An article of the Jazz League in the fall 2003 issue of Arts and Expressions.
At 10 East Washinston,
JAZZ UPSTAIRS IS WELL WORTH THE CLIMB! By Shelley Woods Laurin
Three years ago, in Newnan, a city best known for its antebellum homes, old-time
barbecue, and vintage car shows, a modern jazz quintet began to germinate.
Newnan guitarist Doug Kees, the first head man, assembled the nucleus of the
current group: Ira Polk on sax, and Martin Rudy on trumpet. A few months later,
Martin and Doug met Rick Massengale at a gig at the old Mayberry's in Peachtree
City. When Doug departed for an Atlanta rock band, Rick replaced him on
keyboard, and Martin took over as business manager and arranger. So the group
started playing regularly at Ten East Washington St., Newnan's fine dining mecca
just a block east of the Courthouse Square. They were getting a good crowd, but
they still needed a regular bassist and drummer. At Rick's suggestion, they
auditioned Bill Nelmes and Rex Butner, and The Jazz League was born.
Under Martin's direction, the group did fewer show tunes and old standards,
moving solidly into the modern jazz genre. Using the original arrangements,
sometimes copied note-by-note from old LP's, the band got into the classics of
the fifties, sixties, and seventies by such jazz legends as Miles Davis, Horace
Silver, Cannonball Adderly, and Herbie Hancock. Jazz merenges, sambas and bossa
novas, rhythms adapted from South America and the Carribean, had Ten East
patrons bouncing on bar stools and boogeying between chairs, so songs like
Cantaloupe Island, Watermelon Man and Fungie Mama became a permanent part of the
If you've ever been to Jazz Upstairs, or to a private party where the League was
playing, you know how easy and effortless their music seems. Bill Nelmes, who
plays bass and does the sexily stylish vocals, has assumed emcee duties by
default-the other guys just wanted to play. As he greets the crowd and
introduces the players, his friendly, low-key approach and gentle humor put
everyone at ease. Ten East patrons, especially the "regulars", feel free to call
out requests, and they're usually honored-whether or not they qualify as jazz.
If one guy in the group knows the tune, the rest will improvise. The fact is,
they don't seem to be working at all. But don't kid yourself. They may not take
themselves too seriously, but they're all serious musicians.
Martin Rudy graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy of Music and played lead
trumpet with the Army Band at Fort Clayton in Panama in the late 50's. While
attending NYU, he studied with Roy Stevens in New York For many years, he was
lead trumpet for the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey, and played with
entertainers such as Peter Duchin, Billy Daniels, Clark Terry, and Cab Calloway.
Martin's favorite horn player is Miles Davis, and he has spent countless hours
developing his phrasing and perfecting his mute technique.
Martin's teaching career has included students from elementary school through
college. In the 70's, he began playing recorder and became interested in
Renaissance and Baroque music and classical trumpet.
Since moving to Newnan, he has directed the Rotary Club Revue and played many
times at Callaway Gardens. He has also done concerts and special services at St.
Philip's Cathedral and the Druid Hills Baptist Church, as well as the First
United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church in Newnan. In addition to
forming The Jazz League, he co-founded The Dorian Consort and The Antebellum
Born in Philadelphia, Ira Polk started taking clarinet lessons at the age of
thirteen. Four years later, he was studying with Joseph Musimecci of the
Philadelphia Orchestra. While earning a business degree at the University of
Georgia, Ira played saxophone in various Dixieland and jazz groups. Early
influences were Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, as he worked to develop his gift for
melodic improvisations. Although he returned to Philadelphia and pursued a
career in sales, he continued to play in all types of settings, backing such
stars as Judy Garland and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Moving to Griffin in 1970, Ira has played with a wide variety of bands in the
Atlanta/Macon area, from rock to big band and jazz. In addition to The Jazz
League, Ira currently has his own Party Time (rock) Band. He also plays in a
jazz trio with Dan Smith and Bill Duggan, and in a big band called Nite Train.
Rick Massengale hails from Atlanta. After earning a Masters in Performance from
Georgia State University, Rick worked as a software consultant, but continued to
develop his musical skills as a church musician. A classically trained pianist,
he always loved jazz, especially the work of Errol Garner, Dave Brubeck, and
Oscar Peterson. About nine years ago, he started playing jazz, and found it as
technically challenging as classical music.
Four years ago, Rick became full time Director of Music at the First United
Methodist Church in Fayetteville. He is also a composer, with a CD of original
piano works to his credit. He and Bill Nelmes have played together
professionally, as "Those Two Guys" for the past eight years, and perform
regularly at El Parian and the City Café in Fayetteville.
Bill Nelmes, a self-described military brat, was born in Savannah, but spent his
formative years as a musician in Alaska, where he received a BA in Humanities
from the University of Alaska. Although he played trombone in his school bands,
he didn't really get serious about music until he taught himself the guitar at
age sixteen. At first, he was doing Crosby, Stills and Nash material, but says
his jazz vocal style, developed later, was strongly influenced by Billy Holiday.
Bill didn't start playing bass until he met Rick, who wanted to start a jazz
trio with another buddy of his who also played guitar-and they didn't need two guitars.
Between gigs, Bill worked as a bush pilot in Alaska and earned a law degree from
the University of Arizona. He is currently a senior staff attorney with the
Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta, where his responsibilities include
Rex Butner, the Jazz League's drummer and newest member, was born in Nashville.
His high school band experience, plus private drum and piano lessons, led to
gigs with rock, show and cover bands in Nashville until he joined the Army.
After his Army stint, he moved to Atlanta and joined the Georgia National Guard
as a musician. Since retiring four years ago, Rex has played in a local rock
band, a big band, and several small jazz groups in the Atlanta area.
His favorite gig? Says Rex, "I love playing at Ten East. The crowd is great, and
I get a chance to do some creative stuff. It's a blast playing with The Jazz
For scheduled appearances of the Jazz League at Ten East Washington, or for
booking information, contact Martin Rudy at 770-254-9520.
For questions or additional information on the Jazz League or its principals,
contact Shelley Laurin at 770-254-9520.