Ingram and Sisto at the Old Seelbach Bar

By Theresa Johnson

It's 6 p.m. on October 16, 1990. But as I step through the doors of the celebrated Seelbach Hotel, it could be October 16, 1920 or even 1900. Walking through the main lobby of this hotel frozen in time, I half expect to see F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, descend the thickly carpeted staircase. And what better background music could the pair have then the cool, slippery smooth jazz of bassist Ben Ingram and vibraphonist-pianist Dick Sisto coming from the adjacent Old Seelbach Bar?

Amid a happy hour crowd of corporate executives unwinding with martinis and a Mexican fajita buffet, this tuxedoes duo spin their magical, sonorous melodies from a corner of this posh, dimly-lit bar. To the merry clinking of glasses and chattering of ice being crushed by the bartender, Ingram and Sisto performed jazz standards including Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and an original tune by Dick Sisto entitled "Walk Lightly." "Light" would be a good adjective to describe their sound, which is clean and lighter than air. In "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," Sisto easily moves back and forth from piano to vibraphone, playing a phrase on the piano and then restating the same phrase on vibes. His phrasing and note choices are always fresh and inventive and his playing is extremely fluid and logical -yet for all its control, it swings!

Ben Ingram is equally adept on bass. He provides a solid bass while at the same time providing enough melodic interest to keep the audience from becoming bored. According to Sisto, Ingram has a rich, full sound reminiscent of Ray Brown. Together Ingram and Sisto perform like two bodies with one mind. As I listen I wonder how such a small bar can hold in such enormous talent.

After the last set I had a chance to chat with these very amiable musicians. Both Ingram and Sisto started playing instruments in high school. Ingram, a native of Louisville, played the tube in high-school marching band, then went on to study bass. Dick Sisto started out playing drums in high-school, but at the urging of a friend he switched to vibraphone. He told me it was natural for drummers to switch to vibraphone. Sisto has enjoyed a long and impressive musical career: He was a music major at Northwestern University and in 1964 he received an award for best vibist at the Notre Dame University Collegiate Jazz Festival. Between 1964 and 1966 Dick Sisto was a co-leader of the "Quartet Four." (Incidentally, the other leader was Maurice White, founder and leader of Earth, Wind and Fire.) In I969 he was a percussionist and mallet artist for the Louisville Symphony and in 1971 Sisto was the music director for the California Shakespeare Festival. In the 1980s, the was involved in Louisville Downtown Jazz festivals and has composed several jazz "masses" including a Thomas Merton celebration at the Abbey of Gethsemane.

I asked them who their musical mentors were. Ben Ingram said he was influenced by Ray Brown. Sisto said Milt Jackson and Gary Burton, his former teacher. Regarding the Louisville jazz scene, Sisto commented that Louisville has a good solid core of jazz musicians but that they need more public support. I closed the interview by asking what the duet's future goals were. Sisto said they were going into the studio to record an album, which should be out sometime in 1991. Another on-going goal is that of constantly diversifying and improving their repertoire. "We don't want to fall into a rut! " Sisto insists.

One fringe benefit of being a music reviewer in Louisville is discovering the hidden wealth of local talent this city has, particularly for its size. I have made such a discovery at the Old Seelbach Bar. So the next time you are in your car sweating out rush-hour traffic on the Watterson Expressway or Interstate 65, why not make a detour to The Old Seelbach Bar where Ingram and Sisto perform from 5 to 7 and 10 to 1. Here you'll find a world where the past and present are gracefully welded not to mention the welding of two notable musical talents!