work. The most interesting part of course was how to orchestrate this [Horace’s] wonderful [piano] solo, making it work for the
band. I remembered Hall Overton’s great transcriptions of Monk’s solos. It took me quite a long time to figure out how to break up the solo so that it would sound as organic as possible. I hope I achieved that. I also used some of Horace’s comping behind the soloists.

How did you approach the arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” for The Metropole Orchestra?”

It was so many years ago I honestly could not give you a definite
answer. What I can tell you is that I have always enjoyed writing for
that Orchestra. The string section has some of the best phrasing due
to the fact, I believe, they have had the opportunity to work with Jazz
Composers over the years.

Please choose any arrangement you have done during your long
association with the WDR Big Band and describe/explain how you
constructed it.

This is by far the most difficult question and don’t know if I can
answer it. There were just too many projects.

Could you please describe how you plan and develop the music for
some of your larger orchestral projects such as Joe Lovano’s “Symphonnica,” Bireli Lagrene’s “Djangology” and Maceo Parker’s “Roots and Grooves/Soul Classics.”

In regards to the “Symphonnica" recording when Joe and I spoke
about what direction of the project I suggested that I would like to use
a symphony orchestra using his compositions except for Mingus’ “Duke
Ellington’s Sound of Love”.

Many or all of the pieces had been recorded in small groups format and Joe was curious, as was I, about placing them in a whole different setting. He gave me free rein, some pieces that were straight ahead, like “The Dawn of Time”, I came up with an eighth note groove. This idea worked on some other pieces. Some of Joe’s harmonies are sometimes unorthodox so it was challenging to use his thoughts and my reharm ideas. It was interesting because I made Joe re-think this material. The recording was nominated in three [Grammy] categories:Large Ensemble, Joe’s solo on the Mingus piece and my arrangement of the Mingus piece. Unfortunately we didn’t win in any
category. I love writing for symphony orchestra, sometimes in combination with a big band. Some artists I’ve written for in this context are Paquito D’Rivera, Patti Austin, Kurt Elling, Bireli Lagrene and the wonderful Dutch singer Fay Claassen.

Working on the “Djangology” project was a whole different mindset. My father had some of Django’s recordings so I was familiar with some of the pieces. It was interesting working with Bireli, he doesn’t read but is such a natural player and a fast learner. He was a little concerned at first in dealing with a big band and the fact there were all these charts. My wife, Gretchen, told Bireli to just watch me and I cued him when to play the melody, when to solo and when to comp, all of which he did magnificently. I had a wonderful time working with Bireli and tried to stay somewhat close to the original feel of the pieces and still throw my two cents in. We also did a second project with Bireli later with big band and symphony.

Working with Maceo was yet another mindset. If you’re going to work on this kind of a project he’s one of the cats. I’d rather do a good funk project than a bad jazz project. When writing for an artist like Maceo you kind of stay down the middle harmonically speaking, you can move a little bit, but remember the groove is most important which starts with the rhythm section.

Tell us a little about your recent book Jazz Composition and
Arranging in the Digital Age [Oxford]. How did the book come
about? What is the central premise?

I had been asked a couple off times in the past to write a book about my thoughts on arranging. I started to put these in writing but never finished. Being self-taught probably had something to do with my reservations about doing the book. When Richard Sussman approached me, his concept got my
interest immediately. Because of my schedule Richard did a good deal of the work, conferring with one another as the book was taking shape. We have had some great feedback and we are both proud of the result.

Could you close by spending a little time in describing what’s involved with your upcoming projects with upcoming projects include Randy Brecker and Chris Potter, and Tom Harrell.

The project with Randy and Chris was fun and challenging which I prefer all my projects to be. Working with Randy has always been musically satisfying not only because of his great playing but his great attitude. This was the first time I worked with Chris and it was a pleasure and I believe this is the first time Randy and Chris performed together for a whole project. Both have a different approach to composing. They are both interesting compositionally and harmonically; even in the length of their phrases. I listened to the
original recordings of the pieces to be used and found ways to add some reharm and expand the phrases to make it make it more interesting for a big band. Sort of “re-composing”.

Tom Harrell is one off the most interesting and original composers and players. He will write some of the most beautiful melodies and harmonies and then will write something that sounds fragmented with minimal harmony. One of my favorite compositions of Tom’s is “Obsession”, another is “Fountain”, two very different pieces. It’s a joy arranging his compositions aa they are always interesting. While there might be a lot of information in them they still left me room to add my thoughts.

Before I forget I did two wonderful projects fairly recently with a group called Metro, which featured Chuck Loeb on guitar, Mitch Forman on keyboards and Wolfgang Hafner on drums. The other was with Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Bill Evans, Chuck Loeb, Tom Kennedy on bass and Steve Smith on drums. Both projects were with the WDR Big Band.”

Some background about Mike from Mike:

“I was born in Brooklyn and we moved to Farmingdale Long Island when I was about 13 years old. I always loved playing the piano and was always around music because of my father. I went to Farmingdale High School Where I heard the Farmingdale High School Dance Band under the direction of Marshall Brown, a person way ahead of his time as far as Jazz Education goes. I was absolutely knocked out listening to these students ages 13 to 17 playing doctored up Johnny Warrington and Basie style arrangements.

