Despite all that Westport offers — education, recreation, shopping, physical beauty, support for the arts — there was a gaping hole for many years.
In 2014, a group of aficionados started a weekly Thursday night series at 323 restaurant (now Hudson Malone), opposite Coffee An’.
It became their top draw. Some of the best artists from New York sold out regularly. Finally, Westport had a jazz scene.
Fans bought the house a piano from The Village Gate — the same one played by
Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and more.
The non profit JazzFC followed. Thursday night became a Westport institution.
When conditions at 323 faded, the series migrated to Pearl at Longshore. It thrived there until March of 2020, when COVID shut down the world.
Pearl closed, and with it all that jazz.
Two years later — in April of 2022 — an unlikely partnership was born.
VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 39 — founded in 1920,, and a favorite of regulars who knew its bar, restaurant and great views on the Saugatuck River, but invisible to most Westporters despite its high-traffic location at the Riverside Avenue/Saugatuck Avenue fork — invited JazzFC to present weekly jazz performances.
The driving force was Greg Wall, the “Jazz Rabbi” as well known for his saxophone chops as for his day job as head of the Beit Chaverim congregation.
But Post 399 was a volunteer organization, not a restaurant or night club. How would they pull off a jazz series?
Fortunately Leon Pasternak — owner of Latina Cantina restaurant in Fairfield, and a musician — said he’d run the business side. He took reservations, assigned seating, catered a delicious and reasonably priced dinner option, and ensured that sure the musicians got paid.
Thursday night became a place where people from Westport and beyond could hear great music in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. It was all about the experience, not the profit.
Now — a year later — Jazz at the Post gets ready to celebrate. Their First Anniversary Festival features over 20 world class jazz artists — and a special festive menu by Chef Derek Furino.
(In true “partner” fashion, April 27 is also the 103rd anniversary — to the day — of the founding of VFW Post 399.)
Proceeds from the evening support JazzFC educational programming like clinics and workshops next month for Staples High School students, and VFW Post 399 veterans services.
Click here for tickets, and more information.
ENCORE! Among the highlights of the past year:
April 2022: The first 2 concerts feature Ken Wessel and Portal. Jazz at the Post is bi-weekly through June.
July: JazzFC’s piano, played by greats for over 50 years at New York’s Village Gate, moves to the Post. Weekly concerts begin.
September to November: Performances notable names like Brian Marsella, Steve Davis, Antonio Hart, Michael Mossman, Sarah Cion and Abé Rabade.
November 11: Jazz FC artistic director Rabbi Greg Wall delivers the Westport Veterans Day invocation at Town Hall on behalf of VFW Post 399.
December: JazzFC Holiday Jazz night.
February 23, 2023: Saxophonist Gunnery Sergeant Jason Knuckles from the US Marines Parris Island Band sits in at the Post; tribute to Horace Silver featuring 2 alumni of the Horace Silver Quintet.
April: Tribute to the great Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, featuring 2 alums of the Jazz Mesengers.
(“06880” has told the story of Jazz at the Post — and Rabbi Greg Wall — often. Please click here to support work like this. Thank you!)
Dan, thank you for telling the story of Westport’s Jazz Renaissance so eloquently!!!
Love having local jazz. Only wish that it could be on weekends so that more people could take advantage.
Agree with Robert Grodman; (I grew up ,playing piano in many Westport jazz clubs,good audiences, weekends in the 1970’s-1980’s:-)
Rabbi Greg and his Thursday night jazz is an absolute gift for local residents. The quality of musicians he recruits to join him is remarkable for how low profile this has been. Good for him to finally have a “jazz room” and not just be background at a restaurant.
Dan, I’m soooo stoked about your “reporting” about this venue! As a classically trained musician (and jazz-leaning), this is the cat’s meow for me!
The most worthwhile thing in Westport.