RED BANK: KEEPING BOBFEST FRESH

Shore troubador Pat Guadagno returns to the Count Basie Theatre Thursday for the 2013 edition of the Bob Dylan birthday bash known as BOBFEST. (photo by John Posada)

By TOM CHESEK

Like the grandest and most history-steeped Chuck E. Cheese on the planet, the Count Basie Theatre has been the setting for some special birthday parties across the years — including crowdpleasing annual tributes to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Beginning in May 2012, the Basie boards have also played host to a homegrown event that honors a decidedly still-alive-and-kicking music icon: Bobfest, a salute to Bob Dylan‘s birthday created by and starring Monmouth County’s own Pat Guadagno.

It’s a logical progression for the springtime tradition that began life in 1999 as an impromptu birthday-boy toast to Dylan at the old Downtown Cafe — and evolved from a loose jam at various local taverns to a tightly constructed stage extravaganza that spent six years in residence at the Two River Theater.

Having attracted international attention from diehard Dylanites — and having outgrown the 350 seats of Two River’s mainstage Rechnitz Theater  — Guadagno moved Bobfest a couple of blocks east to the Count’s place last year. This Thursday night — on the eve of the 72nd birthday of the former Robert Zimmerman — the self-described “saloon singer” of 1,001 tap rooms and watering holes returns to Red Bank with his allstar combo Tired Horse, for the 15th edition of a project that he characterizes as “not a tribute — a celebration, and a really polished show.”

Read More »

TURNING HEADS, WITH THE TOWN AS CANVAS

Shay Guiod prepared to hang one of  Dumitru Gorzo’s paintings at the Two River Theater on Sunday, above, having installed another at Space Interiors on White Street, below.

By TOM CHESEK

The opening of an exclusive major exhibition of paintings by an internationally acclaimed artist would be a feather in the cap of any town — and an absolute must for a cranny of culture that was ranked third on Smithsonian Magazine’s list of the 20 Best Small Towns in America.

A feather goes to Red Bank, then, for landing HEADS, an ongoing, open-air (and in-your-face) “observation of the individual spirit” that takes to the borough’s exterior walls from these dog-star days of August to the harvest-moon evenings of early autumn.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »

RUMSON WOMAN TO FOCUS BASIE ON FUNDING

Justine Robertson, who revived a family-owned theater in her native Hartford, Connecticut, is the new interim CEO of the newly restructured Basie. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Elbowing aside its CEO of the past decade, the board of the Count Basie Theatre has decided to merge the operation of the Red Bank stage with the theater’s fundraising counterpart, and has hired a Rumson woman to run the restructured entity on an interim basis, the theater announced Thursday.

Justine Robertson, a 27-year Rumson resident, replaces Numa Saisselin, who was widely credited for having steered the Monmouth Street theater from leaky-roofed money pit to a refurbished and financially stable cultural gem.

Saisselin, a onetime stagehand who colleagues say is more comfortable directing a load-in and negotiating band contracts than schmoozing potential donors, assumes the title of chief operating officer of the not-for-profit enterprise, answering to Robertson, who starts work on Monday.

With its choice, the theater signaled a shift in emphasis the nuts-and-bolts booking acts and theater upkeep to winning contributions from deep-pocketed individuals, Robertson said in an interview with redbankgreen.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

RUBBER STAMP NO. 2: BASIE AL FRESCO

basie-plansCount Basie Theatre’s Executive Director Numa Saisselin at Monday night’s planning board meeting. Below, a rendering of the patio addition. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

basie-patioThe Count Basie Theatre‘s latest installment in a multi-year, multi-million dollar enhancement got the green light from Red Bank’s planning board Monday night.

Pending the acquisition of two lots previously on loan from theater pals Friends of The Basie, the landmark venue will pour concrete on a vacant swath of dirt and gravel to create an open-air mingling area for shows, plus parking spots for tour buses, freeing up coveted street space for guests.

Read More »

BASIE PLANS OUTDOOR TERRACE & BAR

basie-patio1A mapped aerial view of the area the Count Basie Theatre is proposing to build an outdoor patio. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

basie-patio21

Bumping up against an informal deadline in an informal agreement with “friends,” the Count Basie Theatre is ready to make a move on a vacant lot next door.

The theater has submitted plans to the planning and zoning office at Red Bank Borough Hall, on the opposite side of Monmouth Street, to build an outdoor patio area on some 29,000-square-feet of space between the theater and abutting Buona Sera.

Basie executives will present the plan to the planning board next week to seek approval for a number of variances to get the L-shaped space clear for construction.

If approved, the patio will add yet another amenity to an ever-growing list of improvements at the historic theater, Basie CEO Numa Saisselin tells redbankgreen.

“It would make the building a lot better to use if there was a bigger meeting area,” Saisselin said.

Read More »

BASIE PUTS MARQUEE MAN’S NAME IN LIGHTS

basie-marquee1The Basie is giving an electronic shout-out to Roy McCurdy now that it’s completed the marquee. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Roy McCurdy spent 19 years taking an extended pole outside the Count Basie Theatre to change the names on the theater marquee. And he’s proud to say he did it with few misspellings.

“‘Engelbert Humperdinck‘— try spelling that without it written down letter by letter for you,” McCurdy said. “That’s a difficult one.”

When theater fired up a new digital marquee this week, so ended McCurdy’s days in front of it. But for the moment, he’s on it.

Read More »