Gary Smulyan/Joe Magnarelli Quintet celebrate Thad Jones 100th Birthday @ Alias Coffee 11/18/2023


Thad Jones, a trumpeter and big band leader who passed away in 1986, left a lasting legacy through the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. This year, marking his centennial, band members Joe Magnarelli, a trumpeter known as Mags, and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, have been hosting a series of concerts. Their recent performance at Arias Coffee in Troy, spanning two nights, was a testament to this enduring spirit.

Photo by Rudy Lu

The ensemble kicked off with “Tis,” Thad’s theme song, featuring an invigorating series of notes from Gary Smulyan, challenging the rest of the band to match its fervor. They rose to the occasion, embodying the intense energy characteristic of bebop, with the piano, bass, and drums maintaining a frenetic pace, highlighted by Barna’s high hat and snapping snare.

Following this high-energy opening, the tempo shifted with the familiar Burt Bacharach melody, “Wives and Lovers.” This rendition, far removed from its schmaltzy top 40 origins, swung with vigor. Smulyan and Magnarelli led the piece, each artist then taking a turn to shine, including Ian MacDonald’s flute-like solo on his electric keyboards.

Photo by Rudy Lu

As the season veers towards winter, “April in Paris” brought a nostalgic escape, with Jason Emmon’s bass solo and Mags’ lyrical trumpet transporting the audience to a romantic springtime in Paris. The duo’s chorus rendition conjured images of the city’s charm.

The rhythm evolved once more with “I Love You,” infused with a Latin beat and organ-like sounds from MacDonald.

A poignant moment came with “A Child Is Born,” a Thad Jones/Mel Lewis ballad, showcasing Gary Smulyan’s lyrical prowess.

Photo by Rudy Lu

The concert continued to captivate with “Lady Luck” and “Interloper,” featuring the entire ensemble. MacDonald offered a stunning rendition of “Body and Soul.”

The evening concluded with an energetic finale, as trumpet player Steve Hurwitz and regular saxophonist Tom Avella joined the stage, rounding off another exceptional session at Arias Coffee. The standing-room-only crowd was a clear indicator of the region’s appetite for high-caliber jazz in an intimate setting, promising more memorable performances to come.

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