“Highlights in Jazz” Concert Series Kicks Off 37th Season

Anat Cohen
Ken Peplowski

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Now in its 37th year, the Highlights in Jazz concert series presented by Jack Kleinsinger is calling it quits when the current season is finished.. Or maybe not. Kleinsinger says that he’s not throwing in the towel because he’s retiring or moving on to other things, but rather because it’s turning into a losing proposition financially. “The economy has hurt us, just like everybody else. It’s a tough time to put on shows in NYC. In one year we went from about 400 subscribers to 182. I’ve seen reduced attendance at clubs. Funding sources aren’t looking good now. We’ve never had a major title sponsor. But if I could get sponsorship for even a part of what it costs to do these shows, I’d still be doing them. Right now, it’s turned into an expensive hobby.”

The irrepressible Kleinsinger first started presenting shows in the NYC area in 1991, while he still had a demanding day job. He was Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York. “In order to clear my head, I’d go to jazz clubs and eventually I became very friendly with people like Bucky Pizzarelli and Zoot Sims. They encouraged me to put on a show.” The first concert featured those two and other notable jazz players in an Off-Broadway theater called Theatre de Lys (now The Lucille Lortel), located on Christopher Street in the Village. Kleinsinger couldn’t believe how much fun it was and he was hooked.

Since then, he’s presented over 260 concerts. He decided very quickly that his niche would be saluting jazz greats who were still around. “I’d seen too many memorial concerts and I wanted to do something to recognize these great artists while they were alive.” Among his fondest memories is a concert in which he reunited Lionel Hampton with Teddy Wilson. That same show also featured a duet between bassists Milt Hinton and George Duvivier. Indeed, Kleinsinger considers himself a master at pairing or grouping musicians who don’t normally play together, pointing to a performance by Phil Woods and Lou Donaldson as case in point. And he always likes to have a surprise guest at every show. “Dizzy, Cab Calloway, Carmen McRae, you name ’em, they’ve done it.”

Working every show as MC, Kleinsinger is also known for pulling noted artists from the audience to get up and join in the fun. “I love it. It’s so thrilling to me.” Kleinsinger laughed about how he was described by Leonard Maltin as “Ed Sullivan with adrenalin,” largely for his proclivity for pointing out notable people in the audience. “As MC, I’ve gotten mixed reviews,” the effusive Kleinsinger added. “Gary Giddins once timed my introduction of an act and said that I clocked in at 9 minutes and 24 seconds!”

Jam sessions are often a part of the action and Kleinsinger explained that that aspect came from his admiration for another promoter. “See, I wanted to be the next Norman Granz. I love putting people together. It gives me some creative input,” he said. Every concert has a theme and this season’s programs include A Salute to Lew Tabackin and a Ben Webster & Lester Young Centennial celebration.

For many years now, the concerts have been held on Thursday nights, which he considers perfect for his programming and his audience, whom he described as “jazz purists, but very loyal.” Up to a point, of course. Kleinsinger knows his audience and himself well enough to stick to acoustic mainstream jazz. “They get nervous if they even see an electric instrument onstage. We’re giving them their jazz fix. And they’re very appreciative to the performers and myself. I get letters from our subscribers all the time about the series and some even send small checks to support what I’m doing.” Losing that connection with the audience as well as the artist is the hardest part of his decision to give it up. “Yes, it’s sad.”

In any case, Kleinsinger is doing his best to either go out with a bang or wow a potential sponsor with some blockbuster shows. Opening this season on Thursday, October 8 is a show Kleinsinger calls “Hot Jazz from New Orleans to Israel,” featuring an interesting cross-section of players from both regions, including Evan Christopher, Duke Heitger, Anat Cohen, Ehud Asherie with George Masso, Jackie Williams. Johnny Varro and Joe Ascione. That show and the rest of the shows in the season take place at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College located at 199 Sullivan Street in downtown NYC.

The rest of the shows in the upcoming season include:

Thursday, November 12, 2009 – 8 pm

Living Jazz Legends

Featuring Buddy DeFranco with Jay Leonhart, Joe Cohn, Ron Odrich, Ed Metz, Jr. +

Bucky Pizzarelli with John Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli, Mickey Roker

Thursday, December 10, 2009 – 8 pm

Celebrating the Swing Masters

Ken Peplowski Recalls Benny Goodman

Terry Gibbs Recalls Lionel Hampton

Freddie Bryant Recalls Charlie Christian

Thursday, February 11, 2010

37th Anniversay Gala

Jay Leonhart, Wycliffe Gordon, Houston Person, Danny Gottlieb, Ted Rosenthal, Howard Alden with special guest George Wein.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Salute To Lew Tabackin featuring Toshiko Akiyoshi, Randy Brecker, Boris Kozlov, Lewis Nash and Jack Wilkins

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ben Webster & Lester Young Centennial

Featuring Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano, Harry Allen and an All-Star Rhythm section

The current season runs through May 13, 2010 with a “Grand Finale” concert with the jazz dance band Vince Giordano & his Nighthawks headlining and also featuring the Billy Taylor Trio and Gene Bertoncini & Harvie S.

For more information about the series, visit the Tribeca Performing Arts Center web site. And if you would like to sponsor the longest running jazz concert series in NYC or even make a contribution to keep it going, you can contact Kleinsinger, c/o the Highlights in Jazz publicist Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services at 845-986-1677 or [email protected] .And tell him JT sent you.