Dobbs Ferry resident Mark Morganelli is best known for planning and promoting jazz concerts. An accomplished musician, he still plays the trumpet and flugelhorn on weeknights at Orissa (Dobbs Ferry) and Rainwater Grill (Hastings on Hudson). But he is more likely to appear before a concert audience today as a master of ceremonies than as a performer. Through his personal crusade, free jazz concerts are presented each summer in the Rivertowns (see list of locations below). Performances at Waterfront Park in Dobbs Ferry take place on Wednesday evenings through August 25.
He began organizing paid-admission jazz concerts nearly 30 years ago and has produced free musical programs for local municipalities and corporate sponsors for the past 25 years - beginning with the Riverside Park Arts Festival in New York City. This summer, in addition to the Dobbs Ferry series, he is responsible for the staging of free jazz concerts in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Yonkers.
His introduction to music came at the age of nine when he agreed to take trumpet lessons in order to avoid learning how to play the violin. As a junior in high school, he formed a band that played at weddings and parties.
Morganelli enrolled at Bucknell University with the intention of majoring in chemistry. Looking to participate in extracurricular activities, he tried out successfully for both the jazz-and-rock ensemble and the track team. Before long, he was training for cross-country by running and exercising three hours a day, and participating in rehearsals or musical performances four days a week.
"Effectively, I had no time for chemistry classes," he said. This he resolved by changing his major to music education. He became director of the ensemble and frequently organized jam sessions at his dorm. Had he not joined both the track team and the jazz-and-rock ensemble as a freshman, he might not have pursued a career in music.
Following graduation in 1977, Morganelli played briefly in his own bands at Pennsylvania and Florida hotels. At the age of 24, he moved to Manhattan where he realized that while jazz was undergoing a resurgence in the Big Apple, venues for it were limited in number and size. A few enterprising souls were already offering jazz in lofts. Morganelli didn't invent the concept but he recognized how to improve on it by bringing together more talented music makers.
His third-floor loft at Cooper Square in the East Village was turned into a gathering place for music lovers who appreciated seeing skilled jazz bands rehearse and gifted musicians jam. The admission cost was often modest - about $4 per person. Business soon boomed seven nights a week and followers grew in numbers so he rented a large fifth-floor loft at Broadway and Bleecker Street. For many jazz enthusiasts, listening to the impromptu jazz at his quarters was a part of the Greenwich Village experience.
By 1983 however, soaring rents and operating costs had become prohibitive and Morganelli along with his loft-space competitors were forced out of business. To seek his fortune elsewhere, he joined Birdland as programming director and stayed for five years. He also performed at the Village Gate and the Entermedia Theatre.
Although his first effort to be an entrepreneur in New York City had ultimately succumbed to escalating expenses, it had given him a direction. In 1991, he and his wife Ellen relocated to Dobbs Ferry where he formed Jazz Forum Arts, a presenter and promoter of jazz concerts that in many respects would be a logical successor to his previous loft-jazz endeavors.
By chance while house hunting he passed the Tarrytown Music Hall and asked permission to check the acoustics by playing his trumpet. "They were incredible," he recalls.
In June 1992, he persuaded the hall's management to put on a test jazz program. It was well received and the fledgling Jazz Forum Arts and the 107-year-old theater teamed up to ambitiously schedule a fall jazz concert series. The opening performance filled only 140 of the theater's 843 seats causing much concern, but 750 tickets were sold for the next program starring Sonny Rollins.
Audiences continued to respond and after a time, Morganelli's company was able to book the elite of the jazz world including Ahmad Jamal, Billy Taylor, James Moody, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Betty Carter, Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Mann, Clark Terry, Chuck Mangione, Cassandra Wilson, Joshua Redman and the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras.
As years passed, Jazz Forum Arts expanded its operations bringing jazz to more venues in the suburbs and in New York City as well. Morganelli organized concerts at Carnegie Hall including the celebration of Dizzy Gillespie's 75th birthday and Lincoln Center.
Locations and dates for free Rivertown jazz concerts
Dobbs Ferry. Summer Music Series at Waterfront Park. Wednesdays. Now to August 25. 6;30 to 8 p.m.
Sleepy Hollow. Jazz at Kingsland Point Park. Fridays. August 6, 13, 20, 27. 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Tarrytown. Jazz at Pierson Park. Fridays. July 9, 16, 23, 30. 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Tarrytown. Sunset Jazz at Lyndhurst. Thursdays. August 5, 12, 19, 26. Beginning at 6 p.m.
Yonkers. Beczak Environmental Education Center. Sundays. August 8, 15, 22, 29. 2 to 4 p.m.