On a narrow side street hidden from Tarrytown’s main drag is a gem of a jazz club that’s been attracting the top names in the genre for the past half-decade.
Driven by the verve and dedication of its executive director, Mark Morganelli, and the generosity of sponsors and patrons, the Jazz Forum emerged from a 15-month pandemic-induced shutdown with a stronger lineup, new programs and new concert piano.
Five-plus years since opening, Morganelli, a trumpeter, flugelhornist and producer, and his wife, Ellen Prior, the club’s associate director and general manager, have turned the 85-seat venue into a destination for performers and audiences.
Morganelli’s four-decade career in jazz circles has earned him the respect of performers, agents and managers, enabling him to lure artists “to play in a tiny club in a building on the corner of a parking lot that doesn’t look like it could ever have a club.”
“Doing the right thing” by these artists over the years has been paying dividends.
“In the last year or so, we’ve upped our game and have been presenting artists who are concert hall, festival-caliber artists,” Morganelli said recently, name-checking the likes of bossa nova legend Eliane Elias, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, pianists Michel Camilo, Bill Charlap, Monte Alexander and Eddie Palmieri.
The club recently added a pricey Steinway Model B classic grand piano, which he calls one of the best concert pianos in the tri-state area, purchased thanks to donations from patrons.
Although he plays with his Brazilian band once a year to celebrate Carnival and often introduces the weekend acts, Morganelli has not performed on a Friday or Saturday night at the club since its opening in 2017. That will change on Dec. 30, when he leads his Jazz Forum All-Stars, featuring Houston Person on tenor, pianist Helen Sung, bassist David Williams and drummer NEA Jazz Master Billy Hart.
Nurturing the next generation of jazz is also part of the mission: The club’s Jitterbug early childhood program for ages 2 to 7 will be joined in 2023 by the Jazz Forum Student Ensemble for fifth- through 12th-graders.
To say Morganelli and Prior are close to the music is an understatement: The former Dobbs Ferry couple live upstairs in the Dixon Street building they remodeled to create the Jazz Forum. They just hauled an old piano into their apartment to make room downstairs for a Hammond A100 organ and Leslie speaker that will make their debut in February.
Horn of plenty
Morganelli’s resume includes appearances at nearly every prestigious club and festival, and performances alongside many of the art form’s luminaries during his 44-year career. He’s worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Betty Carter, Carmen McCrea, Chick Corea and Dave Brubeck, to name just a handful, and has produced dozens of albums, concerts and festivals.
The Tarrytown club is his third venue to carry the Jazz Forum name. The first one opened in 1979 in a loft in Cooper Square in Manhattan and later moved to Broadway and Bleeker into space formerly occupied by the Reggae Lounge.
His booking formula at the club extends beyond showcasing headliners; he saves some dates for lesser-known, up-and-coming players.
“We’re a nonprofit, and it’s not all bottom-line driven,” said Morganelli, who’s perhaps best known locally for presenting free summer concerts along the Hudson River. “So I can present artists that I know are not going to fill the house for four sets, but I want to present them because their music is fantastic and I know our audience is going to enjoy them.”
Here are a few notable upcoming shows at the club:
- Dec. 30: Mark Morganelli & The Jazz Forum All-Stars
- Jan. 20-21: The club’s Hammond A100 makes its debut with appearances by Mike LeDonne’s organ quintet, including guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Vincent Herring.
- Feb 24-25: “Two Steinways” performances by husband-and-wife pianists Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes
At the Forum
- The Jazz Forum also is home to a rotating gallery of contemporary art curated by Ellen Prior that will be featuring the work of jazz musicians.
- The club features a full dinner menu. The kitchen is run by local restaurateur John Chambal.
- Visit the club’s website for tickets and information.