Jazz Forum Club Reopens May 28; Free Summer Jazz Returns To The Rivertowns
This article is the third in a series about the return of live performance art to the rivertowns.
By Brianna Staudt–
A quintessential rivertowns summer evening is spent reclining on the rolling grounds of Lyndhurst, or at Dobbs Ferry’s Waterfront Park with a picnic spread, enjoying a top-quality jazz performance as the sun sets over the Hudson River. There were no opportunities for this moment in 2020 — all 34 free summer jazz concerts usually presented by Tarrytown’s Jazz Forum Arts were cancelled due to the pandemic.
“It was very upsetting not to do the [outdoor] concerts last summer,” says Mark Morganelli, executive director of Jazz Forum Arts. (The Village of Sleepy Hollow wound up asking Morganelli and his band, The Jazz Forum All-Stars, to play at Horan’s Landing for a few evenings last August, which did keep his decades-long streak of free, outdoor summer jazz in the rivertowns alive.)
Now, Jazz Forum Arts looks forward not only to the return of its free summer concert schedule up and down the Hudson River waterfront but also to the return of in-person jazz performance at the Jazz Forum club in Tarrytown over Memorial Day Weekend.
“I feel very excited. Really looking forward to welcoming the artist groups … and the public back in. And our staff, who we’ve really missed,” says Morganelli.
Fifteen months — that’s how long it will have been in between “Brazilian Sundays” at the Jazz Forum when Brazilian Jazz drummer Portinho sits down at his kit with his quartet for the 4:00 p.m. set May 30 during the club’s in-person return.
“How ’bout that?” chuckles Morganelli.
The last “Brazilian Sunday” was March 8, 2020.
Brazilian jazz pianist Helio Alves and his quartet will kick off the club’s in-person offerings Memorial Day Weekend with performances on Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28.
The Jazz Forum club, located on Tarrytown’s Dixon Lane, is the only dedicated jazz club in Westchester County. Jazz Forum Arts is a non-profit arts-presenting organization that focuses on jazz music. It has kept busy with online programming over the past year-plus, including the launch of the award-winning “Jitterbugs: Jazz for Kids” program for young children. (It won the ArtsWestchester 2021 Sophia Abeles Education Award last month.)
The club missed its third anniversary last spring. It will have to settle for celebrating its fourth, which it plans to do with a month of piano trios throughout June. Pianists will include Grammy nominee Christian Sands and Grammy winner Bill Charlap.
Morganelli hopes to return at 50 percent capacity, anticipating the state will ratchet up the capacity limit by the time the club reopens in late May. The current limit is 33 percent, which Morganelli says doesn’t work for the club’s model. (He suspects it doesn’t work for many other venues, either.)
The club will require masks to be worn by all people, including the artists and servers, when not drinking or eating. Morganelli added UV filtration and MERV filters to the club’s HVAC system to mitigate risk of airborne transmission. He also plans to conduct temperature checks at the door, distance tables, and sanitize surfaces before the first set, in between sets, and after the final set. The handicap entrance will double as an exit so one group of club patrons can leave before the next group enters, so attendees won’t need to pass close to each other as they enter or exit the premises. The club will honor the state-sponsored Excelsior Pass as proof that individuals have been fully vaccinated or received a recent negative COVID test result, as an “adjunct safety measure”—but will not require it.
And because some performance art lends itself to being safer in terms of COVID transmission risk, the Jazz Forum plans to reopen with mostly pianists and drummers. Vocalists, who would need to remove a mask to perform, won’t return until after the Fourth of July.
Out of an abundance of caution, the summer concert series also won’t start until after the Fourth of July. Morganelli is quick to point out that he usually organizes 34 concerts, but 2021 will see only 32 because of that late start.
“We’re talking almost 90 days from now, you know, so, hopefully we’ll all feel safe enough to attend an outdoor event and just, you know, masking and having social distance,” says Morganelli.
Per Morganelli, “booking is going great.” He’s bringing back many artists who were lined up for last summer but didn’t get a chance to play. “People are thrilled to play. They’re absolutely thrilled to play.”
Award-winning jazz vocalist Maron Cowings will kick off summer outdoor jazz in the rivertowns at Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park on July 7. Morganelli calls Cowings one of the best male jazz vocalists in New York.
Jitterbugs will hold its first in-person programming with free events for kids age 10 and under at Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park at 5:30 p.m. before each summer jazz concert there.
As in previous years, the concert lineup will rotate riverfront locations depending on the day of the week — concerts will be held on alternate Mondays at Henry Gourdine Park in Ossining, on Tuesdays (August only) at Horan’s Landing in Sleepy Hollow, on Wednesdays at Dobbs Ferry Waterfront Park, on Thursdays at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, and on Fridays just up the river in Tarrytown at Pierson Park.
All concerts will run 6:30-8 p.m., and there won’t be a rain contingency plan. Jazz Forum Arts will announce cancellations due to weather by 2:00 p.m. of the performance day on their website and Facebook page.
The Montefiore health system had previously been a “presenting sponsor” for the summer concerts series and the club. It’s back on board this year. “We’re thrilled that Montefiore stayed with us and will now … increase and extend their sponsorship of both the club and the outdoors concerts … for three more years,” reports Morganelli. “So that’s really big. They are by far our largest funder. So that’s really good news.”
Summer concerts will come to a poignant end — the penultimate booking is Rockland-based composer Anita Brown, who will debut a new piece, “Hart Island Suite,” with her 25-piece jazz orchestra at Lyndhurst on August 26.
The piece encompasses a New Orleans second line and a funeral march. “So it’s going to be a lot fun,” says Morganelli.
The premiere was originally scheduled for 2020. The piece’s namesake, Hart Island, is New York City’s public cemetery. The composition honors Brown’s parents’ grief at the loss of a stillborn daughter, addresses Hart Island’s poor reputation and offers a proper funeral march to grieve the loss of souls.
Brown’s “Composer’s Notes” say it best: “Perhaps this delay in scheduling [“Hart Island Suite’s”] premiere has presented me the opportunity to offer our nation a definitively American celebration of all souls lost [in the pandemic] through this unique funeral ritual in America’s own jazz idiom.”
The full schedule of free summer jazz concerts has not yet been released.
Jazz Forum Arts Club tickets: https://jazzforumarts.org/tickets/
Jitterbugs: Jazz for Kids: https://jazzforumarts.org/jitterbugs/