Smalls All Stars: A bit of NY jazz in Bellingham

by BRENT COLE

In the jazz world, New York is considered the Mecca, the hub where many of the best and the brightest jazz musicians reside. Of course, jazz musicians and jazz scenes are found all over the nation, but New York… well… New York is in a world of its own.

And within that scene, you can find the bigger, more tourist-driven types of jazz venues – The Blue Note and Birdland for example – but underneath that layer, you’ll find great venues producing and showcasing some of the finest musicians around in intimate settings. One of these clubs, a favorite among jazz musicians, is Smalls, a tiny spot in Greenwich Village. This month, Smalls will bring four “all stars” to the Pacific Northwest, including a show in Bellingham at the Whatcom Jazz Music and Arts Center.

“It’s a musician’s haven, it’s where the real stuff goes on,” said WJMAC’s organizer Julian MacDonough, who will also be sitting in with the All Stars on drums. “Smalls is the place musicians like to go to hang out and it’s run by a musician – it has a real authentic thing happening.”

The All Stars include Peter Bernstein on guitar, Grant Stewart on tenor sax, Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and Smalls owner Spike Wilner on piano. The band will be rounded out with Michael Glynn from Seattle on bass and MacDonough on drums.

All four players are prominent in the jazz scene – Peter Bernstein’s Live at Smalls is the best seller on the Smalls label (a record label run by Spike of live recordings from the venue) and he’s played with such jazz legends as Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Eric Alexander and the amazing Sonny Rollins. Stewart was one of the first jazz artists to be invited to play at the historical Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg, Russia,  as well as being a featured artist at the Guggenheim Museums’ Jazz series with his trio including the legendary Jimmy Cobb on drums. Magnarelli has performed with such acts as The Glen Miller Orchestra, Harry Connick Jr, Louis Hayes among countless others, and is an adjuct professor at Julliard School of Music and Rutgers University. Finally, Spike Wilner’s magic transcends his life as a club and label owner, having played all over NY as well as performing with the Artie Shaw Big Band and The Glen Miller Orchestra, just to name a few.

MacDonough looks forward to performing with such legendary players. “Peter Bernstein is considered one of the greatest jazz guitar players alive today,” he said, adding, “Grant Stewart and Joe Magnarelli are both at their top of their game,” with Spike, obviously, being a key figure in the jazz scene.

Cory Weeds, former owner of The Cellar in Vancouver, is bringing The All Stars out to play four shows, with one in Bellingham, another in Tacoma, and two in Vancouver. “They’re coming out with Spike because they play the club all the time and Cory wanted to show what can happen there on any given night,” MacDonough said, adding “To give people a slice of what’s being presented at Smalls and showcase that special scene.”

According to Wilner, he’s looking forward to coming out to play the Pacific Northwest for the first time and checking out the scene. “From what I hear the Pacific Northwest responds very well to the jazz shows that are presented there. Bernstein has performed a lot out there as has Magnarelli and Stewart. This will be my first time in The Pacfic Northwest,” he said.

LIVE SHOW: See the Smalls All Stars perform Wednesday, April 29 at WJMAC (in The Majestic) at 7 p.m. For more details, see www.wjmac.org/calendar.html.

Published in the April 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine