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At 90, The “Baron” Flies High

by David Sepulveda | Dec 2, 2013 3:48 pm

(3) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Arts & Culture, Music, City Point

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTOS What’s better than getting to celebrate your 90th birthday? Getting to jam at your own birthday celebration with other musicians among friends, family and guests.

New Haven jazz great Eddie Cercone got to do that Friday night. He slid onto the piano bench for a birthday celebration, doing what he has done best in and around New Haven for nearly 75 years—entertain

The dexterous piano player filtered in and out of a giant jazz jam session and celebration held in his honor at Sage American Grill & Oyster Bar, a popular restaurant wrapped by a small marina on the New Haven waterfront.

Cercone is no stranger to the hot spot. “Eddie has been playing here since 2000, the year I opened, and has been playing ever since,” said restaurant owner David McCoart.

McCoart presented proclamations from several politicians who could not be present for the celebration, but had plenty to say.

On U.S. House of Representatives stationary, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro cited Cercone’s remarkable milestone: “Whether playing for our veterans at the VA medical center in West Haven, for special events at Yale, or as a regular pianist at the Sage American Grill and Oyster Bar, you have and continue to share your love of music with us all. I thank you for all the wonderful contributions you have made. You have made a real difference in the lives of many—a role model for us all.” 

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who was in Florida, issued a proclamation saluting Cercone as “a special person who has demonstrated exceptional strength of spirit and who has shared his knowledge and wisdom with this community.”

A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Cercone was dubbed “The Baron” after a stint in the Air Corps as a bombardier in 1946. He was born in New Haven on Nov. 30,1923, and lived on Wooster and Brewery streets. He began his lifelong love affair with the keyboard learning classical piano at an early age.

Cercone played many of New Haven’s jazz clubs in the 1950s and 60s, with many notable musicians of the day, such as Roy Eldridge, Lee Konitz, and Coleman Hawkins. He toured with Rodney Dangerfield from 1987 to 1992. Cercone has continued to play and entertain—which, he said, helps keep the arthritis in his hands under control.

Friday’s Jam session opened with Jeff Fuller on bass and Doug Schlink on piano. Cercone soon became part of a long lineup of “sit-ins.” Globe-trotter Chris DePino, who was not expected to arrive in time for the event, according to  McCoart, did arrive, treating the audience to the distinctive sounds of jazz harmonica. Vocalists included Isabella Mendes, a regular at Sage, and Giacomo Gates.

Jeff Fuller, who has ties to New Haven’s Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts, has played with Eddie Cercone for over 40 years. Fuller commandeered the microphone to note several points of synchronicity: Not only did he and Cercone wear similar clothes that evening (white sweaters and light slacks.)But they both, born decades apart, share the same birthday. Extending the coincidence, Fuller reported that his “biological dad,” who would have turned 100 were he alive, also shared the same Nov. 30 birthday.  

For Cercone, the birthday bash was as much a celebration of the music he has played over a long and active career. Asked about his secret to health and longevity, Cercone smiled, a mischievous twinkle appearing in his eyes: “I’m a vampire. Put that in.”

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posted by: Semi Semi-Dikoko on December 3, 2013  12:03pm

Truly befitting for a Jazz Baron!
Behind Sage,  the man who orchestrates (…) things is David McCoart, who having attended the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven, (in the 70’s), joined The Chart House, first managing 3 restaurants before moving west to oversee the chain’s expansion from 9 to 68 restaurants nationwide. Today, after a Vice President stint at MGM, where he applied his industry expertise to develop restaurant licensed assets, (a $480 Million portfolio), he operates Sage. Every day, (including most holidays), he strives to provide a growing clientele base, upscale fine dining and entertainment. As he puts it, “Music performance one can speak over”.

Clearly, he has mastered best practices from the entrepreneurial and corporate worlds and applies them with superb ease to achieve the high standards and quality that have been his trademark throughout his career in the restaurant business. A guess, I try to compliment him on the plurality, diversity and quality of happenings, ranging from Romantic Wednesdays, Sunday Brunch, Cabaret night, Winter Wine Dinner, and the gambit. He shrugs it off modestly as “a little bit of creative marketing”, quickly and excitingly switching the topic to some of next year events: a full-fledged Mardi Grass with beads and accoutrements, a Bastille Day celebration and more. Of course the whole delivery is punctuated with personal anecdotal details of the performers who contribute to his tour de force. He knows and value them individually. A true testament to the man, and the house he built.

posted by: A. Thought on December 3, 2013  6:52pm

Chapeau, Mr. Cercone!  Your piano playing is still simply superb.  A very happy 90th birthday to you!

posted by: pwpwpw on December 5, 2013  4:23pm

Sounds like a wonderful evening at Sage! Mr. Cercone is a great inspiration—still jamming at 90! New Haven has so many great musicians and Mr. Cercone is one of our treasures. Great pictures of the event!

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