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SJFS 2023 Night 1 recap May 18, 2023

Posted by Mike C. in Animation, Audio, Comedy, Health, Internet, Jazz, Music, Personal, Photography, Radio, Technology, Travel, TV, Video.

Friday, April 28, was the first of two nights for the 20th anniversary edition of Smooth Jazz for Scholars, hosted by keyboardist Jay Rowe in his hometown of Milford, Connecticut. The event, held on two nights since 2013, benefits the Milford Public Schools music department. It was the 19th SJFS overall (canceled by COVID in 2020 and ’21), my 15th overall, and 14th that I’ve seen it its entirety. (I only saw the first night in 2015 with that year’s WCWP Hall of Fame Ceremony held the following afternoon back on Long Island.)

In the days and hours leading up to the Milford trip, I grew overwhelmed by the impending workload (photos and videos). I struggled to pack everything the afternoon of the 28th, having spent two hours editing most photos from the WCWP station dinner (for student and alumni staff) on the 26th. I didn’t want to go, but felt obligated to go because I didn’t want to back out of the commitment I’d made to Jay. I convinced myself this would be the last year. (SPOILER: It won’t be.)

I finally left house with my parents just before 2:00. We encountered traffic delays on I-95 in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Waze directed us through winding side streets in Westport. We were eventually directed back to I-95 in Bridgeport with little volume the rest of the way to Exit 36 in Milford (in New Haven County, if you’re wondering). Not knowing which would be the official hotel, we booked rooms at Hampton Inn a month or two earlier. Our rooms were on the second floor, facing opposite ends of the building. I chose the room facing the parking lot so I-95 traffic wouldn’t keep me awake.

After settling into our rooms, we went for dinner at Pasquale Pizza a short drive from the hotel. Since we were close to the hotel, I walked back after finishing my pasta. On the way, I passed a Gas & Go station:

That made me think of the Gasigo sequence in the “Heroboy” episode of Freakazoid! In the sequence, singing attendants delayed Freakazoid’s (Paul Rugg) attempt to reach the villain Gutierrez (Ricardo Montalban). They had to finish the jingle in Freak’s car. Watch:

The episode ended with the Gasigo attendants driving Gutierrez mad as they reprised their jingle:

Ed Asner was the voice of Sergeant Mike Cosgrove.

South of Gas & Go was another gas station/convenience store: Cumberland Farms. I stopped in there to buy ice cream bars for dessert back in my room.

My girlfriend Kelly drove down from Wallingford for the show and met me at my room door around 6:30. We hung out for a little while, then drove to the Parsons Complex. I had her stop at CVS on the way so I could buy a small notebook or pad for writing out the set list and side notes. I forgot to pack a notebook and my sleep mask. I got a cheap gray mask and stenographer pad (close enough), then went on to Parsons. We arrived close to 7:30, after the soundcheck, so the doors were open.

Before entering the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, I decided to take a chance on the 50/50 raffle. I took out my wallet from my coat’s right pocket and bought three tickets for $10. Little did I know I inadvertently knocked out my keys, and wouldn’t realize what happened until the next day. More on that in the Saturday post.

I got plenty of reassurance from Katherine Gilraine and Ron Hancox, my fellow photographers in the orchestra pit, along with friends like Jay Dobbins, Phyllis Abrams, and Robin Morin Stewart. I love what I do and I love the music. I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. I need to be present, enjoy myself, trust the process, and take my time. I don’t work for a media outlet. There is no deadline.

With newfound confidence, I set up my equipment on the center-left portion of the orchestra pit below the stage. Production manager Kevin McCabe came on stage around 8:10 to welcome the audience and thank the sponsors:

Then, he introduced Jay Rowe, who read his statement in the program that marked Smooth Jazz for Scholars’ 20th anniversary:

Here is that message:

