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Nyack Jazz Week 2013: Tribute and Schedule

Picture 20

Opening Act: The Richie Morales Quartet

by Bill Batson

This special edition of the Nyack Sketch Log is a tribute to Nyack Jazz Week, which kicks off on Sunday night, July 21, at The Turning Point Cafe in Piermont with a concert by the Richie Morales Quartet.

Because of a club on Main Street called The Office, Nyack was once nearer to the center of the jazz universe. Operating from the storefront that is now the Olde Village Inne, jazz greats like Bill Evans and Jaco Pastorius were welcomed here to jam or gig.  This sketch log tells the story of how the club exploded on to the scene and then went supernova in five short years from 1975-1980.  Through Nyack Jazz Week, The Rockland County Jazz & Blues Society is keeping the body and soul of this great American art form alive and well in our village.

For more details about Nyack Jazz Week visit the Rockland County Jazz & Blues Society or see the schedule below.

Nyack Sketch Log: The Office

Originally posted 6/5/12

For a brief moment in time, one of the hottest spots in the jazz universe was a nightclub in Nyack. The Office was located in the storefront that is now home to the Olde Village Inne. For five years, from 1975 until 1980 some of greatest artists of the genre, like Jaco Pastorious, Bill Evans and many others would come to Nyack to gig at The Office.  What happened at the height of the club’s artistic incandescence that caused the venue to disappear from the jazz scene?

The Office now lives in folklore: in the memories of regulars, musicians around the world, and on the pages of a pamphlet published by Michael Houghton.  The owner of the Ben Franklin Bookshop on North Broadway, the delight of bibliophiles from 1977 until 2008, Houghton compiled the story of the club for an article that appeared in The Hook magazine in November 2004.

Houghton’s elegant essay weaves together jazz and local history.  We learn that the bar that would become a Mecca for jazz musicians was only the 100th post prohibition liquor license to be granted in New York State when it opened in 1933.   According to Houghton, employees at the neighboring telephone company, now the Nyack Businsess Center, would claim that they were working late at “the office,” when they were really drinking at the bar.  Eventually the euphemism became the name.

Nyack Jazz Week 2013 Schedule

7/22 Richie Morales Quartet w/Bill O’Connell-piano, Mark Egan-bass, Steve Slagle-sax
The Turning Point Café, Piermont, NY
7:30-10:30p-$20/15 students, seniors

7/22 The Next Generation of Jazz
featuring The City College Jazz Composers Collective
with special guest – Joe Magnarelli, trumpet
The Nyack Library, Nyack, NY
6-8p – FREE

7/22 Jam Session w/ Special Guests
Hosted by John Richmond
The Turning Point Café, Piermont, NY
8-11p – $5

7/24 Jam Session with Mark Hagan – Special Guest – Bob Dorough
The 76 House, Tappan, NY
8-11p -$10

7/25 Free Outdoor Concert – Mike Holober (piano) & Balancing Act Octet with Tim Ries and Jason Rigby – saxes, Melissa Stylianou – voice, others
The Edward Hopper House, Nyack, NY
7:30-9:30p – FREE

7/26 All Star Duo – Harvie S, bass with Kenny Barron, piano
Nyack Library Carnegie Room
7:30p -9:30p Tickets:$30 Adult /$25 Senior / $23 Member /$20 Young Adult

7/27 The Sonny Fortune Quartet
w. Michael Cochrane-piano, Steve Johns-drums, bass-TBA
The Hudson House, Nyack, NY
Sets at 8p & 9:30p -$20/15

7/28 Closing Night Concert & Jam Session – Cameron Brown Group w/ Russ Johnson-trumpet, Tony Jefferson-drums
The Turning Point Café, Piermont, NY
$20/15 students, seniors

Nyack Jazz Week is sponsored by: The Rockland County Jazz & Blues Society, The Nyack Library, The Friends of the Nyack, Hopper House, The Turning Point Café and others

The Office was purchased by Rocco De Pietro in 1965.  His son, Jack, was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1975 when his father had a heart attack and considered selling the bar.  A $10,000 loan from a regular allowed Jack to buy a Yamaha piano and a sound system, prerequisites for a respectable jazz club, and take the helm.

