John Alden of Middletown (left) and Cara Smith of Rumson (right) pay tribute to the Chairman, as Red Bank’s Joe Muccioli (center) and the Jazz Arts Project present the fourth annual Sinatra Birthday Bash this Friday night.
By TOM CHESEK
It happens every December over at the Count Basie Theatre and, in a surprise twist, it has nothing whatsoever to do with red-cheeked nutcrackers, reformed misers and various rockings around the Christmas tree.
It’s the Sinatra Birthday Bash, the fourth annual edition of which goes up on Friday night in Red Bank. Produced by the borough-based Jazz Arts Project, the concert offers a chance to hear a variety of voices pay tribute to the iconic Chairman of the Board, who would have marked his 95th lap around the sun this Sunday. They’ll be saluting Ol’ Blue Eyes in song with the accompaniment of the 18 piece Red Bank Jazz Orchestra and they’ll be doing it on the stage of the venerable venue named for one of Sinatra’s favorite frequent collaborators, William “Count” Basie.
Maestro Mooch conducts the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in rehearsal for last year’s Sinatra Birthday Bash.
The famously skinny kid from Hoboken and the slightly more portly Kid From Red Bank were a couple of Jersey guys who sought their fortunes in places like New York, Kansas City, Hollywood, Vegas and the big world beyond but when their paths crossed every now and then, it left behind a legacy of sublimely swinging projects like Sinatra-Basie, It Might As Well Be Swing, and the hilariously swaggering Rat Pack artifact Sinatra at the Sands.
“We’re not just celebrating Sinatra here; we’re paying tribute to the arrangers, the songwriters, the musicians he worked with over the years,” says Red Bank guy Joe Muccioli, the globetrotting arranger-conductor and jazz scholar who serves as artistic director of the Jazz Arts nonprofit.
“See, what makes Sinatra Sinatra are the arrangements you know a Sinatra record the moment you hear it.”
For Friday’s 8p program, the man called Mooch will be leading his handpicked crew of sought-after session cats in a sonic smorgasbord of Sinatra signature songs (as well as an opening number from the Count’s catalog) a prospect that’s exciting those for whom a rare live appearance by the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra is a drop-everything event.
“The big, full orchestra is the real draw here,” the conductor observes. “The performers love to sing in front of it and the audience digs it for that old-school vibe.”
As befits a show that favors skill over mere celebrity, the fourteen featured vocalists on this year’s bill (eleven different acts, including a duo and a trio) are a diverse lot of seasoned pros and award-winning amateurs who are all at the top of their game, having been selected from among hundreds of auditioners. From there it’s intensive rehearsal with maestro Mooch, who writes charts and custom-tailors a set of Sinatra standards to each of the wide range of voices represented.
Among those voices in the 2010 program is 18-year-old Cara Smith of Rumson, a recent Red Bank Catholic grad (and a winner of the coveted Manasquan Inlet Idol championship), who’s already played Carnegie Hall and performed for the Pope at Yankee Stadium as a featured soloist with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. She’ll share the spotlight with another locally based talent, John Alden of Leonardo a singer, songwriter and DJ whose wife, Kelly, and daughter Olivia have also performed on the Basie stage (with Phoenix Productions and the Count Basie Performing Arts Academy, respectively).
Also on the roster are a pair of winners of Hoboken’s Frank Sinatra Idol competition 2007’s Peter Cafasso and current champion (as well as retired NYPD detective) David Arellano. Returning to the Birthday Bash is Maggie Worsdale of Jackson, with the bill further boasting the participation of Paul Bernhardt, Jerry Costanzo, Michael Di Maulo, Sophia Spector, the duo of Gayle Scott Hajian and Lou Moneta, and 1940s-flavored cabaret sisters The Manhattan Dolls.
“There’s a hell of a lot of talent out there,” adds Muccioli, who works with Basie CEO Numa Saisselin and his team to get the show into shape within a tight window each year.
“This show has definitely acquired its own momentum we tweak it all the time, and it gets bigger and better each time out.”
A portion of proceeds from Friday’s show will benefit the Education and Scholarship Fund of the Jazz Arts Academy, the recently inaugurated program (a partnership between Jazz Arts and the Count’s Performing Arts Academy, 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.” As a special segment of the evening, a combo of young musicians from the JAA will perform some instrumental selections onstage.
Details on the upcoming winter semester of the Jazz Arts Academy can be accessed right here and you can take it here for tickets ($25-$45) to Friday’s concert, with an optionial pre-show VIP reception at the theater’s street-level Carlton Lounge.