You won’t find a sign over the door. In fact, you won’t even find a door, at least not anything you’ll spot from the street. Inside, you’ll find a sophisticated crowd and the finest top-shelf jazz sounds this side of a classic film noir. You’ll even find a guy named Joe, sizing up your chances of getting in.
But procrastinate just a little bit too long before you check this place out, and you’ll find no trace of its ever having been there. Like, how cool is that?
The coming of summer means the return of the Summer JazzFest series (formerly Summer Jazz Café) to the Marion Huber room inside Red Bank’s Two River Theater — an annual offering via which jazz impresario Joe “Mooch” Muccioli and the borough-based nonprofit Jazz Arts Project transform the “black box” performance space into an environment that boasts big-city tableside seating, subdued lighting, great coffee and desserts (including Mooch’s own berry vinaigrette), and some breathtaking talent hand-picked from his formidable black book of friends.
The new, expanded 2011 series kicks off on the weekend of July 1 and 2, with a never-before-on-the-Shore act so intriguing, you’ll either be pinching yourself to confirm that it’s actually happening — or kicking yourself because you missed it when you had the chance.
During his 94 years on Earth — pretty much all of them spent clutching a guitar — Les Paul invented the solid body electric (and, by extension, rock music), multitrack recording, overdubbing and a space-age synthesis of jazz, pop and country that continues to ricochet playfully across the whole stratosphere of modern popular music. For the last dozen or so years of his life, the “Wizard of Waukesha” held down an every-Monday gig at The Iridium in Manhattan — a long-running series of relaxed, improvised sets in which the nonagenarian master held court with some amazing stories, the odd off-color joke, and relaxed (but still razor-sharp) instrumental jazz standards performed with his ace trio of accompanists. Since his 2009 passing, Les Paul’s Trio has maintained that Monday tradition, with a parade of special guests that have included Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent and country “git-steel” specialist Junior Brown. On those KaBoomfest nights in July, the trio — guitarist Lou Pallo, pianist John Colliani and bassmistress/ songbird Nicki Parrott — carries Lester’s legacy cross the Navesink, for a pair of 8pm events.
The Summer JazzFest series continues on the weekend of July 8 and 9, when the acclaimed tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen brings his quartet combo to town in a local debut. He’s followed on the weekend of July 15 and 16 by the Brooklyn-born vocal virtuoso Charenee Wade and her quartet — and on July 22 and 23 by trumpet kingpin Wallace Roney, a sought-after soloist and session cat whose collaborations have included Tony Williams, Ornette Coleman and Art Blakey —or, if that’s not sufficiently awesome, Dizzy Gillespie and, especially, Miles Davis.
Another must-see tribute comes to the Bridge Avenue performing arts center on the weekend of July 29 and 30, when Russian-born bassist Boris Kozlov and an all-star band of New York musicians salute the late great bandleader and composer Charles Mingus, d/b/a the Mingus Dynasty Quartet. The series extends its vibe into August (and wraps things up with “a cherry on top”) with a Jazz Arts Project regular — saxman Bruce Williams, who plays in a Quartet configuration on August 5, and in Quintet mode on August 6.
That Friday night appearance will be preceded by a special 7:30pm showcase set starring the students of the Jazz Arts Academy Summer Camp — an accomplished group of young players who’ve worked closely with Williams in his role as an Academy faculty member and workshop clinician.
Tickets for all 8pm events in the Summer JazzFest series are $22 — a class-act night on the town, for less than it costs to park your car in Manhattan — and can be reserved through the Two River Theater box office right here.