GETTING JAZZY FOR JOHNNY JAZZ


Red Bank’s jazz royalty gathered in an unassuming pocket park at Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard Friday night as the Al Wright Unit, above, the Chuck Lambert Band and other acts performed for a packed-in crowd of about 100.

The occasion: the third and final of the summer in the Count Basie 365 Cultural Series organized by the borough parks and rec department. The show was a tribute to the late grocer and jazz enthusiast Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta(Photo by Stacie Fanelli. Click to enlarge.)

EXIT STAGE LEFT FOR BASIE EX-CEO

Numa Saisselin at the Basie in 2011. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Numa Saisselin, a former stagehand who led the Count Basie Theatre back to fiscal health after decades of mismanagement and physical decay, only to be nudged out of his job last month, is leaving the Red Bank venue, he announced Tuesday.

Saisselin will become president of the Florida Theatre, a 1,900-seat circa 1927 stage in Jacksonville, Florida, he told friends in an email.

With what he called “very mixed emotions,” Saisselin wrote that “although the opportunity to work in a bigger venue in a bigger market was irresistible, it will still be hard to leave the Basie after 10-1/2 years of great work with so many of you.”

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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.

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HELP FOR THE HUNGRY, VETS AND ATHLETES

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TUESDAY: “Family Night Out” to benefit Lunch Break
By dining at any one of 11 participating restaurants on June 12, Red Bank area residents can help take a bite out of hunger. A portion (or bite) of the proceeds from each lunch or dinner will be donated directly to Lunch Break, an organization dedicated to helping community members in need. Mention Lunch Break during the meal and receive complimentary tickets to see “JAWS” at the Count Basie Theater that night at 7 p.m.

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AT THE BASIE: A MULTITUDE OF VOICES

nancyscharff-493x319Middletown’s Nancy Scharff — and a heavenly host of helpers — present their annual celebration of Christmas in words and music Friday at the Count Basie Theatre.

As the founder of Nancy Scharff Ministries, Middletown-based Christian music artist Nancy Scharff is a globe-trotting singer-songwriter, choirmaster, music educator, producer, conductor, facilitator and a shepherdess tending her flock — so there’s no question she can be a one-woman show when the situation warrants.

But when the curtain goes up on the Count Basie stage this Friday night, December 16, the celebration entitled Nancy Scharff: Christmas — The Gift of Love teams the diminutive dynamo with an orchestra of 16 players, a six-piece contemporary Christian pop band, an ecumenical choir (featuring, in past performances, some 65 voices), an all-star gospel ensemble, a children’s choir that’s numbered as many as 80 kids — plus “Three Tenors” tenoring, and some two dozen bell choir ringers ringing.

Do the math and it tallies up to nearly 200 performers — a total that doesn’t even take into consideration the expected opportunities for the audience to get into the act.

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SWINGING INTO SINATRA AT A BASIE BASH

Joe Muccioli (left) conducts the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in the fifth annual Sinatra Birthday Bash event, Friday night at Basie’s place — an occasion that also marks the release of the RBJO’s first CD, below.

By TOM CHESEK

rbjo-cd-coverPerhaps the smartest thing that Frank Sinatra ever did in his 82 years on “Frank’s world” was to come out swingin’ into the month of December — a cold and sometimes cruel month of holiday pressures and pleasures, to be sure, but also a season of giving in which a new commemorative box set or tribute arrives swaddled in gift wrap at each anniversary of the Chairman of the Board’s birth.

At the Count Basie Theatre — that regional headquarters for everything from Scrooge and the Nutcracker to the Messiah and various jinglebell rockers — there’s one seasonal signifier that trades the Santa hat for a sportily cocked fedora, and it’s a little local tradition called the Sinatra Birthday Bash.

The brainchild of the Red Bank-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project and its artistic director — globetrotting arranger-conductor and jazz scholar Joe Muccioli — the annual concert event brings together a marvelous mix of voices with the 17-piece Red Bank Jazz Orchestra, an organization of sought-after session aces hand-picked and conducted by the maestro named “Mooche.” Best of all, they get to do their thing on the famous stage of the place named for one of Sinatra’s favorite partners in swing, William “Count” Basie.

This Friday night, December 9, Muccioli and company celebrate the 96th birthday of “Old Blue Eyes” in a fifth annual Bash program that also marks a milestone for the RBJO — the release of the acclaimed orchestra’s first commercial recording.

