Jazz Crawl Finds Flavorful Mixes

“Next time, you have to say ‘Viz-cay-a!’” Dominick Splendorio called out. “We’re a rum bar, not a tequila bar.”

Vizcaya, a top-selling rum at Splendorio’s Zafra restaurant, was one of dozens of drinks that flowed Thursday night to accompany concoctions of a different kind: musical mixtures.

Zafra, on Orange Street, was one of several spots around town that filled with jazz, or jazz stirred with other traditions, as part of a week-long schedule of performances leading up to Saturday’s New Haven Jazz Festival concerts on the Green.

Click the video to hear a sample from Cafe Nine.

The music, like the drinks being consumed, blended different styles, as a sampling of both revealed during a series of stops around town Thursday night. Come along for a taste of the music in the air.

8 p.m.: Steel Pan Music at Zafra

Vizcaya is one of the most popular sellers at Zafra—aged six years, with a vanilla finish. “It’s like rum candy,” said bartender Natalie Peña (pictured).

“It’s also from the Dominican Republic, not Cuba, but I actually think the best rums are Dominican,” added Splendorio (pictured), Zafra’s owner, who is half Italian and half Cuban. (A black-and-white photo of his grandfather hangs on one wall of the bar, alongside old Pan-Am travel posters.) Splendorio is not legally permitted to sell Cuban rum, due to ongoing trade embargoes.

Steel drum musicians Debby Teason and Sarah Heath played tenor and double second steel pan Thursday evening. The instruments are native to Trinidad and Tobago. Michael Bergman accompanied them on the udu, a Nigerian clay drum. The Caribbean music added to a warm, relaxed ambiance in the intimate setting, though it might be a stretch to call the trio’s pieces “jazz.”

“These guys play every month,” said Splendorio. “Craig O’Connell, who’s at Table 12, approached us about cross-promoting with the jazz festival. We’ve seen about a 25 percent uptick in reservations compared with the usual.”

8-9:30 p.m.: Herb Wilson Quartet at Geronimo

Solos by drummer Lannie Turner, saxophonist Rich Cohen, and bassist Herb Wilson held the attention of some solo drinkers and listeners at Geronimo’s on Crown Street, while passersby stopped stock-still on Crown Street to take in the music. Listeners perched on concrete, leaned on bannisters, and stood wherever there was room. The audience made use of their improvised seats while the musicians improvised on traditional jazz numbers—speeding up, slowing down, and meandering through scales in the midst of recognizable tunes like “The Way You Look Tonight.”

8-10 p.m.: Matt Oestreicher Quartet at Cafe Nine

At Cafe Nine on Crown Street, viewers drank draught beers with straight-up music.

The audience kept noise to a hush as the experimental quartet spiced up jazz standards like “Summertime” with a surprise performance by Shawna Corso, a singer and friend they called up from a standing table. Click the video at the top of the story to see her perform.

“Ain’t nobody gonna harm you – with your mama and your daddy… and your brothers and your sisters and your aunties and your uncles… standing by,” Corso concluded—invoking the whole family tree, where the original lyrics only call for the parents’ protection.

The inclusion felt only natural in the familial setting, as the festival wound down for the night. The lullaby put Thursday night’s set to bed.

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posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on August 16, 2013  10:32pm

Zaffra is my haunt. The rum is Vizcaya. VIZCAYA!  Plus the menu is Yummy! So if Vizcaya isn’t your thing.. Give El Diplomat a try. I love it. Vizcaya had big notes of vanilla. You can smell it!