Veteran jazzman and Hammond B3 ace Radam Schwartz works with teen musicians at the Count Basie Theatre as part of the Jazz Arts Academy program that kicks off this weekend. Inset: the combo of next-generation jazz stars who provided the soundtrack to the annual Jazz Arts Project party in Red Bank. (Photos courtesy of Jazz Arts Project)
By TOM CHESEK
The scene at Joe Muccioli‘s Red Bank backyard on a recent Sunday was one swinging soiree, a BBQ bash that went well beyond the suburban norm of storebought salads, skeeters and citronella.
The occasion was the annual meeting/ barbecue of the borough-based Jazz Arts Project, the nonprofit arts entity for which the man called “Mooch” serves as artistic director. And the guests at the home shared by hosts Cathy Zuravnsky and Joe ran to the likes of Valery Ponomarev, the Russian born trumpet ace (and charter member of Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers) not to mention Art Topilow, the eminent oncologist who moonlights as a concert pianist.
Up on the deck that doubled as an impromptu stage, SNL vet Joe Piscopo entertained the crowd with his signature Sinatra stylings (an act he’ll reprise at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club when he appears with Mooch and the 10-piece Red Bank Jazz Orchestra on October 23).
But the biggest impression of the afternoon was probably reserved for the event’s featured “house” band, a sextet of teenaged in some cases even tweenaged student jazz musicians that boasted the chops of next-generation trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr. It was an unexpected surprise that served as a keynote to (and a perfect lead-in for) an equally surprising announcement.
Trumpet legend Valery Ponomarev and Jazz Arts Project’s Joe Muccioli are front and center, with a roomful of students at one of this year’s Summer Jazz Workshop events.
As party guests learned firsthand, the Jazz Arts organization headed by exec director Andy Praskai has entered into a new partnership endeavor with the Count Basie Theatre a music education program (operated in cahoots with Yvonne Lamb Scudiery and the Count’s Performing Arts Academy, and made possible in part with the support of the Monmouth County Arts Council) that’s “designed to enrich the study and performance of Jazz for teenage music students.”
The 12-week program for which auditions were held at the Count’s crib on October 3 and 4 kicks off this Sunday, October 10 with the first of the two-hour sessions that continue through Monday, December 13. And, even though the group auditions have come and gone, Muccioli stresses that the program is still very much open to interested applicants.
“We’re still taking on new students for the semester all instruments; anyone who’s interested in learning to play jazz,” says Mooch, who notes that one of the participating instructors (Bruce Williams) is himself a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra.
This isn’t the first time that Muccioli and the Jazz Arts org have teamed up with the people at the venerable venue named after the immortal Kid From Red Bank. Mooch and Basie CEO Numa Saisselin have made the annual Sinatra Birthday Bash into the most eagerly anticipated December event that doesn’t come with jinglebells attached and the springtime Talkin’ Jazz presentations are a great use of the theatre’s street-level Carlton Lounge. Summertime finds the Project invading the Two River Theater for a Jazz Cafe series that remains a cool and captivating best-kept-secret of local life.
Summer is also the time of year when the Jazz Arts Project (and assorted guest performers) host a slate of Jazz Workshops that have proven a popular draw for serious young explorers of the sound that’s been branded “America’s classical music.” It’s the success of those sessions in Red Bank and Asbury Park that’s provided the spark (and a number of referrals) for the new classes, a jazzy complement of sorts to the Basie-partnered Rockit! for Kids program.
“I consider this to be a pilot program of sorts,” says Muccioli, emphasizing that students will get in a full 10 weeks of classes over the course of the semester. “We’ll be starting in earnest in January we want the kids to know about us, and we’re definitely going to be spreading the word.”
Details on Jazz Arts Academy registration, tuition and scheduling can be accessed right here. Maestro Mooch would like as well to invite all participants and prospective applicants to an Open House Jam Session, commencing at approximately 7:30p inside the Basie space on Sunday, October 10.