Tag Archives: “Jazz Rabbi”

Jazz Rabbi Plays The VFW

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.

The Jazz Rabbi, Greg Wall

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.)

VFW on Riverside Avenue — and the cannon.

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.

Jazz at the VFW — and by the river.

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 jazzatthepost@gmail.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.

Saxophonist Greg Wall and his combo, earlier this spring at the VFW.

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!

All That Jazz

For over 3 years, “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall and his cohorts have created a thriving community.

Every Thursday night, they’ve played at a local restaurant.

But — according to an email sent to fellow musicians and fans — a “deteriorating environment for both the audience and the artists” is causing the Jazz Society of Fairfield County to seek a new home.

The goal is to ensure that “live, world class jazz music remains a key part of our area’s cultural life.”

Greg Wall, the Jazz Rabbi.

This week, the Jazz Rabbi invited everyone to his “other pulpit” — Beit Chaverim Synagogue — for top-notch music, food (this week, sushi), drink and good cheer.

The Jazz Society does more than play. In just 3 years they’ve raised funds to buy the famous Steinway piano from the historic Village Gate Jazz Club in New York. They’ve gotten not-for-profit status, conducted workshops for local students, and produced a benefit concert for Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studios at the Bijou Theater.

Meanwhile — until an appropriate venue emerges — the musicians are looking for hosts for Thursday night house parties. If interested, email jazzrabbi@gmail.com.

All That Jazz!

Greg Wall — the “jazz rabbi” — just celebrated his 1st year at 323. Most Thursdays, he and an ever-changing virtuoso cast entertains diners, drinkers and music fans at the North Main Street restaurant.

There’s only one problem: Their piano is not up to the job.

It’s a fine instrument for a casual home player. But it can’t sustain the constant playing of 323’s featured artists.

Fortunately, a fine 1937 Steinway “M” piano — from New York’s legendary Village Gate — is available. For several decades beginning in 1958, it was played by many jazz greats: Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Erroll Garner, Sun Ra and more.

A plaque on the Village Gate piano describes its vaunted history.

A plaque on the Village Gate piano describes its vaunted history.

The piano was featured on recordings by Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Nina Simone, and used for the original perfomances of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

The 323 crew hopes to raise $10,000 to buy the instrument. They’re starting a non-profit — The Jazz Society of Fairfield County — to ensure the piano will support jazz performances throughout the area.

They’ve got a week to pull off the deal. So they offer these premiums:

  • Donate $3,000 or more, and the Greg Wall Quartet will perform in your home, or for a private function.
  • Donate $1,000, and you’ll be treated to a night of solo piano by one of 323’s featured artists.
  • For $500 or more, you can dedicate an upcoming 323 performance in honor of a friend or loved one, or for a special occasion.

If the Jazz Society can’t purchase the piano, all donations will be returned. If they surpass their goal, excess funds will be used for regular maintenance, tuning and regulation, and the purchase of a humidity control device.

Let the music play!

(To contribute via PayPal, click here. To make other arrangements, email JazzRabbi@gmail.com)

Among the 323 regulars are saxophonist Greg Wall and pianist Chris Coogan.

Among the 323 regulars are saxophonist Greg Wall and pianist Chris Coogan.

 

“Jazz Rabbi” Blows Horn For Ornette Coleman

Greg Wall faced a challenge.

The “jazz rabbi” — a saxophonist who doubles as the spiritual leader of Westport’s Beit Chaverim (or the other way around) — needed a place to blow his horn.

Plenty of local spots feature music. But jazz is often relegated to “background music” — not the high-level listening experience offered at the major New York venues he’s worked, like Joe’s Pub and the Village Vanguard.

Enter 323. The restaurant near Coffee An’ offers a nice, wood-finished listening space. Every Thursday night Wall curates weekly jazz events, with well-known musician and guest stars.

The 2 faces of Greg Wall.

The 2 faces of Greg Wall.

Like the jazz professional he is, Wall improvises well. This Thursday there’s a tribute to Ornette Coleman, the legendary alto saxophonist/composer who died last month.

Sitting in will be Coleman’s longtime guitarist/collaborator Kenny Wessel.

“I’m a firm believer in meeting people where they are,” says Wall. “Whether it’s using my music to make a connection with people in a night club, or teaching Talmud classes on a sailboat” — his Friday morning onboard classes are a whole other story — “I try to remove any barriers that stand in the way of people and their spiritual development.”

That spiritual development — the jazz element, anyway — continues every Thursday night through August 27. Upcoming guests include guitar legend Bob Devos and the New American Quartet.

There is no cover charge to hear the jazz rabbi and friends blow their shofars horns.

(For more information, click on the Facebook page: Jazz at 323 Westport.)