Warren VacheTrumpeter Warren Vaché sounds the keynote for a new series of Summer Jazz Cafe events at Two River Theater this weekend. Keith Marks, below parks it at Riverside Gardens for the first in A slate of free outdoor jazz concerts Thursday night.  

Keith MarksAlthough it keeps a year-round beat that includes December’s annual Sinatra Birthday Bash, the spring series of Talkin’ Jazz lectures and the ongoing sessions of the Jazz Arts Academy, summertime means the livin’ is also busy for the Jazz Arts Project, the nonprofit arts organization based here in Red Bank, the borough that gave the world Count Basie (to say nothing of the late and legendary Johnny Jazz).

It’s a flurry of activity that really hits home in this first full week of July, as Jazz Arts and artistic director Joe “Mooche” Muccioli introduce a new schedule for a seasonal signifier — the celebrated Summer Jazz Café at Two River Theater — along with the return of a relatively recent warm-weather diversion: the free series of Jazz in the Park concerts at Riverside Gardens Park.

Champian+in+the+MirrorChampian Fulton returns to town for a two-night stand at the Two River Theater later this month. (Click to enlarge.)

This is the second year that Mooche and company have programmed the long-running outdoor music offerings, sponsored by Red Bank Parks and Recreation and hosted on Thursday evenings in July and August. Kicking off at 7:30 p.m., the open-air shows continue to offer the superior sight lines, sloping-lawn seating, and Navesink River sunset panoramas they’ve long been noted for — while 2016 adds the newly opened Gracie and the Dudes Organic Ice Cream at the West Front Street park’s snack bar.

Jazz flautist Keith Marks brings his “Foreign Funk” grooves to the Gardens for several sets during the series’ inaugural installment on Thursday evening. He’s followed on July 14 by a Jersey Shore favorite, the versatile vocalist Layonne Holmes, here fronting the New Standard showband in an expert channeling of Billie Holiday and other legendary ladies of jazz. July 21 brings the music of Haitian-American vocalist and composer Pauline Jean to Red Bank for the first time, while Jersey-bred saxmaster Bruce Williams — a veteran music educator and mentor to scores of groovy grads in the Jazz Arts Academy program — returns with his Quartet on July 28.

The series continues into the dog-day nights of August with the superheated Brazilian-flavored sounds of Claudio Roditi and his band on August 4) Brooklyn-based trumpeter Eddie Allen and his quintet make their local debut on August 11, while guitarist Bob DeVos is joined by Hammond B-3 flying ace Dan Kostelnik on August 18.

The 2016 Jazz in the Park schedule wraps on August 25 with the Latin Jazz Explosion big band, led by pianist Oscar Perez. Check the Red Bank Parks and Recreation Facebook page or call (732) 530-2782 for schedule updates and weather-related inquiries.


Meanwhile over on Bridge Avenue, the Shore’s “best kept secret” nightspot makes its yearly re-appearance this Friday and Saturday inside the Marion Huber “black box” performance space at Two River. And, while you don’t necessarily have to tell them “Joe sent me” at the door of the Summer Jazz Café, there’s an undeniable “in-crowd” vibe to these talent-packed sessions that transform the Bridge Avenue building’s into a BYOB setting for sophisticated sounds, subdued lighting, and a sublime selection of desserts. Throw in free off-street parking in the theater lot, and you’ve got an apres-dinner (or ante-barhopping) option that’s sure to class up any night on the town.

Jersey’s own trumpet virtuoso Warren Vaché sounds the keynote for the café’s four-weekend residency at 8 p.m. on July 8 and 9, while the following weekend, July 15 and 16, brings an opportunity to experience Brazilian trumpet/flugelhorn master Claudio Roditi in an altogether different setting than his aforementioned August 4 excursion in the park.

Pianist-chanteuse Champian Fulton, a young artist who’s become a perennial favorite of Red Bank area jazz buffs, returns to town with her combo on July 22 and 23, while the café calls closing time on July 29 and 30 with the expert assistance of Grammy nominated trombonist Conrad Herwig and his Afro-Caribbean/post-bop sonic sojourns.

As has become customary, that final Saturday night of the series also plays host to a showcase set by the students of the Jazz Arts Academy, a program operated in partnership with the Count Basie Theatre. The young musicians join Herwig for a “Legends and Lions” evening that shines a spotlight on the next generation of cats, even as it wraps the summer-season slate in grand style.

Take it here for tickets ($25) or further information on upcoming events in the Summer Jazz Café series — then go here for details on the Jazz Arts Academy’s Summer Camp Week (July 25-29), during which players aged 13 to 19 can learn from and collaborate with Jazz Arts faculty members and visiting guest artists — as well as for info on a new menu of workshops that are open to ages from 14 on up to the most grizzled of cats.