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WOMAN BURNED IN RED BANK FIRE DIES

rudrow-10209Phyllis Rudrow at the October, 2009 dedication of a bust of her cousin, Count Basie, flanked by benefactors Ray Brennan, left, and Dr. Gene Cheslock, right. Her home after the fire, below. (Click to enlarge)

rudrow-houseA woman rescued from a fire at her Red Bank home on Sunday has died of her injuries, Mayor Pasquale Menna tells redbankgreen.

Phyllis Rudrow, 64, died Wednesday afternoon at the Burn Center at St. Barnabas in Livingston, he said.

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BASIE COUSIN INJURED IN RED BANK FIRE

firePhyllis Rudrow, seen with Dr. Eugene Cheslock below at the 2009 dedication of a bust of her cousin, Count Basie, suffered burns in a blaze that heavily damaged her home. (Photo above courtesy of John Tyler. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

rudrowA cousin of the late William ‘Count’ Basie suffered serious burns in a fire at her Red Bank home late Sunday afternoon.

Phyllis Rudrow, 64, was transported to Jersey Shore Medical Center with second- and third-degree burns that were not believed to be life-threatening, police Captain Darren McConnell told redbankgreen on the scene, at 183 Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

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LOVE IT: BEACH BOYS DO IT AGAIN AT BASIE

imageThe 2011 touring edition of the Beach Boys — with John Cowsill at far left, plus Bruce Johnston and Mike Love front and center — returns (minus John Stamos) to Red Bank on August 23.

By TOM CHESEK

It’s been a long time, longer than the days prior to the passing of Dennis and Carl Wilson, since the original members of The Beach Boys shared a ride – or the same side of the conference table at a lawyer’s office.

The American institution that’s fast approaching its golden anniversary in show business split into two factions around the time of the landmark Pet Sounds sessions in 1966 — the studio-bound residency of Brian Wilson and the hard-touring, crowdpleasing roadshow skippered by Mike Love. And despite intermittent attempts at reconciling for albums and tours, the dichotomy abides to this day in the more or less separate-but-equal live shows fronted by the first cousins turned frenemies.

When the 2011 touring edition of the Beach Boys rolls into the Count Basie Theatre for a late-summer’s indoor concert on Tuesday, August 23, the core of Mike Love and Bruce Johnston (the successful singer/ songwriter/ producer whose 45-year history with the band hasn’t stopped him from being “the New Guy”) returns to the scene of some well-received sets of recent years — as well as memorable nights featuring Brian and his band The Wondermints. The two senior Boys will preside over a pretty awesome cavalcade of canonical hits delivered by a crack team of craftsmen that includes veteran John Cowsill (from the bands that gave us both “867-5309 JENNY” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things”) — although the on-again, off-again stuntcasting of TV star John Stamos as drummer/ vocalist appears not to be in the cards for the Count’s crib.

The story of the Beach Boys is a way-stranger-than-fiction saga that takes in madness, child abuse, mind control, Charles Manson, multi-generational laboratory-level drug use, untimely death and tons of litigation. The story of America, in other words; all set to a soundtrack of the most achingly gorgeous “teenage symphonies” ever devised in a crossfire of inspiration and aspiration.

redbankgreen spoke to Mike Love — polarizing figure, energizing frontman, boosterizing flagwaver for environmental causes, transcendental meditation and not-so-gentle politics — from the Boys’ tour stop outside Philadelphia; turn the record over for more.

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THE COUNT NEEDS A CUT

basie-bust21Attention jazz and history lovers who hate weeds: volunteers are wanted to help clean up the area of the Red Bank train station that’s home to a bust of borough native William ‘Count’ Basie. Councilman Ed Zipprich said the bust, dedicated less than two years ago, has become overgrown with weeds and brush, and plans a cleanup of the area in the near future. For info, call borough hall at 732.530.2740. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

JAZZ SERIES IS MORE THAN JUST TALK

talkinjazz1Alto ace Bruce Williams is tonight’s guest, and the legendary Louis Armstrong is next week’s topic, when the Talkin’ Jazz series returns to the Count Basie’s Carlton Lounge beginning tonight.

By TOM CHESEK

April is National Jazz Appreciation Month (it’s also National Garden Month, National Poetry Month, and National Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month, but those are stories for another time) — a fact made manifest here in the Basie-birthing borough by the Navesink.

