The Phil McGowan Trio / quartet


An article about our performances at our old haunt in Newburyport, before we moved to Andiamo:

Published with permission of GateHouse Media

New Orleans. Kansas City. New York.

These are the places where you expect to find high-quality jazz. Closer to home, but still a hike, you can hope to find some seriously fine jazz in Boston, too.

But nowadays, those in the know about the New England music scene also know they don’t have to take to the skies or brave the traffic on Route 95 to hear some great jazz. They know that all they have to do is show up at Ten Center Street in Newburyport on Wednesday nights to hear the likes of Tony Bennett’s bass and guitar players performing live with Phil McGowan — a drummer who grew up just across the river in Amesbury while attending Newburyport schools.

It all begins at around 7 p.m., when different groups of jazz musicians entertain the dinner crowd each Wednesday. Then, after a break for the musicians, things get even more jazzed up, when the musicians return to entertain audiences in a club-style atmosphere, beginning at around 9 p.m.

 “We enjoy playing for the dinner crowd,” McGowan said, “but we really play our hearts out and have a good time,” in front of the even more attentive “club-atmosphere listeners,” he added.

In fact, it is this attentive audience — including some 20 regulars who are at Ten Center Street most Wednesdays — the fact that a mid-week gig does not conflict with talented performers’ weekend work, and the guaranteed support from Ten Center Street that draws important jazz players to The Port each week.

Some would say another important draw is McGowan himself, a drummer who prides himself on delivering percussion work that supports his fellow musicians. “For me, this is grad school,” said the University of Southern Maine-educated musician. “We just get really world-class musicians, and I get to play with them every week! It’s just such a humbling and inspiring thing. It’s a challenge every time in the best way,” McGowan said.

 “If you show up every week, you will get an entirely different experience each time,” the drummer added. Recently, the Brazillian pianist Gilson Schachnik and flute and sax player Jim Repa joined McGowan for an especially sizzling session at Ten Center.

McGowan was not surprised to see many familiar faces in the audience, including local artist Alan Bull, who was there making drawings of the musicians at work. McGowan saw this as evidence of the cross-fertilization of artistic inspiration that goes on in an arts city like Newburyport.

“Alan’s drawing epitomizes how the artists in the area support each other. It’s a really cool scene,” McGowan said.


Burgeoning scene

One of the Ten Center audience regulars, Deb Shapiro of Newburyport, said, “We are blessed to have both Phil’s passion, talent and great connections, and Ten Center Street’s generosity to bring such quality jazz programs to Newburyport. We have heard some of the best of Boston’s jazz scene at Ten Center.  The community of jazz lovers is slowly but surely discovering what a gem we have going on Wednesday nights, real jazz lovers and musicians coming out each week to hear what surprises and delights Phil has put together for us!”

In fact, Shapiro has it right when she recognizes that McGowan is at the heart of all this. He has been enlivening the Newburyport music scene ever since he performed with his brother Bill at the former Rossi’s restaurant in The Tannery when he was still in middle school.

Now a drum instructor himself — teaching privately and at Zach Field Drum Studios in The Tannery — as a boy McGowan studied with drummer Les Harris Jr., who was then teaching at Philips Exeter Academy and at the University of Southern Maine. McGowan made the latter his college of choice so he could continue studying with the drummer.

In fact, Harris will be substituting for McGowan at Ten Center in a performance with baritone saxophone player Danny Harrington and others on March 7. Look for Kristin Korb, a bass player who has had some serious success in Europe, who will be performing there on March 14.

McGowan said he brings together musicians through networking, asking each musician that he works with to suggest others that they play well with. Then he mixes and matches the musicians so that there is something new each week. He says the trios and quartets that he’s brought together work well because the experienced musicians all possess a “musical vocabulary” that they employ as they play together. “This is one of the skills of the jazz musician,” he said.

McGowan grew up speaking the language of music. The son of two former Newburyport Public Schools music teachers — Bill, senior, and Pat McGowan — he made music with his family from a young age.

“Playing music is a lifelong thing,” Phil McGowan said. “There is always more to learn. I don’t think there will ever be a day when I can say, ‘I’ve got it! I know how to play jazz!’ By its nature jazz is always fresh. It keeps making you come back. And now it’s starting to take off here in Newburyport.”

Every Wednesday night, some of Boston’s finest musicians come up to join me at the top-notch restaurant, Andiamo, in beautiful Newburyport, MA.

Come visit from 7-10pm, every Wednesday night, and enjoy amazing food and drink. I’m there collaborating with different musicians every week!

If you would like to keep up to date on which musicians will coming to Newburyport, please email me at to get on the email list.