© 2022 WBGO
WBGO New Record Spine Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

With The Flip Side Sessions, Jazz Standard Rides Again

Keyon Harrold at SOPAC
Seth Abramson
Jazz Standard
Keyon Harrold at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, kicking off The Flip Side Series for Jazz Standard.

Just over a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic ground nightlife to a halt, Seth Abramson started thinking seriously about a virtual performance series. As artistic director of Jazz Standard, his first instinct was a livestream from the shuttered club — something that soon became standard practice, for everyone from Smoke to Smalls.

“Meanwhile, there was this back and forth between the owners and the landlord, which prevented me from being able to resume any kind of activity in the space,” Abramson recalls, speaking by phone with WBGO. “That reached its climax when they couldn’t come to any agreeable terms and announced the closure.”

That announcement, in early December, provoked a great hue and cry, and not just in New York. “The outpouring from fans, and the heartfelt and meaningful responses from the artists themselves, was really overwhelming,” Abramson says. “I think it impressed upon everyone that we needed to pivot and figure something out.”

The result is The Flip Side Sessions, a limited weekly series that begins this Friday with trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Prerecorded in the main concert hall at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, the kickoff performance will also feature Nir Felder on guitar, Shedrick Mitchell on piano, Burniss Earl Travis on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums.

Harrold — a prominent artist who last played at Jazz Standard on Jan. 12, 2020, two months before lockdown — embraced The Flip Side Sessions without hesitation. “To play onstage in any way at this time of COVID is never a bad thing," he says, "especially at the high level of audio and video that was used for this series.”

Pianist Christian Sands, who will be featured in a future installment (on April 16), echoes that enthusiasm. "While the inertia of 2020 has been tough to handle for the artist and the listener," he says by email, "Seth and the Jazz Standard have provided a place where artists have the chance to perform onstage fully and the listener to hear and feel that expression directly into their homes."

South Orange Performing Arts Center
South Orange Performing Arts Center
The mainstage theater at South Orange Performing Arts Center

Abramson lives in South Orange, N.J., as does Mark Maynard, a cofounder of Jazz Standard — so the decision to work with SOPAC came naturally. “SOPAC basically has the feeling of a club, in terms of its intimacy as a 400-seat theater,” Abramson says. “But it also gave us space with which to work, and multiple dressing rooms for the artists. That certainly helped us all to really minimize the risk as we went in.”

Funding for the Flip Side Sessions came in part from The Boston Beer Company and Davos Brands. Tickets are $15, available at jazzstandard.com. Veteran patrons of Jazz Standard will be familiar with the set time of 7:30 p.m. ET; each stream will be delivered via an exclusive link and available on demand for 48 hours. A portion of all ticket sales will benefit the Jazz Foundation of America.

For everyone involved in the series so far, the experience has brought joy and catharsis — among other, less predictable feelings. “I was sitting there watching the artists play and the filming go on,” Abramson says, “and I had this weird sensation that we hadn’t missed a beat. Like, ‘Oh, I was just doing this the other day’ — as if the music had somehow washed away all the time in between. Obviously, that’s not reality. But it shows that time itself, and how we experience it, is not completely linear. So it was part disbelief, part happiness that this is taking place, and part gratitude that we’re still here and able do something positive at such a challenging time.”

The Flip Side Sessions will continue every Friday through May 14. The April schedule is below; for tickets and updated information, visit jazzstandard.com.

April 2: Fred Hersch Trio
Fred Hersch, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums

April 9: Chris Potter / Craig Taborn Duo
Chris Potter, tenor and soprano saxophones; Craig Taborn, piano

April 16: Christian Sands Group
Christian Sands, piano; Marvin Sewell, guitar; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Clarence Penn, drums

April 23: Melissa Aldana Quintet
Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Charles Altura, guitar; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Pablo Menares, bass; Kush Abadey, drums

April 30: Bill Charlap Trio
Bill Charlap, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.