January-20th-2005, 10:12 PM
Free Jazz in Boston tonight
Time is right: It's the downbeat for Jazz Room at Amesbury Playhouse
By Sonya Vartabedian
AMESBURY — After 30 years building its reputation as a community dinner theater, Amesbury Playhouse is changing its tune.
The playhouse is transforming itself into The Jazz Room for a new weekly entertainment series debuting tomorrow.
While the playhouse will continue its normal schedule of theatrical productions on other days and nights of the week, The Jazz Room will host Boston-area and regional talent every Friday night in the theater at 194 Main St.
While the playhouse has built a niche as a dinner theater, becoming one of the older continually operating venues for the entertainment form in New England, owner William Brooks said the time is right to introduce something new.
Despite its closure late last year, Brooks said The Roost, a jazz restaurant that was open briefly downtown, proved there's a market for jazz music locally.
"Obviously jazz is in and it's viable entertainment," he said. "I didn't realize quite how big it is until I started looking at the amount of talent that exists in the region. There's no question there's a call for this type of venue."
Given that Friday nights are not typically a busy theater draw at the playhouse, Brooks said he figured it might be a better date for live musical entertainment.
"This is probably the biggest thing we've done to change the format of the playhouse since it opened," said Brooks. "It becomes an all-purpose entertainment room now."
Few alterations have been required to adapt the theater into a jazz club setting. Brooks said the playhouse had recently installed a new sound system to accommodate the stage shows. A few decor changes were made, and The Jazz Room is now ready for business.
To begin the weekly jazz series, the Playhouse is inviting the public to tomorrow's opening gig for free.
The Rob Mitzner Trio out of Boston will headline the evening, with an appearance by the Amesbury High School Jazz Band under the direction of Tom Horan on the roster as well. Doors will open at 6:30 for dinner, with the music getting under way around 8. While admission is free, there will be a charge for meals, appetizers and drinks.
Formed in 1999 in Washington, D.C., the Rob Mitzner Trio features guitarist Steve Fell, Russian bass player Dmitry Ishenko and Mitzner on drums.
The trio's repertoire features both original material and standards in the straight-ahead jazz, avant garde, Latin and fusion stylings. The ensemble is the house band at the Goodlife Downtown in Boston, and appears regularly at both Anthem in Boston, The Fireplace in Brookline and Skol Restaurant in Nashua, N.H.
Brooks is booking what he calls an eclectic array of jazz ensembles to perform in the weeks to come, including Cuban, African, Italian and Mexican ensembles.
He also hopes to host benefit jazz evenings, the proceeds from which will support local music programs, and provide a forum for more local talent to gain some public exposure.
While Brooks is eager to see how The Jazz Room is received, he said the introduction of a weekly jazz night in no way spells the demise of theater at the Playhouse. With productions scheduled through the summer, he said the dinner theater remains a popular form of entertainment for audiences.
The playhouse, he said, is simply branching out a bit while continuing its deep-rooted commitment to the stage.
"We want to cater to a wider market," said Brooks. "Certainly in the Newburyport area, there's interest in jazz. It's out there and we're very excited to be part of it."
What: Opening of The Jazz Room, a weekly jazz club, featuring the Boston-based Rob Mitzner Trio and the Amesbury High School Jazz Band.
When: Friday, Jan. 21. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Music starts around 8.
Where: Amesbury Playhouse, 194 Main St., Amesbury.
How: Free admission for opening night. Charge for food and drinks. Call (978) 388-9444 for information or reservations.