Every April for the past four years, Red Bank’s globe-trotting jazz scholar, conductor, arranger and producer Joe Muccioli has teamed with his fellow founders of the Jazz Arts Project to host a quietly swingin’ soiree by the name of Talkin’ Jazz, a weekly Monday night series of intimate gatherings that serve to illuminate the human element, the sweet science and even the silly stuff behind what the Man Called Mooch has branded “America’s classical music.”

Presented inside the Carlton Lounge (that’s the cool and comfortable VIP room on the ground floor of the Count Basie Theatre), it’s a happening that’s blessedly free of tuxedo’d pretension, free of nightclub noise — and free of charge. While you’re under no obligation to knock on the door and tell ’em “Joe sent me,” you can do so if you’re feeling frisky and fancy free. And, best of all, you can head on over there this very evening, if you’re feeling jazzily spontaneous.

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‘DOG WHISPERER’ TRAINS HIS AUDIENCE WELL

cesar2Don’t tell Fido: The Dog Whisperer is back in town, as Cesar Millan returns to the Count Basie for February 25 event that’s strictly for humans only.

Not so very long ago it was an accepted, if unwritten, law of show business that said audiences seldom pay to see something “live” that they can get at home, for free, on the teevee.

Of course, that old showbiz playbook hit the shredder some time ago — right about the time that the Count Basie Theatre and other similarly sized venues discovered that TV stars — specifically, stars of realiTV — had become some of the most dependable draws on the entertainment circuit, regularly packing houses with relatively inexpensive, logistically uncomplicated presentations that were powered by the undeniable appeal of their newly minted celebrity centerpieces.

Within the past handful of months, the Basie stage has accommodated well-received shows starring a Cake Boss, a Real Housewife, a couple of Paranormal Staters and a No Reservations “bad boy of cuisine.” And on Friday, February 25, the Count’s crib welcomes back a personality who sold out the auditorium in his last Red Bank appearance: Cesar Millan, host of the National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer.

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CATCH OF THE DAY: BLUE TUNA, AT THE BASIE

Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady anchor Hot Tuna Blues, appearing with Charlie Musselwhite at the Count Basie tonight.

Their last time in town, they sold out the Count Basie Theatre for an electrified set that turned the Monmouth Street landmark into a covered-dish casserole of heated jamming. Previous trips Shoreside found them serving up a raw-as-sashimi acoustic tartare, laced with the wasabi wallop of hard-earned crossroads cred.

When Hot Tuna returns to Red Bank this evening, the (alba)core of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass ace Jack Casady will be plugged into the power grid for a configuration known as Hot Tuna Blues — and they’ll be augmenting their star-kissed side project with some very special headliner-weight friends.

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IDINA MENZEL, MARVIN HAMLISCH AT BASIE

idinamenzelSuperstar stage and screen diva Idina Menzel returns to Red Bank Thursday with no less than Marvin Hamlisch at the podium as guest conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

By TOM CHESEK

Most actors, singers or combinations thereof would be very thankful to have latched on to even one genuinely fan-supercharged, multi-generational, cross-cultural pop phenomenon in their professional lifetimes. Idina Menzel has been a big part of three such phenoms — and the general consensus is that she’s only just begun.

When the recently minted stage superstar, who painted herself a minty green for her Tony-winning turn as Elphaba in Wicked, returns to the boards of the Count Basie Theatre Thursday night, she’ll be bringing it big-time for local Rentheads (she originated the role of Maureen in the modern musical smash), Gleeks (she’s co-starred in the recurring role of Shelby Corcoran on the hitmaking Fox TV series), and whatever it is that fans of Wicked call themselves these days (Elphicionados?).

The native Long Islander and hardworking mom (she and co-RENTer husband Taye Diggs have an infant son) will also be bringing along an extra special treat — Marvin Hamlisch, the EGOT winner (Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony, that is; not to mention two Golden Globes and one Pulitzer Prize) who’s scored about as many golden trophies as he has movies, TV specials and Broadway musicals. The maestro will be wielding the baton as guest conductor of the mighty New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for an 8p set of songs written or otherwise “owned” by the star singer, from stage/screen signatures to material from her 2008 CD I Stand.

The celebs desk at redbankgreen talked to Menzel on the eve of her east coast jaunt. A half-dozen or so Q’s and A’s follow.

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ROOM FOR ‘NATIVITY,’ AT THE COUNT’S CRIB

lorrainedarrellLorraine Stone is in the cast, and Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. directs, as BLACK NATIVITY comes to the Count Basie stage for the first time on December 30.

