Berks Goes to Milford, Connecticut

Now that the Berks Jazz Fest is over, I can�t help but be drawn to other places, other venues where the jazz scene is either going strong or just popping up for one night.

rowe_endofconcert.jpgThe most recent one to catch my eye was the Second Annual Smooth Jazz for Scholars Benefit, coordinated by none other than Jay Rowe, who I had met a number of times as keyboard player in Special EFX. Jay is a very talented keyboard player, having made a few of his own CDs. He is not only a musician in his own right, but I�ve learned he�s a mover and shaker of some good things!

While he was here during the Berks Jazz Fest, he encouraged us to come to Milford to support the benefit and see a great line-up of musicians! Hearing the names of artists to be featured certainly got my attention: Chieli Minucci, Ken Navarro, Nelson Rangell, and Marion Meadows! And, of course, Jay Rowe himself and his own F.U. Jazzboy band, featuring Rohn Lawrence, Dave Lavolsi, Timmy Maia, and Trevor Sommerville.

To give you a little background, Jay got the idea for this benefit as a way to invest in music education in the public school system in Milford. Jay approached Kevin McCabe of JumpStartJazz in Connecticut, knowing that Kevin and his volunteer staff could help make it happen! He invited former classmates and long time friends of his, and the rest is history! It�s been the start of a wonderful tradition in Milford.

Driving into the area to park the car before the show led me to none other than the Superintendent of the entire school system, who gave us directions on where to park and what door to camp out at until the doors opened! He was obviously very excited about the show and what it means for his schools. Knowing one of his very own middle school teachers, a saxophone player, was to be featured in the show as Jay�s first of many �Feature Teachers,� made it all the more meaningful for him, I�m sure!

rowe_meadows.jpgTrue to the theme of the night, the evening began with Milford students, three multi-talented music scholars who form the Marty Eisenberg Trio. They were captivating with their rather traditional jazz sound as they moved from one number to another, each one changing from his original musical instrument along the way. The drummer changed to keyboardist, the cello player changed to bass guitarist, and the rhythm guitarist became the drummer! I was amazed by each one�s ability to play both of his instruments so well. The crowd was appreciative. There were a number of young people there (I noticed children down to five years old or under as I looked around). It was good for the older ones to imagine that in a few short years, they, too, could potentially be up on stage performing live music.

It was a most memorable night for Jay Rowe, I�m certain, as he, bass player Dave Lavolsi, and drummer Trevor Sommerville, remained on stage the entire evening as the featured artists came and went. To top off the good feeling Jay had in being the coordinator of a successful event that will likely continue year after year, the announcement was made of his upcoming wedding (just two weeks away)! So Jay had many reasons to smile that evening, and smile he did, from the beginning to the end of the show. He didn�t miss a beat!

Highlights of the evening included Marion Meadows entering from the back of the auditorium, to the delight of all those sitting in his path as he made his way to the stage. His sultry sax and amazing renditions of songs like George Duke�s No Rhyme, No Reason, and My Cherie Amore (with Timmy Maia on vocals) had the audience clamoring for more. Jay also enlisted the talent of long time friend and guitarist Rohn Lawrence, who played Foolish Heart and a personal song with a story called Waiting On Wally.

navarro_maia.jpgAll the artists had a great time and each one played their numbers with so much heart and soul. Ken Navarro began with a song from Bread, �Make It With You� and continued by playing a song he wrote long ago to help his young son fall asleep, Eric�s Dream. On this very night of Smooth Jazz for Scholars, Eric, now 18, was attending prom night. Ken also played Old Friends, from his �Best of.� CD, All The Way, and a song which is his own version of �Don�t Worry, Be Happy� in life, called, �Play, Don�t Worry.�

This year Jay added something new which he hopes to continue each year, a �Feature Teacher� in which he showcases the talent of a teacher from the school system in Milford. This year it was saxophone player and middle school teacher Bob Nunno, and he honestly blended in so well with everyone on stage that I wonder if these days he�s dreaming of stardom for himself! I�m sure his students, especially those who were in attendance, will never see him as quite the same person after this benefit!

Another traditional part of this show is �Raffle Time.� It should be noted that �Raffle Time� goes on for a full twenty minutes, and there were very special prizes for many in the audience. During this time, Marion Meadows and Rohn Lawrence kept on playing, later joined by Tim Maia, and they gave a whole new meaning to �Raffle Time.�

Interestingly, there were many families in the audience, complete with young children. As I watched, I noticed that the younger children in attendance who may have begun yawning after 9 PM, since it was past normal bedtime, sat up straight when �raffle time� came, to the tune of James Brown! They couldn�t sleep with that combination of games and great music.

rowe_minucci.jpgFollowing �Raffle Time,� it was Nelson Rangell whose enthusiastic, powerful sound on the saxophone easily connected with the audience. His song Dedication featured Jay�s bass player, and his Senora with Ken Navarro was a unique performance to watch, since Nelson whistled much of the melody! I was so awe-struck that someone can whistle the way he did! Both Nelson and Marion Meadows were so impressive in breath control. They seemed to find air within themselves when I was sure there just could not possibly be any left! Still, they found more!

Chieli Minucci, who came out to join the others just before intermission, always manages to make his warm-up of the guitar into a song that we hope doesn�t have to end. Chieli plays so well each time I see him, and he was so excellent again, joining in on some numbers featuring others, and then playing his superb rendition of Santana�s Europa, Daybreak from his Global Village Special EFX CD, and Kickin� It Hard with Jay�s Feature Teacher, who kept up with Chieli perfectly!

The last number featured all the artists. For me, this is becoming a very favorite way to enjoy this music, with a bunch of talented musicians up there, each contributing in his own way to the final product of the last song!

I hated to see the evening end, but as I watched the artists bow, I was grateful to each one for his inspiration and dedication to young artists. And I thought Jay Rowe, along with bass player Dave Lavolsi and drummer Trevor Sommerville, deserved special accolades for learning the music of the various artists, for staying onstage the entire time, and for having fun with it from the first moment to the last.

Happy Jazzin',

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo credits Michael C. Packard