I was determined to play on the band and auditioned. Marshall Brown thought I had a good feel but my sight reading was not good so I spent the summer buying all kinds of music practicing my sight reading and made the band in the fall semester. Marshall was smart in that he knew who to ask to work with the band and that’s how I first met John LaPorta and Lou Mucci who rehearsed the band and became mentors. Marshall was eventually fired because the school board thought he was playing too much jazz.

Soon after that he and George Wein of the Newport Jazz festival with the support of the Lorillard's, [who made their fortune in tobacco] decided to audition and pick the best young musicians from the East Coast. It was called the Newport Youth Band and I and my good friend from high school, the talented saxophonist Andy Marsala were chosen. Some other members
were Ronnie Cuber, Eddie Daniels, Eddie Gomez, Jimmy Owens, Alan
Rubin (Blues Brothers) and drummer Larry Rosen, who along with Dave
Grusin, founded GRP Records. Once again John LaPorta and Lou Mucci
would rehearse the band. We had charts by LaPorta, Bill Russo, Fred
Karlin, Larry Wilcox, Ernie Wilkins, just to name a few of the arrangers.

I became interested in arranging at 14 years of age and learned by the
trial and error method. Whenever I would hear about some rehearsal
group or band, no matter what the instrumentation was, my father
would drive me, no matter where on Long Island we had to go. I had
some wonderful constructive criticism [of my arrangements]. After I got my driver’s license it made my father’s life a little easier.

One of my great learning experiences was when I started writing, arranging and playing keyboards on commercials. These helped me to develop my interest in rock, r&b and pop material. I guess I was one of the new group of studio musicians along with the likes of Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, Bernard Purdie, Will Lee, Jerry Jemmott, Joe Beck, John Tropea, Dave Spinozza, Lew Soloff, Alan Rubin, Dave Taylor, Randy Brecker, Joe Shepley, Ronnie Cuber, Eddie Daniels, George Young, Joe Farrell. These are just a few of the many wonderful players involved in studio work at the time. I’m kind of jumping back and forth.

After the Newport Youth Band broke up I played with guitarist Sal Salvador’s big band and did some quartet gigs with him. Also in an area of Queens there were some wonderful musicians living there at the time; Buddy Tate, Selden Powell, Billy Mitchell, Oliver Nelson, and Jimmy Nottingham. I got the chance to play with all of them, talk about an education!!

I also was in Clark Terry’s band for a short while with Ed Soph on drums, Chris Woods on alto and unfortunately don’t remember the bass player’s name. I did some charts for Al Grey and Buddy Tate’s quintet. It was fun listening to those two together. While I was on Maynard’s band Don Elliott had a jingle company and he started calling me to play on some of his dates. I met his cousin, David Lucas, who was starting his own company and asked if I would be interested in writing for his company. As I said in an earlier paragraph it was a great learning experience and getting paid for it.

After I left David’s Company I worked for a gentleman named Marc Brown and the staff writers beside myself was Tommy Newsom and J.J. Johnson. Both beautiful people and we had a good working relationship. I started getting involved in producing for GRP Records through my good friend, the late Larry Rosen, the R of GRP.

The first record I produced was “Digital Duke” which won a Grammy for Mercer Ellington. I had a ball, some of the players were Norris Turney, Louis Bellson, Al Grey, Britt Woodman, Chuck Connors with guests Eddie Daniels, Branford Marsalis and pianist Gerald Wiggins. I went on to produce projects for Eddie Daniels, Billy Cobham, Dave Valentin, Happy Anniversary Charlie Brown, three Christmas cd’s of GRP artists and the three GRP All Star Big Band recordings of which I wrote some charts. All the records and some of my charts garnered Grammy nominations.

I’m sure all arrangers like writing for a band where the personnel was constant. It was my good fortune to become the Musical Director and chief Arranger/Composer for the wonderful WDR Big Band of Cologne Germany. I thought I would be there 5 years and it wound up to be 11 years. You really get to know the players and you start writing for them not just 18 players. You know what soloists to choose for a certain piece. I became spoiled because the reed section had many doubles at their disposal so when I would try to play some of this music with other bands of course there would be this lack of doubles. It was a wonderful experience and look forward to going back as a guest.

One thing I did want to mention was my association with Gary McFarland, really had an original sound. He and I did the arrangements for Grady Tate’s first vocal recording, “Windmills of Your Mind”. I was involved in writing and playing on projects for Armando Peraza and Cal Tjader and some others which I don’t remember. These were for Gary’s company Skye Records.

Beside my other commitments, for the last 7 years I have had a 50 percent Professorship at KUG Conservatory in Graz, Austria. I loved working with the students and the faculty. I believe it the oldest or one of the oldest Jazz schools in Europe and there is a good deal of Jazz happening in Graz. I never stop learning both as a pianist or Composer/Arranger and want to instill that feeling whether I’m a performer or a teacher. I’ve been lucky to have good mentors, John Laporta and to some extent Mel Lewis. My most favorite recording with
Maynard was “The Blues Roar” I did two Ray Charles tunes, “I Believe To My Soul” and “Maryann”. The rhythm section was myself, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Richard Davis on bass and Mel. We expanded the band, 5 saxes, 4 trombones, I think 2 french horns, 4 trumpets and I believe harp. I love working with students, learning from them and hopefully them from me. That will never get old. I’m sure there are names which I have forgotten to mention and will probably think of them sometime later.

I need to mention the person who has been by my side, who is my manager and business partner, that person being my wife Gretchen Hoffmann Abene. We have four wonderful children, Brenda, Kathie, Scott and Justin. Needed to say that before I sign off.”

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