By TOM CHESEK

If you’ve been in (or anywhere near) the Count Basie Theatre recently, you probably noticed that the venerable venue is a house of traditions throughout the holiday season — a host harbor for Christmas concerts, New Year’s blasts, allstar benefits, Nutcrackers and Scrooges — all of them staples of local life.

Beginning Thursday, December 30, the Count’s crib opens its curtain for the first time on a homegrown edition of a stage tradition that’s become the centerpiece of community Christmas celebrations, from Boston to Seattle and lots of big-league towns between.

First produced on Broadway in 1961, Black Nativity combines the Gospel of St. Luke with the poetry of the late Langston Hughes and a set of folk spirituals and hymns for a theatrical experience that’s often custom-tailored to every town it appears in. It’s the kind of presentation in which the stage swells with local children; in which hometown preachers play a big part and the Three Wise Men are often cast from the ranks of neighborhood civic and business leaders.

For several seasons, the play staked a Shore area home at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre, in a production by producer-director Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. and his Dunbar Repertory Company. A Brookdale Community College faculty member and a participant on the Basie’s board, Willis has kept busy in recent years with such projects as the annual Juneteenth Urban Arts Festival in Long Branch and winter’s upcoming staging of A Raisin in the Sun at BCC.

The redbankgreen Drama Desk caught up with the director as he found “room at the inn” for a re-established Yuletide tradition, here in Red Bank.

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AT THE BASIE: THIS SPACE FOR ‘RENT’

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Billy Piscopo rehearses “La Vie Boheme” in the Phoenix Productions staging of RENT, opening this weekend at the Count Basie Theatre. (Photos courtesy of Phoenix Productions)

By TOM CHESEK

It’s a show that’s described by the director as iconic and beloved; one whose “fierce honesty” and “lack of artifice” has made it a genuine favorite of a whole generation of stage performers.

It won a Best Musical Tony and a Pulitzer Prize; ran for a dozen years on Broadway; has single-handedly been credited with reinventing the modern American musical — and has spawned a legion of followers who’ve been branded everything from “the most passionate” to “the most annoying” of fanbases.

When Rent comes to Red Bank this Friday night for its first-ever staging by the borough-based Phoenix Productions, one might think that it’d be a ready-made coup for the Count Basie Theatre‘s resident nonprofit theatrical troupe — a slam-dunk “Phoe-nomenon” with a built-in audience.

Instead, as Phoenix artistic director Tom Frascatore points out, it’s “not at all a safe bet for us. In fact, it’s a bit of a dice roll.”

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TRUCKS WILL ROLL AT BASIE BENEFIT

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Derek Trucks (left) and Susan Tedeschi bring their all-new big band to the Count Basie Theatre for a special fundraiser show Friday night. (Photo by Allison Murphy)

By TOM CHESEK

When Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi roll on in to the Count Basie Theatre this Friday for a show to benefit the facade facelift and other ongoing restoration projects at the Red Bank venue, it will be a family affair.

The husband-and-wife pair, who tend to collect Grammy nominations like other people collect utility bills, are  on the road in support of Truck’s appropriately named Roadsongs set, and they’ve put together a big new touring supergroup for the occasion — complete with entourage that includes their summer-vacationing kids, ages 5 and 8.

The family angle is standard operating procedure for Trucks, who at 31 is already a 20-plus years’ veteran of the major concert stage. Having served a very public apprenticeship in The Allman Brothers Band (where uncle Butch Trucks has steered that firetruck for 40 years), the prodigiously talented kid with the bottleneck slide technique of the old masters was a full-fledged member of one of the world’s most respected organizations by the age of twenty — and had already played on stage alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy.

Trucks will be bringing a full lifetime of musical experience and experimentation as carry-on luggage when he returns to the Basie stage; with no expectations other than a constantly surprising set that moves with ease from blues to rock to jazz (catch Tedeschi and Trucks here in their recent collaboration with Herbie Hancock) to traditional Indian music, a special passion.

Trucks and Tedeschi will be meeting VIP ticketholders at a pre-show reception in the Basie’s Carlton Lounge on Friday evening. In the meantime, we’ve got ten questions for Mr. Trucks, just ‘cross the road.

