Anticipation runs high at Dorthaan’s Place, whether you’re there for the music, the food, the scene, Dorthaan, or all of the above. The Sunday brunch jazz series, hosted by Newark’s peerless “First Lady of Jazz” Dorthaan Kirk, made its debut during NJPAC’s 2012-2013 season with four events. For its sophomore staging, the schedule has grown to six concerts, with the first riveted into the schedule of the week- long TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival in November.
“Last season we had to turn people away, so this season we have the ability to have more attendees,” says Kirk, who also oversees programming at Bethany Baptist Church’s Jazz Vespers in Newark. The contemporary dining space of NICO Kitchen + Bar, decorated in toasty-warm tones of chocolate and café au lait, is the setting where jazz meets feast. Before a note is even sounded, everyone politely queues up in the bar area, drawn by the powerful smell of indulgence wafting from the buffet. For starters: custom omelets, baked goods and ripe fruit. For closers: finger sweets and bread pudding dripping with caramel sauce. Keeping the “lunch” in “brunch”: salad and chicken cacciatore.
The crème-de-la-crème of jazz musicians is also on the menu. Last season, pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Houston Person got things rolling. This edition opened with the vibrant Latin jazz of the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, led by the Havana-born saxophonist and clarinetist. Because of ticket demand, two sets, at 11am and 1pm, will be sold separately, a departure from the inaugural Dorthaan’s Place, where the first seating segued into the second.
D’Rivera’s quintet performed on the final day of the week-long TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival, also celebrating its second year. Kirk, who is a programming coordinator for WBGO Jazz88.3 and widow of legendary multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, typically hosts the proceedings by introducing performing artists with personal recollections told in an easy drawl.
A longtime Jerseyan, D’Rivera acknowledged the festival’s namesake, the late Newark saxophonist James Moody, with a number they recorded together, “Who’s Smoking?” (written by D’Rivera and Claudio Roditi). The 11-time Grammy winner continued to ignite the fusion of Cuban and classical influences in his program by including his “Deep Six” (with drummer Mark Walker figuratively front and center), as well as Piazzolla’s “Liebertango.” In addition to Walker, pianist Alon Yavnai, trumpeter Diego Urcola and electric bassist Oscar Stagnaro were the ensemble’s supporting strongmen.
Kirk describes her challenges as finding the right musicians at the right price who have the right rapport with audiences. Her friends (there are many, including passing acquaintances who pride themselves among them) will travel from as far as California and Massachusetts to visit the festival and kick back at Dorthaan’s Place. “Even my friends in Manhattan think New Jersey is a foreign country,” she says, her eye-rolling practically audible over the phone. “But they come out of their way to be here because they think it’s a great thing.”
From December through April, Dorthaan’s Place will be open every month. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s coming up:
On Dec. 15, drummer and composer Cecil Brooks III and his band tour a spectrum of jazz genres, from straight-ahead and groove to hard bop and bebop.
On Jan. 19, the Steve Turre Quartet is in the house. Turre is an acclaimed trombonist, seashellist and composer, recognized as one of the world’s best jazz innovators. Like D’Rivera, he is known internationally for melding the energy of Latin music with the sophistication of contemporary jazz.
On Feb. 23, trumpet virtuoso and composer Jon Faddis leads his quartet. A protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, Faddis is a prolific modern jazz artist whom The Wall Street Journal calls “a trumpet player of prodigious lyrical force.”
On March 23, the Antoinette Montague Quartet features the dynamic vocals of the Newark-born performer, praised for her appearances at The Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and other premier jazz spots.
On April 27, jazz champions gather for A Salute to Mulgrew Miller, the jazz pianist who was originally scheduled to appear on that date, but passed away in May. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander leads the Eric Alexander Group, with pianist Harold Mabern, drummer Joe Farnsworth and others in a tribute to their friend and fellow musician.