Ralph “Johnny Jazz” Gatta (pictured at left with Gilda Rogers of Frank Talk) is the subject of a special salute, and the Gambone Project provides the grooves, as the second annual Jazzy Father’s Day Brunch expands into the Two River Theater this Sunday.


Since opening the doors of her Frank Talk Art Bistro and Bookstore on Shrewsbury Avenue in autumn of 2008,  author and educator Gilda Rogers has kept her intimately scaled “cultural oasis” humming with activity — hosting everything from book signings, live music, film and theater, to yoga classes, hair makeover sessions, public forums with politicians and a high-profile appearance by Amiri Baraka last December.

When it comes to naming a single “signature event,” however, the Red Bank Regional faculty member doesn’t hesitate to cite A Jazzy Father’s Day Brunch at Frank Talk. Now in its second year, the party scheduled for this Sunday has quickly grown into a celebration of local lore and life that ought to be of interest to lovers of great sounds, fine food, dear old Dad and good old Red Bank, in no particular order.

Here in 2010, the brunch has expanded — not unlike Pop’s waistline — into the spacious new host venue of the Two River Theater. And, along with the home-cooked delights and homegrown sounds that have come to define the day, Sunday’s event will honor the “living legacy” of a notable neighbor who served as the inspiration for the Father’s Day affair — hipster historian and longtime West Side merchant Ralph “Johnny Jazz” Gatta.

“It is only fitting that Johnny be included in the mix,” Rogers said of the man who keynoted the 2009 brunch with a passionate lecture on the glory days of jazz. “Speaking like a pure-bred historian, Johnny gave a talk filled with The Count, Dizzy and two of his many favorites, Dinah Washington and Lester Young, whom he calls The President.

“His incredible recollection of a time when music, as he put it, was ‘swinging,’ kept the audience entertained.”

Gatta, who took over the Shrewsbury Avenue landmark Johnny’s Jazz Market from his late father (the real “Johnny”) in 1963, closed his one-of-a-kind butcher shop and grocery (plus one-stop source for musicology, conversation and amazing anecdotes) earlier this year when he was diagnosed with throat cancer — as detailed in a redbankgreen story on April 28.

A followup posting on May 8 explained that reports of Gatta’s passing were, as they say, greatly exaggerated — a misunderstanding probably given fuel by Gatta’s own thank-you note to his customers, in which he stated “I’m going upstairs on the big bandstand with Count Basie & Dizzy and all the jazz cats.”

To “pay homage to this notable jazz historian, whose family business has served the Red Bank community for well over 60 years,” Rogers has produced a 15-minute short film about “the market and the man himself,” a tribute to this back-counter Buddha that will receive its first public screening at the Sunday event, which commences at noon.

Live music will be courtesy of a combo that’s been a frequent fixture at Frank Talk (and that made its performing debut there in 2008). Led by Philly-bred keyboardist/vocalist Greg Gambone and featuring Jersey guys Vince Giardina (bass) and Jonathan Sims Jr. (drums), The Gambone Project serves up a “musical stew” that spotlights such Gatta favorites as Miles, Coltrane and Rollins — as well as such originals as their “Frankly Gilda.”

Of course, none of this is to take away from the menu that’s at the heart of the occasion — a selection that includes naked chopped barbecue (“no sauce needed; just coleslaw on top”), fried apples, stewed tomatoes and shrimp with grits on the side, “hollerin’ collards” and “a French toast casserole — SHUT UP!” There are also door prizes (“for the men only”), and all dads in attendance  will be automatically entered into a drawing for a framed print of I Am a Man, a jazz-themed work (valued at $250) by poster artist Charly Palmer.

Tickets ($50 per person) for A Jazzy Father’s Day Brunch can be reserved by calling (732)747-2572.