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AN EARTHLY RE-ENTRY FOR THE WRIGHT STUFF

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The Al Wright Unit — featuring vocalist Ruth Wright — brings both homegrown cred and a space-trekking sonic legacy back to the Red Bank Public Library on Thursday evening. (Photos courtesy of Red Bank Public Library)

By TOM CHESEK

“In New Jersey there’s a place with much to offer, much to proffer, called Red Bank” — from “Red Bank II,” lyrics by Al Wright

We first happened upon the Al Wright Unit some twenty years ago, back in the original Monmouth Street location of the old House of Coffee — and we found the chamber-jazz combo a flavorful way to chase a ‘ccino. There was Mr. Wright, cutting a dapper figure as the elegant suit-and-tie standup skinsman, with vocalist wife Ruth Wright bringing some classically cool phrasing to a set that spotlighted a healthy number of original compositions.

When the 21st- century edition of the Unit (Ruth, Al and keyboardist Greg Murphy) returns to the Red Bank Public Library tomorrow evening for the latest in a semiannual series of free performances, the drummer and bandleader will do more than pay customary tribute to the town where he’s lived his whole life. He’ll be tapping into a whole other, cosmically amazing legacy that many of his longtime neighbors might not be aware of.

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BASIE: THE SHOW MUST GO ON

steve-winwood_12658297866551Schools, businesses and government offices throughout the Red Bank region are closed, and even the New York Times sheepishly informed its subscribers not to expect today’s newspaper before tomorrow.

But the Steve Winwood show at the Count Basie Theatre is still on for tonight.

Huh?

That’s right: even with forecasts of severe weather” and warnings to motorists that they stay off the road, the show is going on. Or was, as of 2:45p.

“We have a policy that when the artist shows up, unless the artist cancels it, the show must go on,” says theater spokeswoman Diana St. John.

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FIVE YEARS LATE, BASIE BUST GETS PROPS

img_3409100209NAACP Red Bank chapter president Rev. Henry P. Davis leads a convocation prayer at the event. (Click to enlarge)

A bust of native son William ‘Count’ Basie stood, without any official public acknowledgment, inside the Red Bank train station for so long that Dr. Gene Cheslock, was growing frustrated.

The bronze bust had been commissioned by Cheslock and fellow Little Silver resident Ray Brennan to commemorate the 2004 centennial of the bandleader’s birth. But that milestone past without a ceremony coming together to formally unveil the likeness.

“I was going to mount a campaign: ‘Free the Count,'” Cheslock told redbankgreen with a laugh last Friday, when he finally got his wish.
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AT LAST: BUSTING OUT THE BASIE BUST

basie-bustA likeness of William ‘Count’ Basie has now been relocated from its temporary spot in the Red Bank train stationhouse to the plaza outside.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

James Joyce has his smack dab in the middle of Dublin. Cal Ripken Jr. has his in Baltimore. Even Frank Zappa has one in Lithuania. And come Friday, Count Basie will have his in Red Bank.

Tucked away inside Red Bank’s train station shelter for years, the bust of Red Bank’s native son, William “Count” Basie, one of jazz music’s greatest composers, has now been moved to a more prominent location outside the Monmouth Street train stop. Tomorrow, local officials and fans will hold a re-dedication ceremony for the bronze bust.

For the kid from Red Bank, it’s the very least the borough could do, says Gene Cheslock, who, along with Ray Brennan, purchased the bust back in 2004 to commemorate Basie’s one-hundredth birthday.

“It was lost inside, and not in a noticeable area. Now you can’t miss it,” Cheslock, line Brennan a Little Silver resident, with some serious roots in Red Bank, said. “It’s sort of like the completion of the circle.”

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IN oRBit: JASON’S NEW CLAYMATE

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Today’s edition of Red Bank oRBit spotlights a guy who’s got the ear of “titans of industry, Hollywood celebrities and leaders from around the world” — America’s Fourth Leading Motivational Speaker, Mr. Donny Clay.

donnyclaysmall

Actually, we couldn’t get the busy self-help guru to sit for a lengthy interview, so we did the next best thing — rang up his good friend Jason Alexander, the star of stage, screen, sitcom and stud (poker) who travels with Clay wherever he goes, including an appearance this Thursday at the Count Basie Theatre.

The actor who will forever be linked (by fan devotion as well as residual checks) to Seinfeld‘s George Costanza discusses the origins of the Donny Clay phenomenon on the corporate-seminar circuit — along with why the self-help set aren’t all phoneys, what he might have done for a living in an alternate reality, and what might have become of the characters from Seinfeld in the age of the life coach.

You can do it; you can click on that link and go to that place and let Donny Clay show you the way; here in Red Bank oRBit!