Harmonica/vibes virtuoso Hendrik Muerkens (right, with vocalist Angelita Li) joins his Samba Jazz East combo to inaugurate a new series of Summer Jazz Café events Friday and Saturday at Two River Theater.
“We’ve curated this summer series for more than a decade now,” says Joe Muccioli, noted conductor/arranger, impresario and artistic director of Red Bank-based Jazz Arts Project. “Each night is truly a unique experience, paying homage to a bygone era of swinging, yet elegant café society.”
Whether he’s auditioning hopefuls for the annual Sinatra Birthday Bash at the Basie; kicking it old-school scholarly via his Talkin’ Jazz lectures; working with the student cats and kittens of the Jazz Arts Academy, or programming the summertime Jazz in the Park series at Riverside Gardens, the man called “Mooche” is one passionately productive guy — but perhaps his greatest passion is reserved for Summer Jazz Café, the annual slate of intimate weekend occurrences that return to the borough of Basie this Friday and Saturday.
Hosted once again at Two River Theater, the monthlong series transforms the Bridge Avenue building’s “black box” Marion Huber performance space into a “best kept secret” nightspot boasting sophisticated sounds, subdued lighting, and a sublime selection of desserts. Bring Your Own Bottle — plus throw in free off-street parking in the theater lot — and you’ve got an eminently affordable apres-dinner (or ante-barhopping) option that’s sure to class up any night on the town.
In keeping with the adventurously international spirit of the series, the inaugural weekend of the 2017 schedule marks the Red Bank debut of Hendrik Meurkens, the vibraphone virtuoso who’s resonated equally as a composer and harmonica player. The bandleader brings his five-piece Samba Jazz East project (featuring vocalist Angelita Li) for several sets’ worth of Brazilian-flavored grooves that promise to conjure the best and beachiest of those cool 1960s recordings by Joao and Astrud Gilberto.
Another Red Bank debut occurs on the weekend of July 14 and 15, when “vocalese” virtuoso Paul Jost brings his celebrated scatting skills and Quartet to town. He’s followed on July 21 and 22 by a returning favorite — Aaron Weinstein, the jazz violin prodigy and “Bow-Tie Rights Activist” who’s earned the nickname “The Groucho of the Violin” for his humorous flair and his genuine facility as multi-instrumentalist and arranger.
The café calls closing time on July 28 and 29 with a special guest artist TBA — and, 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, the program operated in partnership with the Count Basie Theatre. The young musicians join veteran saxman and Jazz Arts instructor Bruce Williams 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 ($28) or updated information on upcoming events in the Summer Jazz Café series. All proceeds from this series help support Jazz Arts Project’s head-start style music instruction and enrichment programs for at-risk and underserved youth.