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GREAT FOOD: $35. WORLD-CLASS JAZZ: PRICELESS.

First, if you want to eat—and you probably will—it’ll cost you $35. The food promises to be terrific, and the money goes to a worthy organization.

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But if you can’t swing the $35, or have other gustatory plans, don’t let the price of a food-access wristband keep you away. Because the main event is a free jazz concert. And this should be one hell of a show.

In fact, it may prove historic. It’s the kind of event that has real potential to boost Red Bank’s national and even international profile.

We’re talking about this Saturday’s “A Taste of Red Bank” event at the Two River Theater. More than a dozen restaurants from town will be under a tent outside the theater offering samples of their cuisine from noon to 5p. Funds raised by the tasting benefit the Monmouth County Arts Council, a financial supporter of all manner of visual and performing arts, including the Jazz Arts Café, which recently completed its premier seven-show program at the theater.

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But the bigger deal, in our view, is debut of the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in conjunction with the tasting. The 16-piece ensemble (for this event, that is) will play from 2p to 5p, also outdoors. Red Bank’s own Joe Muccioli, who has led jazz orchestras around the world, will conduct.

If your first thought is, “jazz equivalent of community theater,” think again. There’s nothing modest about this ensemble. The orchestra is Muccioli’s attempt to create a world-class, symphony-style jazz band to reprise some of the best studio and live performances from the history of jazz, including compositions by Basie, Ellington and Gil Evans.

Modeled on the Jazz at Lincoln Center program—where Muccioli has also conducted, leading the likes of Wynton Marsalis—the idea is to bring the best professional jazz musicians, and the classic works of the form, to Red Bank, birthplace of the great Count Basie.

“I go to Europe and say ‘Red Bank,’ and the first thing they say is, ‘Oh! Count Basie!’” says Muccioli. “They recognize it in Bulgaria, for Pete’s sake. It seems to me that it’s incumbent on us to take care of that historic connection.”

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Who’s in the orchestra? It’ll have different personnel, and take on shifting sizes and instrumentation, depending on the pieces to be played, says Muccioli—and the repertoire will roam the stylistic range of jazz, from bebop to swing to more contemporary iterations. The unifying thread, though, will be that the players are all ‘first-call’ session men and women, the musicians who get the primo gigs at Broadway shows, on record and in club dates.

No Red Bank players are in the initial lineup, says Muccioli. Because their work is in New York, most of the top jazz players tend to live closer to the city than Red Bank, he explains. Still, there are great players at the Shore, he says, and “my ears are always open to local players.”

The orchestra is planning a knockout trio of programs through 2007, starting in December with what Muccioli calls Ellington’s “thrilling” version of ‘The Nutcracker.’ Beyond that, Muccioli says, he’s hoping to find the ensemble a permanent home in town, ideally at the Two River Theater.

“We hope,” says Muccioli. “We’re at the beginning stages of a relationship with them.”

The rain date for the event is Sunday, Aug. 20.

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