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The Jazz Loft

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton
An evening of booze, jazz and dance

By Kevin Redding

For one glorious evening, The Jazz Loft on Christian Avenue in Stony Brook will transport local guys and dolls back to the rip-roaring time when big bands reigned supreme, a sea of flapper dresses whirled around the dance floor and booze was in high demand.

Presented by the Three Village Historical Society in collaboration with The Jazz Loft, the Prohibition Night fundraiser is a 1920s-set event on Thursday, Sept. 14 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. that encourages residents to dress in period clothes, mingle and dance to the sounds of the era and get a sense of what it was like to live in this area during one of the most exciting decades of the century.

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

But unlike folks of the time who had to smuggle illegal alcohol into speakeasies, it’s no secret that beer and wine will be flowing at the event all night long as it’s sponsored by Montauk Brewery Company, representatives from which will provide raffles and tastings of its beers, including the Watermelon Session Ale. All proceeds will benefit the historical society.

The fundraiser will serve as a prequel of sorts to the historical society’s 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Oct. 21, dubbed The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring ’20s, which will guide residents through life in Setauket and Stony Brook as it was during that decade. Continuing with Spirits Tours tradition, actors will be situated in various parts of the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and Setauket Presbyterian cemetery and portray local figures from the past who were involved in the suffrage movement as well as the smuggling and secret storage of alcohol.

“It’s such a fascinating time in history. The jazz clubs during that period, between the flapper dresses, the jazz music, and the romance of everything, could rival any hip hop club today,” TVHS President Stephen Healy said. “It’s fascinating how people got alcohol during this time. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats and out here we had a lot of farmers growing potatoes, a key ingredient in vodka. So we were actually a pretty good source.”

Healy added that because the event tackles an era that jazz music helped define, it was a no-brainer to collaborate with The Jazz Loft, a nonprofit the society president had wanted to work with for a while now, and its director Tom Manuel. With an added connection with the president of Montauk Brewery, he said it was a perfect fit.

“Those three themes matched up perfectly — the alcohol, the prohibition history and the jazz music,” Healy said. “It will be fantastic. We’ll have beer tastings, raffles and probably a walk around that night. While you listen to jazz music, you can either sit at the table and watch the show or mingle and learn about prohibition history, our society and the loft.”

Tom Manuel and Steve Healy with Manuel’s dog Cindy Lou in front of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Manuel, who founded The Jazz Loft in May 2016 as a hub for jazz preservation, education and performance, is not only providing the venue for the event at no cost but the entertainment as well.

With trumpet in hand, he and his Firehouse Five band will be performing a program of music that spans the decade, including Louis Armstrong’s “Indiana,” “I’ve Found a New Baby,” and “I’m Confessin’” and early Duke Ellington and Django Reinhardt among others. The band, consisting of trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, cornet, saxophone and trombone, will even be performing on period instruments acquired from the loft.

“Jazz has always been the soundtrack to what was happening in our country, so I love that we could do something like this and transport people back in time for a night and provide a very clear picture of what was happening back in the day,” Manuel said.

Recalling an interaction he once had with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about the ’20s, Manuel said, “He was talking about this and said, ‘It’s interesting how anytime you tell people they can’t do something, everybody wants to do it and it immediately becomes popular.’ So in the ’20s, it was you can’t drink, you can’t wear that, you can’t listen to this music, and so of course what does everybody do? They go absolutely crazy over all this and all they want to do is hear jazz, dance, drink booze and have a great big party. I think the time’s extra special for that naughty factor.”

Manuel said the event was especially important to him because it gave his nonprofit the opportunity to collaborate with another, which is part of the loft’s overall mission. “It’s so essential that we nonprofits work together because we can’t do it on our own,” he said. “I don’t care how successful you are; we are all in the arts and the arts is all about collaboration. So we can’t just hide in our little corners. I’m so happy that the TVHS is growing. That, to me, is why we do this. Now, together, we’re stronger as a team.”

The Jazz Loft is located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village. Tickets to Prohibition Night are $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students. Period costumes are encouraged. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org. Spirits Tour tickets will also be on sale during the event. For more information on the Spirits Tour, visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

The Art of Jazz, led by Kevin McEvoy, above, kicked off on March 8. Photo from Margaret McEvoy

Clothed Figure Sketch Nights at The Jazz Loft

The Atelier at Flowerfield artists of St. James has joined forces with the improv musicians of The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook for an inspirational evening of music and art every other Wednesday night from 7 to 9:30 p.m. While The Jazz Loft hosts its weekly jazz jam sessions, the Atelier at Flowerfield will host a sketch session featuring a clothed figure model posing with musical instrument. Included in this event will be drawing boards and tables for all artists in attendance.

“I am quite thrilled for The Jazz Loft’s collaboration with the Atelier. The jazz workshops and artist lofts of the past were a big part of the inspiration in creating The Jazz Loft. Once again artistic collaboration across the spectrum will be in full view and the cross pollination can begin! Add some dancers and poets and the jazz nest will be in full swing,” said Tom Manuel of The Jazz Loft. Atelier director Kevin McEvoy will be doing a live painting demonstration that will continue through the weeks so that people can watch the painting progress. Next event will be held on March 22. Admission is $20 per person. For more information or to sign up, call 631-250-9009.

