Woodstock Playhouse becomes Bop Island Jazz

Polly Gibbons and Peter Bernstein.

In the 1940s, said trombonist Doug Sertl, “Big bands were like the rock musicians of today. That was the popular music.” Today, he said, there are probably eight to ten major, active, professional repertory big bands around the country, although Europe has many more state-sponsored groups.  

Now the Hudson Valley will have its own big band of 16 prominent jazz musicians who live in the area but generally have to perform elsewhere. The Bop Island Big Band will play three concerts at the Woodstock Playhouse this fall, alternating with two performances by smaller ensembles, in the Bop Island Jazz Festival. The first show features Jazzmasters, a quartet led by guitarist Peter Bernstein, on September 22 at 8 p.m. at the Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road.

The Bop Island Big Band will be performing favorites such as Count Basie classics, and also serving as a vehicle for new compositions. Legendary trombonist and arranger Slide Hampton no longer performs much, but he will be on hand on November 18, when his music will be the main focus. New pieces have been written by Callum Au, a trombonist and arranger from the U.K., who is in his late 20s. British vocalist Polly Gibbons will join the band on October 21, and Grammy-winning trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker will be featured at the December 16 concert. The other small group will be a trio led by pianist Ted Rosenthal, performing on November 4.

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The big band includes long-time pros like trumpeter Dave Stahl, who used to tour with Liza Minnelli, and Sertl, who’s performed or recorded with Tony Bennett, Paul Anka, Sammy Davis, Jr., Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Roger Kellaway. The veterans will be joined by talented younger musicians who have been making names for themselves in the New York City scene, including saxophonist Andrew Gould and trombonist Jennifer Wharton. Sherrie Maricle, the band’s drummer, is also leader of the all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra. “Women in a big band were unheard of 30 or 40 years ago,” said Sertl.

Both the small groups and the big band have been recruited by Sertl. “Over almost four decades, I’ve either recorded or worked with these folks,” he said, “both well-known and new. Diego Ramirez is an up-and-coming young drummer,” who will perform at the opening concert with guitarist Bernstein, organist Rick Montalbano, and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm. Bernstein has played in groups headed by such greats as Jimmy Cobb, Diana Krall, Sonny Rollins, and Joshua Redmond. He has been praised for his feather-light touch, fluid improvisation, and warm, ringing tone.

The Bop Island Jazz Festival opens with Jazzmasters, featuring guitarist Peter Bernstein, on Saturday, September 22, at 8 p.m., at the Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock. Tickets are $35 to $45 and may be purchased online through https://bopislandjazzfestival.com, at http://www.woodstockplayhouse.org, or by calling the box office at 845-679-6900. 

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