A Place in her heart

Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz” presides over the fifth season of Dorthaan’s Place, NJPAC’s jazz brunch series.


Dorthaan Kirk, Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz,” stands on a pulpit – literally and figuratively – to sing the praises of the artists who perform at Dorthaan’s Place, her Sunday brunch jazz series at NJPAC.


“It’s the perfect forum to promote whatever’s going on at NJPAC or in the city,” she says of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, where she is a member of the congregation and programmer for the free Jazz Vespers there. “Jazz Vespers attracts 200 to 300 people … Once a month, for nine months out of the year, I get to promote in print and verbally from the pulpit. So we already have a built-in audience for promoting Dorthaan’s Place, and our narthex has all kinds of different brochures of things happening in the city, arts-wise.”


Kirk has another pulpit, as Special Events and Programs Coordinator for WBGO Jazz 88.3FM. She hovers over NJPAC’s TD James Moody Jazz Festival (October 15-November 20) like a favorite aunt in the kitchen, since the jazz station is among the festival’s principal partners. This season’s opening performance of Dorthaan’s Place, on November 20, dovetails with the closing day of the festival – a kind of second kickoff to remind jazz fans that the Arts Center and TD Jazz Series continue to swing well after the first of the year.


Dorthaan’s Place also shares a fifth anniversary with the annual celebration, named for the great Newark jazz saxophonist whose widow, Linda Moody, is often seen in Kirk’s company as they bop from event to event. Kirk was married to the late multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose recordings and live performances profoundly influenced such diverse artists as Frank Zappa, Derek Trucks and Steve Turre.


While Kirk can rely on the kinship she has with musicians to populate Dorthaan’s Place, finding space in the schedule for these tightly booked names is trickier.


“You hope and you pray that you get the artists you want for any date,” she says of the five-concert series, which takes place in NICO Kitchen + Bar. “To open with Renee Rosnes was perfect because she was the pianist for James Moody’s quartet for many years, and of course that’s the last date of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival. It was just the universe at work.”


Considered one of the premier jazz pianists and composers of her generation, Rosnes will be accompanied by vibist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Carl Allen. A founding member of the Bay Area octet SFJAZZ Collective, she has toured or recorded with bands led by such giants as Ron Carter and Wayne Shorter, who is the subject of a weekend-long salute at NJPAC in April.


A stunning doubleheader follows on January 22, when pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi performs in a quartet with her husband, sax and flute virtuoso Lew Tabackin. For jazz devotees, it’s a save-the-date opportunity to hear these dynamic musicians perform together in clubby surroundings. Each can claim a distinguished individual career, and their eponymous, multi-GRAMMY-nominated big bands recorded 23 albums over three decades.


On February 12, the cusp of Valentine’s Day, Kirk welcomes her only solo vocalist, baritone Kevin Mahogany. “People know who Kevin is,” she states matter-of-factly. “The ‘Joe Williams of 2016.’ He’s one of the singers influenced by the generations of yesterday. He carries on the tradition.” Mahogany also will undoubtedly flavor his program with the jazz sounds of his Kansas City upbringing and dip into the Great American Songbook for the romantics in the audience.


Rob Paparozzi’s Jersey-centric blues band moves into Dorthaan’s Place on March 12. The harmonica player and singer, who has fronted the touring Blues Brothers band as well as Blood, Sweat & Tears, released a solo album, Etruscan Soul, later in his career, conceivably for Kirk’s listening pleasure. (“I just love it!” she blurbs unabashedly. “I play it over and over!”)


Ninety-year-old jazz statesman Bucky Pizzarelli, a revered guitarist with an artistic bent, was “discovered” by Kirk – in a sense. “I’m the quote-unquote curator of the WBGO gallery and I exhibited his paintings last year at WBGO,” she says with pride. “Ed performed at the reception.”  


“Ed” is guitarist Ed Laub, a former student of Pizzarelli’s and for a dozen years one-half of The Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub Duo, performing at Dorthaan’s on April 2. Audiences can expect Songbook selections and favorite guitar duets from these two smoothies.


Reservations for Dorthaan’s Place are recommended. Brunch is served at NICO Kitchen + Bar at 11am and 1pm, with performances scheduled at 11:30am and 1:30pm. For tickets, visit njpac.org or call 1-888-GO-NJPAC.


Sept. 28, 2016