Summer Series Returns to Red Bank for 2010

RED BANK, NJ - “JOE SENT ME…” We’ve all fantasized about those magic words that set us apart from the pack. The “Open Sesame” password that gains us access to the hippest spot in town —  that place with no sign over the door; where the sounds flow hot and cool, and those in the know go to dig a sophisticated vibe.

For five weekends this summer, that place exists — conveniently situated in the heart of Jersey, and just as conveniently removed from the static pulse of the same old club scene. It’s the Jazz Café, presented as part of Summer Jazz Fest 2010 by New Jersey’s own Jazz Arts Project — and hosted by a guy named Joe.

Joe, in this case, is Project artistic director Joe Muccioli — award winning conductor, arranger, scholar, and a man who’s worked with everyone from the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and his longtime pal Joe Piscopo (with whom he’s currently working on a TV pilot and other exciting endeavors), to Quincy Jones as well as dozens of budding Blue-Eyes at his annual Sinatra Birthday Bash concert.

The man called “Mooch” is known as much for the company he keeps as for his discerning taste in beats, bistros and the better things in life. Beginning Friday, July 9, Joe — whose previous guests have included jazz patriarch Bucky Pizzarelli, Grammy winner Dave Valentin and Goodman veteran Warren Vaché — revisits his legendary little black book for an all-new series of intimately romantic two-night stands.

The venue for the 2010 Jazz Café series will once again be the spacious yet cozy “black box” room of the Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ — birthplace of the iconic Count Basie and a destination town that’s easily reached by road, rail or even river. The modern performing arts facility is located just steps from NJ Transit’s public transportation station and an array of popular restaurants, with plenty of free off-street parking.

Of course, it’s not just about the music but the mood as well — with patrons enjoying coffee, tea and delectable treats at candlelit cocktail tables while the music plays. And, with tickets priced at just $20 per person,  it’s got the makings of a classic “Big City” experience, at a fraction of the cost.

The 2010 series kicks off on July 9 and 10 with some must-see sets by the acclaimed young violin virtuoso Aaron Weinstein, accompanied by piano man Ted Firth. It’s a great opportunity to catch a modern master of an instrument that’s too-infrequently heard in a jazz context, courtesy of a rising star who’s been called everything from “the rebirth of the hot jazz violin” (Nat Hentoff) to “the Groucho of the violin” (Tony Bennett).

Jazz Café continues on July 16 and 17 with the Russian-born trumpet ace and music educator Valery Pomonarev, an artist whose fascinating life story has been the subject of numerous documentary films — and whose standing as the veritable Sputnik of the Spitvalve has allowed him to lend an international perspective to this uniquely American music.

Scholars of the Great American Songbook will next be granted an audience with the singer that the New York Times branded “the most accomplished interpreter of popular material performing today” —  Marlene Verplanck, a vocalist whose career has spanned from big-band bandstands to Carnegie Hall (and who’s worked with everyone from Mel Torme to KISS!). Marlene and her combo take the Café stage on the weekend of July 23 and 24.

The last weekend in July offers an exciting opportunity to catch a sought-after tenor player who’s been a vital part of legacy tribute projects dedicated to such innovators as Mingus, Monk and Miles — when Wayne Escoffery struts his stuff as a bandleader and a swaggeringly swinging saxmaster in his own right.

Last call for the Summer 2010 Jazz Café happens on August 6 and 7, when drummer, bandleader, producer and nightclub owner Cecil Brooks III closes down the joint in grand style. The proprietor of Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange, NJ will also be among the featured artists (including Weinstein, Verplanck and Pomonarev) conducting a concurrent series of jazz workshops for kids, both at Two River Theater and in Asbury Park.

All performances in the 2010 series are at 8:00 p.m., and there’s a 20% discount available when you subscribe to five featured shows. Tickets can be reserved by calling the Two River box office at (732)345-1400, or via the venue’s website at tickets.trtc.org.