By TOM CHESEK
Whoever coined the phrase “Le Jazz Hot” might well have been thinking of the muddy, muggy banks of the Navesink in the months of July and August, as the borough that birthed Count Basie tends to fill its superheated summer days and trez-cool nights with the sorts of sounds that honor the legacy of the legendary Kid from Red Bank.
The musical fireworks start Thursday, when the waterfront walkways of Riverside Gardens reverb with the first of this year’s open-air Jazz in the Park junkets. Then, on Friday and Saturday, the Marion Huber room at Two River Theater is transformed once more into a cool cavern of candlelit tables, classic coffeehouse vibes and close-up concert dynamics when the series known as Summer Jazz Café turns that “black box” space into the area’s best-kept-secret nightspot.
As conductor-impressario Joe “Mooche” Muccioli explains, the Jazz Cafe is not some impossibly exclusive and expensive speakeasy, but an all-welcome environment where audiences can enjoy “national acts people at the top of their game, whove played major festivals and clubs all over the world in a relaxed setting that emphasizes the music over the Mojito specials and Mets games.
The artistic director of the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project an internationally renowned scholar, arranger and conductor who’s led the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra through some memorable concert programs says “it’s a great night out for anyone, from older couples who don’t want to trek all the way to the city, to young people who are feeling adventurous, who are looking for a new and different way to start the evening off.”
The four-weekend schedule begins this Friday and continues Saturday with a player familiar as a longtime member of the Saturday Night Live band trombonist and seashellist(?) Steve Turre, whose formidable session credits (Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Van Morrison, Tito Puente) don’t stand in the way of his innovative style. Master of a “miscellaneous instrument” that’s so old-school it’s downright caveman, he arrives with a wondrous collection of seashells for specialty solos.
A frequent guest performer at Jazz Arts events in Red Bank, pianist-chanteuse Champian Fulton brings her quartet to Bridge Avenue on July 19 and 20, in advance of a European tour. Patrons of the Summer Jazz Cafe get a ringside seat to a battle royal on July 26 and 27, as the Two River space hosts a “Dueling Keys Quartet” event that squares off a pair of nationally noted heavyweights Chicago pianist Brandon McCune at a 9-foot Steinway Grand (“since we got it, I wanna use it,” says Mooche), and Philly’s Kyle Koehler carrying on the tradition of Jimmy Smith and other electric organ greats. The quartet is completed by “referee” drummer Cecil Brooks III, and “cornerman” guitarist Matt Chertkoff.
The series jams on into August and wraps things up in now-traditional “Jazz legends and Lions” style when saxman Bruce Williams is joined by a player Muccioli characterizes as “a major get:” Buster Williams. The bassist-bandleader, who’s performed with the likes of Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson and Sonny Rollins, teams up with his “no relation” co-headliner on August 2 and 3, atop a program that’s keynoted by a special showcase set starring the students of the Jazz Arts Academy Summer Camp.
“It’s going to be very cool for the kids to work with Buster,” Muccioli says of the accomplished group of young players under academy faculty member Bruce Williams’ direction.
Adult tickets for all 8 pm events in the series are $22, with a choice of four events available for $75, and student admission is $10; reserve right here.
There’s additional jazzy doings going down around the Borough of Basie in July and August. This Thursday, July 11, 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 Riverside Gardens Park for a seven-week round of lawnside seating, seductive sounds and complimentary Navesink River sunsets.
The music kicks off at 7:30 pm with a multi-generational favorite kindie-rocker “Miss Sherri” Ehrlich of Honey Pie Music fame here returning to the riverfront stage with her music-for-grownups project known as Sherri Pie.
A Gardens perennial makes an encore appearance, when drummer Don Carter brings his combo to town on July 18 and it’s followed by the series debut of the Darwin B. Oden Quartet (featuring vocalist Barbara Sharpe) on July 25.
Rockier, rhythmically bluesier sounds take center stage with consecutive appearances by the Big Man’s son Nick Clemons and his Band (August 1) and Red Bank’s unofficial musical mayor, Chuck Lambert (August 8).
The evening of August 15 will spotlight the popular showband Funktion 11, and the series is scheduled to wrap on August 22 with another returnee, trumpeter David Cedeño and his 13 piece Latin Jazz infused Orchestra.
But wait, there’s more, including Red Bank Rivercenter‘s ongoing Saturday slate of Red Bank StreetLife showcases, a 6-9 pm schedule that continues through August 31 and features Jersey jazz artists within a merry shuffle-mix of rock, folk and variety acts.
Last but not least, the Friday nights of August 9, 16 and 23 see the debut of a new West Side Jazz Nights series of free concerts, at the Westside Park pocket on the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Scheduled acts haven’t been announced as of this posting, but details can be had by inquiring here.