20 years of Smooth Jazz for Scholars!! I certainly did not think I would reach this milestone when I had the idea to start this event 20 years ago. Doing these shows helped me to become a better musician and play with some of my favorite musicians and people!! In some cases, I was playing alongside my musical heroes like Jeff Lorber, Alex Bugnon, David Benoit, Marc Antoine and Peter White, while watching newer artists like Vincent Ingala and Eric Darius become superstars and amazing entertainers. There have been losses along the way such as the passing of Jeff Golub, Chuck Loeb, Nick Colionne [fan page] and Rohn [“Ron”] Lawrence. These guys are missed terribly in our musical community and will never be forgotten. I have learned much about how important music is in people’s lives and have examined my own relationship with music. I still love playing and I am grateful that musical dreams can still come true in advancing middle age!! I truly hope that the youth of Milford, Connecticut – the town I grew up in and still love to live in – can experience the joy I have when playing music in whatever they pursue when they grow up. I also hope they can have the wonderful friendships that I have had through playing music. Thanks so much to Ken Navarro, Marion Meadows, Chieli Minucci [“key-ellie min-oo-chee”] and Nelson Rangell for being there for me at the very first Smooth Jazz for Scholars show that we played back in 2003 at Foran High School. It is very fitting to me that these artists perform for the first night of our 20th anniversary weekend. It has been a pleasure working with all of the artists who have played at Smooth Jazz for Scholars over the years at various festivals, clubs and events all over the world. Thanks to all of the fans of smooth jazz who have supported this show for all these years. You have been the reason to keep this going to support music education in our public schools inspiring the next generation of artists and music teachers!! Thanks to our sponsors: Barrett Outdoor Communications; Milford Bank; Dr. Anna Cutaia, Superintendent for Milford Public Schools; Amy Perras, Instructional Supervisor for Music, Art and Library Media; Kathy Bonetti, Communications Coordinator for Milford Public Schools; my mom Mia DiStasi; my wife Deborah Rowe; Kevin McCabe; WRTC; Mike Stacy at WRCH; Gregg Roche, former host of The Sunday Smooth Jazz Brunch on WRCH; Steve Butler, my favorite booking agent; everyone in this ad book (program), all of the wonderful fans of smooth jazz and the great artists performing at this year’s shows. Enjoy this year’s shows and stay tuned for next year when Smooth Jazz for Scholars becomes an adult at 21!!

Jay Rowe, 2023 Smooth Jazz for Scholars program

As Jay said, all four headliners from the first show in 2003 were present on the first night 20 years later!

Chieli Minucci:

Ken Navarro:

Marion Meadows:

…and Nelson Rangell:

Jay’s house band had percussion by Steve Scales:

Trever Somerville on drums:

Dave Anderson on bass:

Andy Abel on guitar:

And directing it all, Jay Rowe on keyboards:

(Updated with videos on 5/31. The soundcheck was part of the original post.)

1. Every Woman Every Man (Jay Rowe)
Originally heard on: Smooth Ride (2016) (earlier version of this post incorrectly credited song to Groove Reflections)
Featured musician: Jay Rowe (keyboards)

2. Midnight Dance (Jay Rowe)
Featured musician: Jay Rowe (keyboards)

3. Ballerina (Special EFX)
Originally heard on: Just Like Magic (1990)
Featured musician: Chieli Minucci (electric guitar)

4. George Can’t Dance (Special EFX)
Originally heard on: Catwalk (1994)
Featured musicians: Chieli Minucci (electric guitar), Nelson Rangell (alto sax)

5. Gratitude (Nelson Rangell)
New and unrecorded
Featured musicians: Nelson Rangell (alto sax), Chieli Minucci (acoustic guitar)

6. Smokin’ Joe (Nelson Rangell)
New and unrecorded; tribute to Joe Sample
Featured musicians: Nelson Rangell (alto sax), Jay Rowe (keyboards)

7. Smooth Sensation (Ken Navarro)
Originally heard on: Smooth Sensation (1997)
Featured musician: Ken Navarro (acoustic guitar)

8. When We Dance (Ken Navarro)
Originally heard on: Into the Light (2020)
Featured musician: Ken Navarro (acoustic guitar)

9. The Lift (Marion Meadows) (started in audience)
Originally heard on: Body Rhythm (1995)
Featured musician: Marion Meadows (soprano sax)

10. My Cherie Amour (Marion Meadows; Stevie Wonder cover)
Originally heard on: Body Rhythm (1995)
Featured musicians: Marion Meadows (soprano sax), Jay Rowe (keyboards)

11. Daybreak (Special EFX)
Originally heard on: Global Village (1992)
Featured musicians: Chieli Minucci (acoustic/electric guitars), Jay Rowe (keyboards), Dave Anderson (bass)

12. Sonora (Nelson Rangell; Hampton Hawes cover)
Originally heard on: Destiny (1995); My American Songbook, Vol. 1 (2005)
Featured musicians: Nelson Rangell (whistling/piccolo), Ken Navarro (acoustic guitar)

13. In the Sky Today (Ken Navarro)
Originally heard on: All the Way (2003)
Featured musicians: Ken Navarro (acoustic guitar), Nelson Rangell (alto sax), Steve Scales (percussion), Trever Somerville (drums)

14. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (Special EFX; The Allman Brothers Band cover)
Originally heard on: Twenty Twenty 2 (2022)
Featured musicians: Chieli Minucci (electric guitar), Ken Navarro (electric guitar), Jay Rowe (keyboards)

Ken posted video of the soundcheck:

15. Marcosinho (Marion Meadows; Dave Valentin cover)
Originally heard on: Whisper (2013)
Featured musician: Marion Meadows (soprano sax)

16. Romantica (Marion Meadows) (ended in audience)
Originally heard on: Player’s Club (2004)
Featured musician: Marion Meadows (soprano sax)

17 (Finale). What You Won’t Do for Love (Bobby Caldwell cover, tribute to the recently departed singer)
Featured musicians: Everyone, Carla Z (vocals)
Marion was part of Bobby’s live band.

