By Julie Perine on January 28, 2013
Snow was on the ground and the air was frigid.
It might have seemed like the perfect night to cozy up indoors.
But even better than a blazing fire or pair of fleece socks, an event at Bridgeport Conference Center warmed things right up.
Jeff and I caught "Jazz at Charles Pointe" Saturday, night No. 2 of Bridgeport's part in "Winter Jazz Weekend," sponsored annually by the West Virginia Jazz Society.
Walking from the car to the conference room entrance was chilly, but upon walking into the ballroom, we were met by delightful tunes and a virtual trip south to the Caribbean.
The Bridgeport Middle School Steel Drum Band – known as "Pandemonium" – was rocking that island music. Led by BMS Band Director Eric Stoneking, the eighth grade students masterfully played the steel pans, guitars, bass and rhythm instruments. I especially liked the sound of that wood block. Besides the calypso-style pieces, the band turned out some nice, light pop. Among my favorites were Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" - a sing-along must.
Pandemonium played from social hour through dinner – a buffet set up station-style, featuring marinated flank steak, roasted garlic potatoes, shrimp and black-eyed pea fritters and coconut seafood stew - to name just a few of the plethora of choices. An open bar offered tropical cocktails and wine pairings for every taste and pleasure.
By the time guests were finishing off their papaya cream pie, the steel drum band took a bow and were applauded generously. The vocal compliments and other chit-chat eventually tapered off as Bridgeport Conference Center Manager Scott Duarte took the stage to make introductions for the featured entertainers. Phil Wyatt – local renowned musical talent and instructor and also a member of the Jazz Society – added more details and welcomed "Salsamba." The Pittsburgh-born, Latin-style jazz ensemble created a sound to match its name. The only hard part of listening to their upbeat, breezy tunes – brought to life through guitar, bass, drums, flute, sax and those signature congas – was staying in my seat. My feet were tapping and my head was bobbing. These guys were in sync. Founding members Eric Susoeff (guitar) and George Jones (congas) have played together since the mid-1980s and since added Eric DeFade (sax, flute & rhythm), Tom Wendt (drums) and Paul Thompson (bass), the latter musician who had a stand-in Saturday night. I personally took a particular liking to DeFade's style. Overall, Salsamba's music reflected its experience and passion. It just moved right through you. After playing several instrumentals – some pieces featuring more of a classic jazz flavor, the band brought Brazilian jazz singer Kenia to the stage to join them for several numbers in the set, adding a slightly different element to the up-close-and-personal performance
Even if the menu and music hadn't whisked attendees off to a different place, the atmosphere would have. Our local conference center staff has a knack for transformation. The same area, which in recent weeks has housed an elegant holiday dance and Farmers' Market supper, had been transformed into an intimate night-club setting. The room was draped in black, lighting was soft and the tables – covered with a splash of red and topped off with fun flowers - were close and personal.
I'm sure glad I swapped out my stay-at-home sweats for a pink floral dress – with a sweater, of course – and stepped inside my first "Winter Jazz Weekend" experience.
Kudos to the West Virginia Jazz Society and President Eric Spelsberg, Scott Duarte and the rest of the Bridgeport Conference Center staff and event sponsors.
There's nothing like a little jazz to chase away the freeze.