Although the music is ending at the Harmony Café in Woodstock, jazz lovers should know about the ongoing Wednesday night performances by Jeff “Siege” Siegel and Rich Syracuse at Catskill Mountain Pizza. This May, the duo will celebrate their fifth anniversary of playing at the Woodstock restaurant, sometimes as part of Siegel’s sextet, often joined by colleagues from the Hudson Valley, New York City, South America, and Africa.
Siegel, a drummer, and Syracuse, who plays string bass, toured for years with virtuoso pianist Lee Shaw. The two men now maintain a sometimes brutal schedule of teaching and touring internationally, so it’s relaxing to have a place to perform regularly in their hometown. They are currently planning their second trip to South Africa in June.
The decision to play at Catskill Mountain Pizza came on the same night they went to see a South African group, Uhadi, at the Bearsville Theater in 2014. Siegel had noticed that the band included trumpeter Feya Faku, who was scheduled to play at a music festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, where Syracuse and Siegel were going to perform a few months later. After meeting Feya in Bearsville after the show and exchanging CDs, they went out for a slice and got their first look at Catskill Mountain Pizza’s side room. Siegel told proprietor Brian Roefs the room, with bar and tables, would make a great venue for jazz gigs, and he agreed to make the space available to them on a Wednesday night.
“It became a steady thing,” said Siegel, “bringing musicians from all over the world and local friends to come play with us.” When Uhadi returned to the U.S. in 2016, Feya joined the sextet one night at the pizza place. Although they had admired each other’s music, it was the first time they had ever played together. A few days later, Feya and the sextet recorded an album, King of Xhosa. “Feya has a regal presence,” Siegel explained. “He’s from the Xhosa tribe, like Nelson Mandela, Miriam Makeba, and Trevor Noah.”
This year, the sextet will be performing with Feya in South Africa thanks to a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation travel grant. Besides another gig at the Grahamstown Standard Bank Jazz Festival, they’ll do concerts and master classes in Pretoria and in the country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). “We’ll also be doing outreach and working with kids while we’re there,” said Syracuse. “You never know who’s going to be the next Feya.”
“There’s something about South Africa that pulls me so strongly,” said Siegel. “We were amongst a lot of other jazz musicians from around the world, and it felt like we were home. And of course, jazz comes from Africa.”
The sextet’s next show at Catskill Mountain Pizza, on April 14 will feature guitarist John Stowell of Portland, Oregon. On May 1, pianist Will Boulware, keyboardist with Maceo Parker, will join Syracuse and Siegel. On May 15, they’ll welcome Armen Donelian, a pianist who teaches, like Siegel, at the New School in Manhattan. On May 22, Brazilian percussionist Nanny Assis and vocalist Machan Taylor will perform with the sextet.
The band would be happy to play together at Catskill Mountain Pizza, said Syracuse, “even if nobody was in the room. But there’s a regular audience that realizes the music is here. They’re interested to see who we bring.”
When not on tour, the Jeff “Siege” Siegel Sextet performs at 9 p.m. on some Wednesdays at Catskill Mountain Pizza, 51 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock. For more information on Siegel and Syracuse, see jeffsiegeljazz.us and richsyracusebass.us.