Tom Manuel leads the Jazz Loft Big Band on a bandstand at the loft, constructed from pieces of the original dance floor of New York’s famed Roseland Ballroom. Photo from The Jazz Loft

By John Broven

On May 21, Stony Brook Village reverberated to the sounds of a New Orleans-style street parade to mark the opening of The Jazz Loft at 275 Christian Ave. That happy day brought to reality the dreams of president and founder Tom Manuel.

“In the brief seven months the Jazz Loft has been open we’ve been able to accomplish the goals of our mission well ahead of schedule,” Manuel said. “Our performance calendar has presented some of the finest local, national and international artists; our educational programming has established our pre-college Jazz Institute in collaboration with Stony Brook University; and Our Young at Heart program has introduced wonderful music therapy events to people with memory loss.

“In addition to all of this our lecture series, family concerts, sponsored concert series and acquisitions and installations of jazz memorabilia, art, photography and more are ongoing and ever growing.”

Tom Manuel with children during The Creole Love Song: Operation Haiti! mission. Photo from The Jazz Loft

For establishing The Jazz Loft so quickly and effectively as a community resource, Manuel, a 37-year-old educator, historian and trumpet player, from St. James, is recognized by TBR News Media as a Person of the Year.

“Tom Manuel is a well-deserving nominee for Person of the Year,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “The Jazz Loft is an incredible gift to the 1st Council District. Tom’s passion for jazz has been transformed into a vivid, vibrant, collection of jazz history and a home for local talent, musicians and performances. In a short time, The Jazz Loft has become an incredible community space for art, history, culture and music.”

Visitors are able to view the loft’s museum exhibits featuring greats such as saxophonist Louis Jordan, the biggest African-American star of the 1940s and a massive influence on the ensuing rock ’n’ roll era; heartthrob blues and jazz crooner Arthur Prysock; upright bassist Lloyd Trotman, a prolific session musician who provided the bass line on Ben E. King’s anthem, “Stand by Me”; society bandleader Lester Lanin; and the seafaring vibraphonist and composer Teddy Charles.

Jean Prysock, of Searingtown, donated the memorabilia of her late husband Arthur Prysock, who played the top theaters and clubs from the 1940s onward and recorded for labels such as Decca, Mercury, Old Town and MGM-Verve. Why did she feel Manuel was worthy of support?

“He was young, he was enthusiastic, he was dedicated, he was sincere,” she said. “I first met him at a jazz bar in Patchogue. He led an 11-piece band, which sounded as if it could have played at New York’s Paramount Theatre.”

Apart from conducting bands, Manuel is an expert trumpet player, who credits among his inspirations Chet Baker, Warren Vache, Bobby Hackett, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Roy Eldridge. As an indication of the Jazz Loft’s authentic atmosphere, Manuel said the impressive three-tier bandstand was constructed from the original dance floor of the famed Roseland Ballroom on New York’s 52nd Street, adding, “It was an extreme labor of love, but certainly worth the effort.”

Manuel has directed a full program at The Jazz Loft while holding an adjunct post at Suffolk County Community College and a faculty position with Stony Brook University directing the jazz program of the Pre-College Music Division. If that’s not all, he has recently completed his doctorate, a DMA in jazz performance, at SBU and carried out charity work in Haiti.

“Tom is fully deserving of this award, not only for creating The Jazz Loft and making jazz available in our area, but also because of his remarkable spirit in bettering every community with which he engages,” Perry Goldstein, professor and chair at SBU’s Department of Music, said.

Tom Manuel (white hat at center) on opening day at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, on May 21 of this year. Photo by John Broven

“He motivated seven volunteers to go to Haiti with him after the recent hurricane, where they distributed 200 pairs of sneakers, clothing and school supplies purchased through donations. Tom radiates positive energy in everything he does,” Goldstein said.

Manuel readily acknowledges the help of others in giving liftoff to The Jazz Loft, including board members Laura Vogelsberg and Laura Stiegelmaier, many musicians and sponsors Harlan and Olivia Fischer who “donated our sound system, which is quite outstanding.” Manuel’s philosophy is summarized by the title of his well-received talk at the Three Village Community Trust’s annual celebration, held at The Jazz Loft in November: “Collaboration: The Art of Possibility.”

The jazz facility is housed in a historic building, comprising the old Stone Jug tavern and the former firehouse station, which accommodated the first museum in Stony Brook, founded in 1935 by real estate broker and insurance agent O.C. Lempfert. With the backing of Ward and Dorothy Melville, the museum was formally incorporated as the Suffolk Museum in 1939 before evolving into today’s The Long Island Museum. The renovated building, which was accorded landmark status by the Town of Brookhaven in September, is leased long term to The Jazz Loft by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

“Tom Manuel is a unique individual who was born into a generation of musicians steeped in rock ’n’ roll, rap and new wave,” Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said. “I got to know Tom because of a[n] … article about a ‘young man’ with a house full of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the jazz era. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization owned a vacant building … and Tom had a collection in need of a home. A year later The Jazz Loft opened in Stony Brook, where Tom shares his love of jazz with like-minded musicians and fans. Tom is truly a role model for the concept of accomplishing your dream through passion and dedication. We are proud to welcome The Jazz Loft and Dr. Tom Manuel into our community.”

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