Jazz is alive & kickin’in Westchester
From be-bop to fusion, when it comes to jazz, Westchester rocks!
By Michael Fitzell Photography by Iko
My mission: to find the best locations in Westchester County to catch live jazz. Looking to avoid the expense and hassle of traveling to New York City, my targets were venues where the music was as important as the menu. After exploring a number of establishments, I discovered that the county’s offerings are comparable to—and less expensive than—Manhattan’s, proving that jazz is, thankfully, alive and kickin’
for the past four and a half years, Ernaccio’s-17 Main Restaurant &
Jazz Club (17 East Main Street,
Mt. Kisco, NY; 914-244-1974; www.17main.com) has satisfied patrons hungry for both good food and good jazz in downtown Mt. Kisco. “It’s a little more groovy than just eating out,” enthused Lisa Schroder, a 17 Main customer. “We could be anywhere—New York, Europe.”
The moment you enter this elegantly appointed and tastefully lit club, you’ll notice the Charlie Parker look-alike and the life-sized Louis Armstrong statues that bracket the bar, beyond which lies the main dining area, a cozy arrangement of intimate tables that surround the stage.
Owner Stephen Migliaccio goes to great lengths to ensure that the music—like 17 Main’s contemporary American menu—is first-rate. “My primary goal,” he says, “is to maintain a good balance between fine dining experience and great jazz club music.” So, head chef Kevin Pirone prepares the food while Migliaccio acts as maestro.
From Wednesday to Sunday, you can hear live jazz performed in the main dining room or just chill at the bar, which is in listening distance. Cover charges vary, so call ahead. I heartily recommend catching guitarist Jeff Barone and his band. His funky, clean guitar lines and varied set list of originals and delightful standards are engaging, accessible and inspired. Other notable performers at 17 Main include Joe Beck, John Abercrombie, Ray Vega and Lew Soloff. Look for the Doug Proper Quartet (November 6, 13, 20, 27), Loryn Alsher Quartet (November 14), Carmen Leggio Quartet (November 22), among many others. (See calendar, page 146)
the Watercolor CafÃ© (2094 Boston Post Road, Larchmont, NY; 914-834-2213) is a cozy, sophisticated restaurant dedicated to bringing patrons American bistro cuisine and folk music (Cheryl Wheeler and Steve Forbert) and jazz (Steve Blanco Trio). The cafe’s 12-seat mahogany bar runs parallel to the long and narrow main dining space, with the band commanding the front of the room. The multi-colored lights that accent the walls resemble watercolors, a beautiful touch.
Owner Bruce Carroll, who has run the cafÃ© for six years, is usually on hand to greet customers. He began incorporating jazz two and a half years ago, featuring solo piano on Wednesdays, quartets on Thursdays and Fridays, and trios and quartets on Saturdays. “I like to bring the best players I can, and I never charge a cover,” Carroll says. Vocalist Judi Marie Canterino is a regular (twice a month) performer who enjoys playing at the Watercolor CafÃ© because it is, she says, “so devoted to
music.” Upcoming performers include Les
Kurtz (November 5, 15), Tim Ragusis Trio (November 12) and The David Brandom Quartet (November 21).
if you’re searching for Isabel’s CafÃ© (61 Main Street, Tarrytown, NY; 914-631-9819) on a Wednesday night, just look for the jumpin’ joint with the lively congregation of cigarette-smoking jazz enthusiasts hanging outside. Once inside, you’ll be drawn in further by the warmth of the old wood floors and walls and the inviting, laid-back atmosphere. Now, all you have to do is take a seat on the cast iron saddle bar stools and wait for the music to cook.
Every Wednesday night there is an open “jazz jam” with the Conor Lyons Trio and a rotating crew of the best players in Westchester. After warming up with a set that includes some Miles Davis standards, the band provides generous accompaniment for all attending players, regardless of skill level: young, old, beginners, and experts, all are welcome. The night is a joyful celebration of the form’s improvisatory spirit.
Isabel’s dinner-only menu boasts “the best flame grilled 12-ounce burgers anywhere,” and a Guinness French onion soup “made with real Guinness.” The club also features renowned jazz and blues artists, like Milt Harris & Mala Waldron (November 10) and rock/fusion artist Burr Johnson (November 1). A $10 minimum is required, and there’s a cover charge only for national acts.
nestled in the heart of downtown Peekskill, JK Restaurant & Bar (118 North Division Street, Peekskill, NY; 914 737-2264) is an artfully decorated and welcoming place, detailed in warm, red tones, with a cushioned bar and a one-of-a-kind 19th-century “fainting sofa,” all under the building’s original tin ceiling. Art lovers will appreciate the works of local artists that adorn the walls, and are changed regularly by Robin Cobbs of the Lipscomb Cobbs Art Loft.
Owner Jeffrey Kyle Vaden strives for “a complete blend of food, art and music,” and features jazz every Saturday at 7 p.m. in the main dining room. There is never a cover charge, and regular performers include Brian Conigliaro, Gil Parris and K.J. Denhert. Soul and R&B fans should check out “Soul Food Buffet” on Sundays and Wednesdays and “Grooving Fridays.”
down the street from JK is the home of the Westchester Jazz Workshop, One Station Plaza (38 North Division Street, Peekskill, NY; 914-736-1053; www.onestationplaza.com), a no-frills space dedicated to the art of live jazz. The Station does not serve food or alcohol like the other venues, but I would be remiss not to include it. Jazz aficionados couldn’t care less, certainly not once the top-flight ensembles start laying it out.
Dave Finucane, director of the Jazz Workshop, believes in the importance of experiencing jazz live, and has worked to present it since March, 2000. The Saturday Night Jazz Series features the area’s best jazz artists, including such luminaries as Harry Connick, Jr., Dave Samuels and John Abercrombie, in a small, dimly lit, bare-bones setting surrounded by paintings from local artists.
On a recent visit, I had the pleasure of hearing saxophonist Steve Slagle run down a rousing mixture of standards, Mingus covers and originals, accompanied by bassist Cameron Brown (who says he likes “the spirit of the room”) and Peekskill’s own Tony Jefferson on drums. With such notable acts as the Mike Holober Quarter (November 1) and the Sean Smith Trio (November 15), this is the place to be if you’re a serious jazz fan.
So, what did I learn from my adventure? That there is a vibrant, accomplished community of jazz musicians practicing their craft right here in Westchester, and there are several wonderful venues devoted to giving them space to perform. So, the next time you feel like doing something special with your night but do not feel like trekking to the city, remember that Westchester offers a wide range of venues where you can be transformed by the power and magic of jazz. Any takers?
A freelance writer for a decade and avid jazz fan for longer, Michael Fitzell enjoyed his search for jazz in the county.