Conductor Joe “Mooche” Muccioli with the “freight train” that is the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, which takes to the Count Basie Theatre boards for the first in a new series of themed concert events Sunday.


Red Bank doesn’t have riverboat casino gambling. There’s no year-round Santa Claus Village no go-kart track. You’ll need to head way out of town to take a winery tour, or find a decent shad festival.

What the town does have is its very own Red Bank Jazz Orchestra — a 17-piece organization of “first call” cats that’s a source of some pride for the borough that birthed the great William “Count” Basie, and the envy of pretty much anyplace this side of Lincoln Center.

Conducted by Red Bank’s own Joe Muccioli — globe-trotting jazz scholar/arranger/bandleader, and artistic director of the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project — the RBJO is identified most closely with the Sinatra Birthday Bash, the annual event that commandeers the Count Basie Theatre for a tribute to the Chairman of the Board. The momentum generated by those Sinatra salutes over the course of the past six years (and the collective itch by the assembled players to do this more than once or twice a year) spurred the man they call “Mooche” to look into starting up a series of showcase concerts starring the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra — a slate of events that would team the RBJO with special guest performers, and spotlight great composers or classic musicians.

This Sunday afternoon, February 24, the first of two scheduled Jazz Orchestra events at the Basie gets underway, when intrepid trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins maestro Mooche and the gang for a happening that’s being called nothing less than “a soulful journey through jazz history.”

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (center) is joined by vocalist Layonne Holmes and “Godfather of Groove” Bernard Purdie as bandstand guests of the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in a special Sunday matinee concert at the Basie.

Getting underway at 4 p.m., the inaugural RBJO event is described by Muccioli as “touching on everything from the New Orleans tradition to modern jazz,” all part of a grand design to “present an orchestral sound in a jazz idiom.”

“Jazz is no longer necessarily viable as club music, outside of a handful of strong markets,” says the man who’s worked with everyone from the London Philharmonic to Joe Piscopo. “One of the things this series allows me to do is present honest, truthful, acoustic music in a great concert hall.”

Gordon, a veteran of the Wynton Marsalis Septet who’s cited by Muccioli as “a great musician, and a technical virtuoso on the trombone,” is known to fans of NPR’s All Things Considered for his arrangement of the venerable program’s theme — and his eclectic catalog of recordings (including last year’s Dreams of New Orleans) has led Mooche to find aspects of “classical, church music, and the blues” as flavorings in his playing.

Monmouth County jazz-blues chanteuse Layonne Holmes — known for her work with Tim McLoone, Bob Bandiera, Springsteen, Bon Jovi and more — joins the band for a special set of numbers that include the rarely performed Duke Ellington composition “Tell Me It’s the Truth,” from Ellington’s 1966 Sacred Concert. Returning to Red Bank to steer the caboose of the RBJO’s musical “freight train” will be the man they call the World’s Most Recorded Drummer, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie — a legendary session sticksman whose seemingly impossible resume encompasses everyone from Satchmo, Sinatra, Steely Dan and the Stones, to James Brown, Aretha Franklin, BB King and country hat Alan Jackson.

Next up for Mooche and company is a long-awaited April 14 “Gershwin Spectacular” that pays homage to the works of George Gershwin — as interpreted by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, whose monumental musical collaboration has been the subject of Muccioli’s scholarship and expertise. Grammy nominated trumpet ace Jon Faddis joins the RBJO for a program highlighted by the Davis-Evans take on Porgy & Bess, and the activities in and around the Basie continue during National Jazz Appreciation Month with the return of Muccioli’s Talkin’ Jazz discussion series.

Tickets ($25 – $55) for Sunday’s show with Wycliffe Gordon are available at the Basie’s online box office — and take it here to reserve tickets for the RBJO’s April 14 tribute to Gershwin and Miles Davis. Check in to the Jazz Arts Project website for updates on other programs and presentations. A full Q&A with Joe Muccioli appears here on Tom Chesek’s upperWETside blog.