This part of the post is dedicated to photo galleries of the headliners. We start with Chieli Minucci on electric guitar:

Chieli on acoustic guitar:

Ken Navarro on acoustic guitar:

Ken on electric guitar for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”:

Ken interacting with the band on “In the Sky Today”:

Marion Meadows starting in the audience for “The Lift”:

On stage:

Ending “Romantica” in the audience:

Nelson Rangell on alto sax:

Whistling on “Sonora”:

Whistling gave way to piccolo…

…and whistling while holding the piccolo:

Now, the house band, beginning with percussionist Steve Scales:

Drummer Trever Somerville:

Bassist Dave Anderson:

Andy Abel on acoustic guitar:

…and otherwise on electric:

Finally, Jay Rowe on keyboards (all but the first are from his “My Cherie Amour”):

On to medium and wide shots, beginning with Chieli and Nelson:

Chieli and Ken on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”:

Ken and Nelson:

Nelson and Jay:

Marion and Jay:

Last in this section, Steve and Trever:

Why not give audience and photographer shots their own section?

When it came time for the raffles (between “…Elizabeth Reed” and “Marcosinho”), I forgot to only check my tickets for the 50/50 portion. I was needlessly exasperated when my numbers didn’t match what Jay Rowe called.

I was rightfully dismayed when I actually lost the 50/50, but at least my $10 went to a great cause. The winner was Steve, who graciously donated back $200 of his winnings.

The finale, “What You Won’t Do for Love,” featured vocals by Carla Z:

As I was packing up my camcorder – Panasonic HC-X1500 with VW-HU1 and Rode VideoMic GO II – and tripod – Magnus VT-300, Lisa Arpin approached me to say hello. We had met during Jay Rowe’s Tito Tuesdays livestreams on Facebook during the early months of COVID. Afterward, I put the speedlight on my camera – a Canon EOS R7 – for flash meet-and-greet photos. (I was close enough to the stage that the RF-S 18-150mm lens was all I needed.) Unfortunately, the flash and low ISO (100) darkened the background and washed out the foreground. So, I turned off the speedlight and had photos taken at the settings I used during the show: 1/100 second shutter speed and ISO 2500. Later in Adobe Photoshop Elements, I’d bump up the brightness and contrast. (I have regular Photoshop, but mostly use it for upscaling, PDF automation, and graphic design.)

The first photo is of Jay Dobbins and Andy Abel:

Andy and “Jay Squared” (Dobbins came up with that):

I wanted to get in one photo, which Andy’s sister Janet gladly took (the next day was her birthday):

Once more from the auditorium, me with Jay Dobbins and Steve Scales:

Out in the lobby, I missed a chance to catch up with Chieli Minucci, but was part of a conversation with Marion Meadows and Katherine Gilraine about a documentary he was working on.

It took three attempts to get a photo with Jay Rowe, his wife Deborah, and Nelson Rangell (sorry to all three of you):

The last photo of the night, taken by Kelly, was me with Kristin and Ken Navarro:

Ken acknowledged Kristin during the show before “When We Dance.” It was very nice to catch up with them. Ken spotted me in the orchestra pit while playing “Smooth Sensation,” saying hi to me during a rest. After the show, he climbed off stage to chat with me. I talked about how I’d be debuting tracks from Love is Everywhere on May 17 (last night) at the end of the second Three-of-a-Kind Showcase edition of Instrumental Invasion. Ken liked the concept.

Kelly dropped me off at Hampton Inn around midnight. I wrote the following back in my room (in the vein of what I wrote earlier in this recap):

I had a lot of apprehension and performance anxiety ahead of tonight, the first night of the 20th anniversary Smooth Jazz of Scholars. The thought of taking hundreds of photos and having to edit them all scared me. And yet, I was at the Parsons Complex in Milford and had a great time. No way will I give up what I do. It’s too much fun in the moment. That’s what should matter. I have to remind myself to be present. I can’t look ahead in fear. I have to enjoy myself and snap away. I’m beloved by all that know me, and that was true tonight.

Mike Chimeri, Facebook post, 4/29/23, 1:22 AM

Watching part of a Twitch livestream got me through the late night/early morning hours as I transferred photos and videos from their SD cards. Then, since I shoot RAW now, I imported all the photos into Adobe Lightroom, then exported them as JPGs and deleted the RAW files.

Before retiring for the night/morning, I edited the meet-and-greet photos to include in my all-is-well Facebook post. I was able to get a few hours of sleep before my body decided I’d had enough.

Click here to read about Saturday morning and beyond.



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