Alcohol: the new secret behind jazz?

Ingredients for a Jazz-tini to soothe a rainy day: A little strum of guitar, a drop of sultry vocals, a dash of a swinging beat and…a silver flask?

Watching jazz guitarist Joseph Federico play, you would think he was in another world; smiling away, as if he was in a subliminal and untouchable world of his own. It may have something to do with the flask he pulled out between sets, a little “boost” to his afternoon coffee …

His sunny vibe was certainly undisturbed, despite the rainy weather. Nor was vocalist Leah Montague affected, as they both had shining performances at the Hideaway Music shop in Chestnut Hill, Sunday, Oct. 9.

Hidden off of Germantown Avenue in residential Philadelphia (about 15 minutes away from Temple on the R7 or R8 on SEPTA regional rail), it takes several tries to figure out where the hidden music store lies.

On Sunday, if someone were lucky enough to find its location, it would have been worthwhile for them. The Hideaway Music shop is a small space and was full of people, which made for a certainly more intimate experience. No one seemed to mind, one bit, not even the performers.

During the first set, guitarist Joseph Federico performed several songs solo. He played like a true jazz aficionado. His expertise was certainly his fingering and tempo.

While playing a Cole Porter song, for example, he would delicately strum his fingers with a gentle touch, and then automatically change the tempo into quick, flighty notes, playing the notes so rapidly, as if the strings were too hot to touch.

And the satisfactory expression on his face never changed. The music affected him with his whole heart, which rubbed off onto the rest of the listeners.

He even admitted between songs, “‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ … I cry a little,” chuckling to himself, when discussing whether or not to play the classic song by jazz composer Cole Porter with vocalist Leah Montague.

Momentarily, it was Montague’s time to shine. One of the first few songs she sang was “Route 66,” a jazz standard sung by the greats, such as singer Nat King Cole, among others.

She also sang a dazzling rendition of “Just One of Those Things.” It was as if she were singing to a baby, soothing and almost whispering; the combination of her passion, the intimacy of her soft tone and of the room made for an enjoyable experience.

Montague explained that in the late 80s she was dating one of Federico’s students and they went to see one of Federico’s shows. She started singing along. Montague added, “It probably wasn’t the cool thing to do, but I did it anyway.” Federico heard her singing and said he liked it. He told her to buy a Fake Book, a book filled with jazz classics for vocals, to practice her singing. She had never thought about it before, even though she had been singing all of her life.

A few years later, the Federico and Montague ran into each other in the street, and Joe asked her if she had ever followed up with the Fake Book, which she hadn’t. Montague explained that Federico then invited her to one of his gigs and the two started playing together, after.

Federico suggested they get a gig and Montague noted that she “never thought would happen.” The two have been performing together since April 1999. They do not generally perform in such intimate spaces such as Hideaway Music, but they sometimes have restaurant gigs, as well as at Wayne Train Station Cafe.

They will perform next on Dec. 2, at Andre Cafe in Chester County. Maybe Federico will share his “secret” this time.

Becky Molotsky can be reached at

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