Downtowner (Trenton, N.J.) - September 29, 2008

The red carpet comes out

Launch of new music venue Trenton Haberdashery aspires to give the capital city a Cotton Club vibe

By Joe Emanski

Managing Editor

September 29, 2008

Combining roaring dance-hall excitement, sophisticated and fast-paced entertainment and the red-hot musical intensity of an after-hours supper club, Haberdashery aims to take a position as the crown jewel of Trenton's nightlife scene.

A joint presentation of Patriots Theater and Me Concerts, the Haberdashery's Oct.17 red-carpet, gala premiere at the George Washington Ballroom in Trenton, New Jersey's restored War Memorial, promises to be an evening of elegant and cosmopolitan jazz courtesy of the show-stopping vocal talents of the Garden State's own Jeanie Bryson.

"I've played in venues around the world, but there is always something special about performing for a home audience," Bryson said.

Bryson is excited about her appearance at Haberdashery's much-anticipated inaugural evening. "I'm thrilled to be performing," says Bryson. "Historically, the classic uptown New York jazz clubs were great Meccas for music. It would be wonderful to rekindle that kind of feeling again at the Haberdashery."

The night has personal significance for Bryson, who will perform selections from her popular "The Dizzy Songbook" concert program – a loving and fitting tribute to her father, Dizzy Gillespie, himself a long-time New Jersey resident.

"This music was selected from the perspective of a daughter who has listened to her father's music her whole life and chose specific songs that made a personal connection for her," says Bryson.

"The Trenton Marriott is excited about being able to participate in this fun event," Jeffrey Zeiger, general manager of the Trenton Marriott, said. "By providing a themed menu, reflective of the New Orleans influence on Jazz, we can create an authentic atmosphere of the Cotton Clubs of yesterday."

Tickets will be $49. The evening's entertainment will include two jazz sets and dinner.

For tickets call The Patriots Theater Box Office at (609) 984-8400, (800) 955-5566 or online at or

Jeanie Bryson spoke with the Downtowner last month by phone.

Trenton Downtowner: The press release says the event will combine roaring dance-hall excitement, sophisticated and fast-paced entertainment and the red-hot musical intensity of an after-hours supper club. Sounds exciting.

Jeanie Bryson: It does. It's a beautiful old establishment with history, and I think that's kind of lending to the aura of the era, what we're doing. It's bringing back a time when this music was king.

I lived in the Trenton area for years and I remember the houses along Cadwalder Park, how gorgeous they were, and just hoping they would be inhabited and brought back to splendor because they don't make houses like that anymore, and buildings like this anymore. I'm singing music from another time and it's a really appropriate coupling of the space and the music.

TD: Where have you been performing recently?

JB: I just got back from some gigs out in the Seattle area. Before that I did the Rochester Jazz Festival. I did the Dizzy Songbook in Ireland last year at the Cork Jazz Festival, I was the Jazz Ambassador of the festival. They pick one person out of the hundreds of musicians to be the spokesperson. Jazz has always been huge in Europe and many musicians in the '60s and '70s and even later ended up going to Europe and living there because it was so much easier to make a living.

TD: You'll be singing selections from your Dizzy Songbook concert program. Tell me what excites you about the program.

JB: It's all new music for me. I've been singing professionally for a long time, been recording for over 15 years, and this is all completely new music that I put together especially for this tribute to my father. It's always exciting doing new music – I never did any of his music before, and it's been a long time coming and it feels really great for me to do that emotionally as well as artistically.

And I think people respond to the connection I make to the music of my father and I think it will appeal to people who know me, people who love my father's music, and people who are interested in having a great night out. I don't think you have to be a huge jazz genius and fan to appreciate what we are doing

TD: What are some memories you have of watching your father perform?

JB: Just the joy that he brought to the stage, the fun-loving spirit that he had that was so obvious. I think that's actually one of the things that brought me into the world of performance and music is that he had such a great time, such a great rapport with the musicians on stage and the audience, it was captivating to watch him. He was so comfortable up there and enjoyed sharing his music with people so much. I remember seeing him have the time of his life every time he was up there.

TD: Who are your favorite jazz singers of all time?

JB: I'd have to say Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae, and more recently Etta Jones and Shirley Horn.

TD: Where does a jazz singer's style come from? Is it natural? Is it learned?

JB: I think it's what you're born with, but it's also very important to listen to people that you love and learn what it is they are doing. In terms of time and phrasing, that's something you get better at as you go along. I've got tapes from the old days of me singing, and I think I had a nice voice, but that was pretty square, pretty straight. Having a pretty sounding voice is great, but it doesn't make you a great jazz singer.

TD: What other jazz musicians have influenced you?

JB: There are many saxophone players that I've absolutely loved. One of my favorite trumpet players is Miles Davis, who's almost the opposite of my father. I love Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley. Fifties cool jazz, I feel very much attached to. I love Oscar Peterson. Kenny Barron is one of my favorite piano players. Tommy Flanagan has a natural, beautiful style. Nat King Cole, George Shearing. I listened to a lot of records as a kid. Jazz was the constant backdrop

TD: Who are some of your favorite contemporaries in the jazz scene?

JB: I love Patti Austin, I've always loved her. I loved her when she was a pop singer. I tend to gravitate toward the old singers. I love the new bass player, Esperanza Spalding. She's like 22 years old (actually 24), an upright bass player from California, she's writing originals, singing, playing the bass. She's fabulous. My favorite contemporary singer and someone who has really helped with some suggestions and advice is Rebecca Parris. She is up in Massachusetts and I actually think she is the best living jazz singer right now. There's also Ernestine Anderson, who I adore.

TD: Do you tend to perform with the same musicians as you tour?

JB: I do. My musical director is Ted Brancato, he did the arrangements. He's been my piano player for about 20 years. On bass is Chris Schmidt, on percussion Mayra Casales, she's a Cuban woman, wonderful percussionist, and Ray Vega on trumpet played with Tito Puentes for years. Paul Wells is playing drums this time.

TD: What kind of rapport do you and your accompanists have?

JB: They're like family. I've been working with most of these guys 15 years or more so it's great.

TD: Who has influenced you more in your musical career, your father or your mother, vocalist and lyricist Connie Bryson

JB: I think my mother had the biggest influence because I was with her all the time. She's been so supportive. She helped me learn the standards the right way when I started so I wasn't just learning someone else's version of a song. It's important to learn what the composer wrote, and then you can play with it.

Seeing my father perform was an inspiration in a way that was like osmosis. Obviously having someone of his talent and charisma as my father was amazing to experience, and I got to experience it a lot and it had to affect me. I didn't really realize it until people asked me that question for the last 20 years. I thought maybe he didn't affect me that much, but I realize he did.

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