Jazz weekend: A 2019 encore?
Cool sounds drew people to town, filling seats in several venues, and Ridgefield’s first Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend is getting good reviews from folks involved.
They’re talking about doing it next year — the next step toward making it an annual event on the town calendar, which was the goal envisioned when the event was dreamed up.
“It was a success and I’d think we’d do it again next year,” said Geoffrey Morris of the town Economic and Community Development Commission, “but planning is a collaborative process across organizations so we need to regroup later in the fall.”
The Economic and Community Development Commission, or “ECDC,“ helped organize and facilitate the weekend — which was born out of a discussion commission members had with Allison Stockel, executive director of the Ridgefield Playhouse, at an ECDC meeting about a year ago.
“I would love to make this an annual and build upon it,” Stockel said this week, after the Playhouse ended up hosting two of the weekend’s events.
The main event at the Playhouse was the Saturday night concert with Grammy-winning blues guitarist Robert Cray as the headliner, and the Funky Dawgz Brass Band — which includes 2009 RHS graduate Tommy Weeks — as the opening act.
Stockel said more than 500 people attended the show, with 495 tickets sold and some promotional comp tickets given out.
“It was a full house,” Stockel said.
“We had great reports from people who were there!” said Playhouse marketing director Jill Mango.
Dancing in the aisles
Because of the weather, Thursday night’s CHIRP concert with Project Grand Slam, the jazz-rock fusion band headed by bassist-composer Robert Miller, was moved from Ballard Park to the Playhouse.
“CHIRP was amazing,” Stockel said. “I would estimate about 150-175 people attended and they were standing and dancing. They loved Project Grand Slam!”
Jazz pianist Dayramir Gonzalez brought his Afro-Cuban sound to the Ridgefield Library, giving a lecture Friday afternoon and then performing with a small combo that night.
"The concert in the evening was amazing,” library program director Lesley Lambton said. “We had about 200 people who registered, and he put on a great show and the level of musicianship surpassed anything we have had at the library before. The audience left very, very happy!"
Morris, the publisher of Ridgefield Magazine and an ECDC member who coordinated the weekend, was enthusiastic about Gonzalez’ lecture, as well.
“He spoke about his childhood in Havana and his journey as a musician. His perspective on life in Cuba was also fascinating,” Morris said. “The audience of about 25 people was very engaged and Dayramir’s passion for his art was infectious!”
The weekend also got some young local musicians a bit of exposure..
“...We had two young musicians playing on the library lawn on Saturday afternoon,” Morris said, explaining that they’d originally been envisioned playing in front of town hall, but the construction there ended that plan.
“There was a bit of foot traffic,” he said, and the musician also entertained “the drivers in the cars stopped at the traffic lights” by the library.
John Devine, an ECDC member, was active in the initial discussions a year ago that led to the jazz weekend as an annual event concept — expanding on what, last year, was an approach The Playhouse took to marketing a couple of jazz oriented performances that came close together on the calendar.
He was active in marketing the weekend online, and said he then attended every event over the weekend.
“We had a full house at the library Friday night. Room capacity is 200. Incredible performance by a Cuban composer and pianist. Saturday afternoon Gil Parris filled the lobby of the Aldrich. I estimated about 80 in attendance for his two hour performance,” Devine said.
“Sunday afternoon on a bright and sunny day we set up the Jazz Café on the front lawn of Lounsbury House. The RHS Jazz Band performed and was terrific. About 100 people sat at tables and enjoyed beverages.
“We also had live music at multiple restaurants Thursday evening through Sunday. And for the first time ever the ECDC was able to add restaurants to our event marketing.”
Devine was encouraged by the cooperation of the many parties involved.
“This is a perfect example of numerous organizations working together in a coordinated effort. Historically, organizations would work independently (and will for many events) but collectively we have demonstrated the power and efficiencies of collaboration,” he said.
He lamented that the construction project had interfered with plans to present music from the town hall steps, in the heart of the village business district.
“There will be a next year,” Devine said.
“A few lessons learned this year will allow us to produce an even stronger event. The weekend fills a strategic gap in in events calendar.”
On Sunday afternoon the Ridgefield High School Jazz Band, led by Michael McNamara, gave a concert from the porch of the Community Center’s Lounsbury House, with people listening from the lawn.
“The RHS band on the lawn of the Lounsbury House went very well,” Morris said. “There were about 50-60 people there to watch the band on the porch play a lively hour-long set of jazz tunes. Lounsbury House put out great food and people were in chairs and on the grass with their dogs.
“I think a lot of passersby thought it was a private event,” he added. “If we had put a free concert sign on the sidewalk we would have gotten many more.”
The weekend also involved town restaurants, with eight of them — Sarah’s Wine Bar, 850 Degrees Wood Fired, Village Tavern, Bailey’s Backyard, Bernard’s, and TerraSole — signed on with musicians that performed over the weekend.
Both Morris and Stockel were upbeat about the weekend as a whole, and the all efforts that went into it.
“ECDC was very happy with the weekend and enjoyed working with the Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield Library, Aldrich Museum, Lounsbury House, CHIRP, and all the restaurants and shop owners that helped make this a successful first-time event,” Morris said.
Stockel said, “I think this was a great example of various nonprofits working together with the town and creating a fun weekend that included cross-promotion of various events and making a fun weekend for people to come and attend.”