After over a year of being closed due to the pandemic, the Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, NY, Westchester County’s only dedicated jazz nightclub, re-opened on the weekend of May 28-29, 2021. The nightclub had hosted numerous live streams during the past year. The streams were quite a healing balm during the worst of the pandemic crisis, keeping the music going while clubs were closed, and festivals were shut down or went online. During this time, jazz lovers learned, more than ever, the many ways music can be enjoyed. Virtual concerts presented some great sets and gave musicians much-needed opportunities to work. These events allowed people all over the world enjoy performances they would not otherwise have access to, from the comfort of their homes. For many years, recorded music has allowed people to appreciate classic sets, and discover music that is new to them.
However, there is something uniquely special about live, in-person performances, experiencing the interactions between the musicians and patrons, in the immediacy of the moment. Live music was sorely missed for more than a year.
The Jazz Forum is a beautiful, art-filled venue, with a lovely atmosphere that is very conducive to an excellent time for both the artists and the audience. There is not a bad seat in the house! Beyond the music, the warmth of the owners, the great food, and the intimate nature of the experience are among the many reasons the club is in its fourth year of operations. Over those four years, Jazz Forum has presented such luminaries as Roy Hargrove, George Coleman, David Amram, The Royal Bopsters Featuring Sheila Jordan, Christian Sands, Catherine Russell, Ravi Coltrane, Roberta Gambarini, Randy Brecker, Joey Alexander, Toshiko Akiyoshi, T.S. Monk, Gary Smulyan, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jeremy Pelt, Jon Faddis, Bill Charlap, Joey DeFrancesco, John Pizzarelli, Paquito D’Rivera, Steve Turre, Eddie Palmieri, The Brubeck Brothers, Rene Rosnes, and many more. The club also features music dedicated to Brazilian influences every Sunday!
Clearly, people in Westchester County and surrounding areas could not wait for the club to re-open, because sets sold out early, including a large turnout for the last show on Saturday night. Founder and Executive Director of Jazz Forum, Mark Morganelli, welcomed the crowd and said, “It has been 446 days since we were last open!” He informed the crowd that Montefiore-Einstein Hospital is continuing to sponsor Jazz Forum, and that sponsorship will extend through 2024! He also talked about the new art exhibit at the club, and he thanked all the individuals who contributed to the ongoing endeavors of the Jazz Forum Arts organization. Then, Morganelli introduced The Helio Alves Quartet, with pianist Helio Alves, Duduka Da Fonseca on drums, bassist Peter Washington, and Steve Wilson on flute and alto saxophone.
A native of São Paulo, Brazil, Helio Alves has worked with Joe Henderson, Sadao Watanabe, Nilson Matta, Claudio Roditi, Yo-Yo Ma, Slide Hampton, Flora Purim, and Paquito D’Rivera, just to name a few. After Mark’s introduction, Helio said to the audience, “Thank you all for being here!” He joked about being away, and added, “But you’ve heard all about that!” Then, he introduced the members of the group, and the artists dove right into the music. Their scintillating Brazilian-flavored jazz really lit up the club. They started with João Bosco’s “Bala Com Bala” from Alves’ 1998 Trios release and continued with “Loro” from his 2003 Portrait in Black and White album, both for Reservoir Records. It was a winning start that got the appreciative crowd tapping their feet and swaying to the music.
Like many accomplished jazz combos, the conversations between the musicians seemed effortlessly seamless, as if they were all mind readers. Helio did not speak during the early portion of the set, instead concentrating on letting the music speak for itself. However, later in the show, Alves charmingly talked and joked with the patrons in an endearingly laid-back fashion that put everyone at ease. Helio also introduced producer Brian Fielding, who was sitting near the stage area, and Alves sung the praises of the music producer. The set continued with Helio’s own composition “It’s Clear,” from the album of the same name, followed by “Trilhos Urbanos,” from the recent release At Play, and “Vera Cruz” from the album Forests on the Zoho label. Each musician got several chances to shine, with impressive stand-out solos in the rhythmically sophisticated offerings. After an enthusiastic ovation and calls for more, the quartet’s encore revisited “The Red Blouse” from Antônio Carlos Jobim’s 1967 classic album Wave. The evening’s music was like an incredible travelogue to far-flung places, with some straight-ahead jazz mixed in. From jaunty to romantic to introspective, the songs included clever improvisation and a wide range of the emotional spectrum. It went from making you want to dance to bringing a tear to your eye. The encore was a sensuous pleasure, and a delightful coda to an outstanding concert.
The live performance of the Helio Alves Quartet turned out to be well worth the wait, especially after more than a year of social distancing and quarantining. Over the years, jazz has come to include worldwide influences, and Helio and this group are an excellent example of the Brazilian influence on the genre.
At the end of the concert, Mark Morganelli said, “Well, we’re really thrilled that audiences have come out, after we’ve been closed for 15 months here at the Jazz Forum. And we were able to re-open with Brazilian music. We closed with Brazilian music last March, 2020…Helio Alves and the group just did such a wonderful job, the vibe was beautiful, everybody enjoyed themselves, and we presented it in a safe manner…We hope people come next weekend for Monte Alexander, and keep coming for all the other great artists we’re presenting.”
Jazz Forum’s Associate Director (and Morganelli’s wife), Ellen Prior said, “Hello! We re-opened last night, and we are absolutely thrilled to be able to have this venue open to the community that is more loving than I could ever imagine…and devoted to the music, devoted to this club, and devoted to the community we’ve created…or fostered, I would say, more than created. So, we just want to thank all of the people who have helped us stay viable during all of the pandemic…It couldn’t have happened without our individuals who supported us financially, morally, just been there for us. So, thank you, and welcome back to the Jazz Forum!”
To learn more about Helio Alves, go to: www.helioalvesmusic.net.
Since the re-opening, in addition to continued live streams from the club on Thursday evenings, the club has presented The Christian Sands Trio, The George Cables Trio, The Bill Charlap Trio, and The Karin Allyson Trio. Upcoming acts at Jazz Forum include Duduka Da Fonseca & The Brazilian Jazz All-Stars, Samara Joy featuring The Pasquale Grasso Trio, The Jimmy Greene Quartet, and The Rufus Reid Trio. The Jazz Forum Arts organization will also present free summer outdoor concerts in various locations in Westchester County.
For more information about events at Jazz Forum, go to: www.jazzforumarts.org.