A MONTH OF ‘LE JAZZ HOT’ ON THE GREEN

Trumpeter Claudio Roditi sounds a keynote to a month of jazzy happenings in and around Red Bank, with a Weekend in Brazil that kicks off the Summer Jazz Cafe series at Two River Theater.

Red Bankers generally don’t need any reminders that theirs is the borough that birthed the great William ‘Count’ Basie. Still, a recent return visit by Grammy-winning retro pop-jazz harmonizers The Manhattan Transfer served to demonstrate the degree of respect that the hometown of the legendary “Kid from Red Bank” inspires from coast to coast, as LA-based Tim Hauser and company (who actually recorded some sessions with the late great bandleader for their 1985 album Vocalese) shared a set-within-a-set of Basie-related numbers as a special treat for the Count Basie Theatre audience.

As the calendar strikes July, the greater Red Bank green’s reputation as a musical mecca for sophisticated cats and kittens begins to warm up in earnest, with the superheated days and trez-cool nights of the post-Fourth interlude offering up an unparalleled number of opportunities to take in various things jazzy.

It all clicks in this weekend, with the first in the annual Summer Jazz Café series at Two River Theater — a nocturnal excursion complemented by a day-trip whistle stop at the Middletown Jazz & Blues Festival. Then on Thursday the 12th, the waterfront walkways and sculpted terraces of Riverside Gardens reverb with the first in the open-air 2012 Jazz in the Park outings.

Saxman Dan Wilentsky is among the featured talents at Saturday’s Middletown Jazz & Blues Fest, while funky flutist Keith Marks returns to Riverside Gardens on July 12 for the inaugural Jazz in the Park concert of 2012. 

Hey, remember that Seinfeld episode where George gains entry to a world of ultra-exclusive supermodel nightspots by, well, lying? And when his little scam inevitably collapses, that way-cool club-without-a-name has apparently vanished without a trace? Well, it’s kind of like that, except you needn’t fib to get in — although if you wait too long, you’ll be left out in the dark, double-checking that address scribbled on a matchbook.

We’re talking of course about the Summer Jazz Café, the annual series of swinging sets hosted in the Marion Huber performance space at Two River Theater. Presented by the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project and artistic director/ jazz impresario Joe “Mooche” Muccioli, the Friday and Saturday sessions transform the “black box” into an environment that boasts big-city tableside seating, subdued lighting, great coffee and desserts, and some top-shelf talent hand-picked from Mooche’s formidable “little black book” of A-list friends.

The four-weekend schedule begins this Friday, July 6, with the first of two “Weekend in Brazil” programs featuring percussionist Mauricio Zottarelli and his Trio. Bossanova-bop trumpeter Claudio Roditi returns to Red Bank for the occasion, with sultry singer Fabiana Masili fronting the band on Saturday, July 7. Newark-born jazz chanteuse Cynthia Holiday brings her blues-infused songbook stylings to the Jazz Café on the weekend of July 13 and 14.

Mooche and company line up a special generations-spanning treat for jazz buffs on July 27 and 28, when the legendary seven-string guitar patriarch Bucky Pizzarelli comes back to Red Bank, paired this time with another returning crowdpleaser from Jazz Cafés past — twentysomething “jazz violinist, mandolinist, arranger, and bow-tie rights activist” Aaron Weinstein — as well as with longtime Pizzarelli collaborator, guitarist-vocalist Ed Laub. The series extends its vibe into August (and wraps things up with “a cherry on top”) with a Jazz Arts Project regular — saxman Bruce Williams, who leads an allstar group of “Jazz Legends and Lions” on August 3 and 4, preceded by a special showcase set starring the students of the Jazz Arts Academy Summer Camp — an accomplished group of young players who’ve worked closely with Williams in his role as an Academy faculty member and workshop clinician.

Adult tickets for all 8 pm events in the series are $22 (with a choice of four events available for $75) with a $3 box office fee, and can be reserved right here.

The Tri City Jazz trio is back on the street this July, as part of the strolling sonic smorgasbord known as Red Bank Street Life. Look for them outside of Temple Gourmet Chinese on July 21, and at the “White Street Bumpout” on August 25. 

Talk about Le Jazz Hot: when the first annual Middletown Jazz & Blues Festival set up shop at the Middletown Arts and Cultural Center last July, it did so on the most torrid afternoon of 2011 — a potential vibe-killer that nonetheless failed to thwart the enthusiasm of event producer Dennis Eschbach and his all-volunteer crew for doing it all over again this Saturday, July 7. The first in the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation‘s three-part series of daylong events for summer 2012 — followed by fests in Point Pleasant (July 21) and Long Branch (August 25) — the M-town affair keynotes the successor series to the JSJBF’s weekend-long blowouts that occupied Red Bank’s Marine Park through June of 2009.

As free of charge as it is easy to get to — the site is literally steps from the NJ Transit train platform at station stop Middletown, itself literally seconds from station stop Red Bank — Saturday’s sunlit soiree kicks off at noon with a plein-air appearance by saxophonist, keyboardist, composer and music educator Dan Wilensky — a man whose eclectically cool mastery of technique has allowed him to play alongside everybody from Joan Baez, Cab Calloway and James Brown to David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Debbie Harry. He’s followed on the bill by the Red Bank Blues Band (1:20 pm), The Gordon James Band (2:35 pm), Dean Shot (3:50 pm), and cowboy-hatted Red Bank evergreen Stormin’ Norman Seldin (5:10 pm). Another borough perennial, Sonny Kenn, headlines at 6:30 pm in front of an Upstage Jam Band that features such Asbury aces as Ricky DeSarno and Vini Lopez. There’s much more under the midsummer sun, including a beer and wine garden, food vendors, family-friendly activities and a special 3 pm indoor concert for the young’uns starring local “kindie rocker” Miss Sherri.

On Thursday, July 12, Jazz in the Park reclaims its bragging rights as one of the longest running outdoor music offerings in Monmouth County, when the annual series returns to the pleasing setting of Riverside Gardens Park for a six-week round of lawnside seating, seductive sounds and complimentary Navesink River sunsets. The music kicks off at 7 pm with an encore appearance by jazz flautist Keith Marks and his combo, followed on July 19 by the aforementioned Miss Sherri — here exploring her music-for-grownups project known as Sherri Pie.

Another returning favorite, Little Silver jazz chanteuse Hollie Baines, headlines on July 26 — followed on August 2 by an act making its Riverside debut, trumpeter David Cedeño and his Latin Jazz infused Orchestra. The evening of August 9 will star an act to be announced at a later date, and the series is scheduled to wrap on August 16 with the much-anticipated annual appearance by zydeco partystarters The VooDudes (August 23 and 30 have been reserved as rain dates for any of the featured acts).

There’s even more jazzy stuff going down around the Borough of Basie in July, including Red Bank Rivercenter‘s ongoing Saturday slate of Red Bank Street Life showcases; a 6-9 pm schedule that includes among its variety menu the nu-jazz guitar experiments of Phred Morris on July 7 (in front of Bienvenue); the Al Wright Unit — that cool combo whose elegant drummer/leader and vocalist wife Ruth Wright are both veterans of the cosmic big-band Sun Ra Arkestra — on July 14 (at the front courtyard of The Dublin House), and the return of Tricity Jazz on July 21 (in front of Temple Gourmet Chinese).