According to Richard Sussman, a celebrated jazz musician and composer, The Office became a farm team for the big league jazz clubs.  He described De Pietro, who was an accomplished drummer, as someone willing “to take a chance on younger, unknown players. “Sussman credits The Office with giving him the opportunity to create his first quintet.

The bar was small and the stage was even smaller.  The five members of Sussman’s quintet would be huddled in the front of the bar with their backs to the front window.  The brass section of bigger bands would be seated with the audience.

Houghton believes that The Office deserves a special place in jazz history for its interesting connection to Jaco Pastorius. Pastorious revolutionized the electric bass guitar, musically and physically.  By removing the frets from his electric bass he could deliver blistering streams of aggressive syncopated riffs and heart stopping harmonics that helped transform the bass from a rhythm section to a lead instrument.

The Office was one of Pastorious’ first appearances on the local jazz circuit after arriving from Florida.  An hour long unaccompanied performance at The Office in 1975 is the stuff of legend.  Pastorious’ life was tragically cut short in 1987 when he succumbed to years of drug abuse and mental illness. Jazz fans will soon have Heavy Metal megaband Metallica’s bassist Robert Trujillo to thank for funding a documentary on Pastorius.

During its’ heyday, there was music at The Office on most evenings with headliners appearing on the weekends.  Ironically, the instrument of the venues meteoric rise also led to the bar’s collapse.  In the late 1970’s, De Piertro ran regular ads on New York City jazz station WRVR that resulted in long lines of eager fans outside the club. All that changed at 10:15a on September 8, 1980 when WRVR ended its jazz era playing Charles Mingus “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” The next song, Waylon Jennings “Are You Ready for The Country,” ushered in a new country format.

Later that same week, jazz great and De Pietro family friend Bill Evans died days after performing at The Office.  The loss of a dear friend and WRVR in the same week devastated De Pietro.  Soon The Office made its own format change from jazz to blues and rock. De Pietro sold the club in 1986.

Even though The Office changed its tune in 1980, the jazz sound survived in Nyack. The “Music in the Garden: Jazz Concert Series” at the Edward Hopper House started their summer program in 1981 and more recently the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society has organized a critically acclaimed Jazz Concert Series at the Nyack Library’s Carnegie Room.

Richard Sussman

When Richard Sussman and his wife outgrew their Brooklyn apartment, he remembered the “cool place “where he played as a young musician.”  A music teacher at Manhattan School of Music for the last 26 years, Sussman moved to Nyack in 1997, returning to the place where he composed and performed his underground classic, “Freefall,” with the quintet he formed at The Office.  He is now president of the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society and his new album “Continuum,”  is being released on June 19, on Origin Records.

The Office is now the Olde Village Inne

When he’s returning from a late night gig in New York City, Sussman likes to drop by the Olde Village Inne because “where else can you find a kitchen open until 3a in Nyack.”  But there might be another kind of gravity that draws Sussman to his old haunt.  It is probably the same invisible energy that keeps jazz music and musicians orbiting around the village where a club called The Office, like a dying star, went supernova and then silent over 30 years ago.

You can relive The Office era and sample some of the music from jazz greats like Jaco PastoriusCharles MingusBill Evans and Robert Sussman online.  I highly recommend listening to the first few seconds of Mingus and Jennings back-to-back to get a sense of how jarring that sudden format shift at WRVR must have been for loyal local jazz lovers in 1980.

Every Wedneday artist and musician Mark Hagan presents Jazz ‘n Sketch, an evening of music and art at the 76 Tappan House from 8p – 11p.

There is also jazz on the program every Monday night at the Turning Point Cafe in Piermont.

This week’s sketch was based on a photo found in the archives of Hudson River Valley Heritage.

Special thanks to Kris Burns for sharing Michael Houghton’s pamphlet “The Office, A Nyack Nightclub, 1975 – 1987” and Matt Haviland, Vice President of the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society, for giving me the low down on jazz in Rockland County.

Bill Batson, an artist, writer and activist draws sketches and writes essays curbside in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: The Office “©2012, Bill Batson.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored by The Corner Frame Shop at 40 South Franklin Street in Nyack, NY.

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