A good “06880” story tells readers about an underreported place in Westport. Or it describes a little-known event. Maybe it celebrates someone (a person) or something (the arts).
This one does all of that.
I’ve written about Greg Wall before. A saxophonist who doubles as the spiritual leader of Westport’s Beit Chaverim — or the other way around — he is one of the most interesting and multi-talented Westporters, in a town filled with plenty of both.
For several years, he and a group of great musicians played at local venues, like the Spotted Horse, Saugatuck Rowing Club and 323 restaurant. They formed the Jazz Society of Fairfield County, and raised money to buy the famous Steinway piano from the historic Village Gate Jazz Club in New York.
On March 12, 2020, Rabbi Wall played at his then-regular spot, Pearl at Longshore. That day, the pandemic roared into Westport.
Eight months later the restaurant closed, a victim of COVID.
One day not long ago, the rabbi was driving down Riverside Avenue, near his Lincoln Street home (conveniently, within walking distance of his synagogue). He passed his wife, out for a run, near the VFW.
Something clicked. He asked her to stop there, to see if it was suitable for live music.
Westport’s VFW Joseph Clinton Post 399 is a great place. For over 100 years it’s served veterans, and their families. After remodeling, it’s a nice venue for class reunions, birthday parties or anniversary celebrations. There’s a dock in back too, with low-cost moorings.
Still, most Westporters know of it — if they think of it at all — as the building at the tricky corner intersection with Riverside, Saugatuck and Treadwell Avenues, with the cannon in front. (Fun fact: It was cast in 1799, then placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate our 1777 battle against the British. The cannons at the beach now are replicas.)
The door was locked. But a man got out of his car in the parking lot, and asked if he could help. He was quartermaster Phil Delgado — and he sure could.
Soon, he and the rabbi were chatting. Soon after that, the rabbi was blowing his horn at the VFW. “Thursday Night Jazz” was back — and renamed “Jazz at the Post.”
He’s had 2 shows there, both very successful. In fact, Rabbi Wall says, the VFW is unlike any place he’s ever played, besides a university. As a non-profit, all they want is for everyone to have a good time. Delgado fully supports the arts (and may add local art to the new jazz venue’s walls.)
The back room — with a gorgeous view of the Saugatuck River — is a superb spot to hang out, and listen to live music.
Plus, the rabbi says, the acoustics are fantastic.
Rabbi Wall’s next gig is tonight (Thursday, May 5), with guitarist Bob Devos, bassist Phil Bowler and drummer Steve Johns. There are 2 sets: 7 and 8:30 p.m. He’ll return May 26 with trombonist Steve Davis, and June 9 (featuring Roberta Piket on Hammond B3).
There’s a $10 cover. For reservations, email email@example.com, or call 203-227-6796. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m.
“Westport is not a late community. Things close early,” he notes. “Commuters get home after 6. They eat, and they don’t go out afterward.”
So though the VFW kitchen is closed, a Beit Chaverim congregant, Leon Pasternak, found chef Derek Furino to bring in food to serve. The VFW likes him so much, they’re collaborating on other ventures.
Westport’s VFW may not be the only one in the country that hosts regular music shows.
It may not even be the only one to feature jazz.
But it must be the only VFW anywhere with its own Jazz Rabbi.
ENCORE: Here’s another idea: Bring back the Steinway piano. It’s in storage now. But it could soon grace the VFW. Play it again, Rabbi!