UPDATE (January 9, 2014): This story has been updated to reflect the correct ticket price for the Fred Hersch performance.
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Newtown resident and “Live At Edmond Town Hall” series promoter Hayden Bates is excited about the updates at the iconic Main Street building. Due in large part to the diverse music concerts that Mr Bates has organized over the past year and a half, in an effort to modernize the machinations of the nearly 85-year-old Edmond Town Hall (ETH) building, the support of the members of the Board of Managers of ETH, and the renewed interest by members of the community, enough funds have been generated to cover the cost of installing a new power system, new LED lighting, and a state of the art sound system.
“The new power system was completed just before the Phosphorescent concert, last April,” Mr Bates said December 30. “Before that, we had to have a diesel generator in the parking lot for the first three concerts.”
The new speakers, painted to exactly match the blue in the rest of the theater “so as not to take away from the historic aspect,” are part of a system designed to give superior sound for both movies shown in the theater, as well as live performances. The improved sound system also paves the way for the theater to begin showing digital Blu-ray movies in early 2014.
The LED track lights for the stage, in the domed ceiling, and along the aisles offer versatility in lighting and reduce lighting costs for the building, he said.
“I’m happy the Board has taken charge of this project. It takes an incredible amount of foresight and drive to get this off the ground,” said Mr Bates. “Our hope for the future is that all of these improvements will encourage others to come into the theater with ideas to use the space for new things,” he said.
“We’re getting really great musicians already, at the right times,” he added.
Currently, Mr Bates is thrilled to be presenting Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch in concert at ETH scheduled for Sunday, February 9, at 7 pm. The performance is being sponsored by The Inn at Newtown.
Live At ETH: Fred Hersch
According to his biography, Fred Hersch “has earned a place among the foremost jazz artists in the world today.” In addition to being nominated six times for Grammy awards, including a 2014 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Solo, Mr Hersch received a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for composition, and has appeared on over 100 recordings, including more than two dozen albums as bandleader/solo pianist. In 2006, Palmetto Records released the solo CD Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis. The release of that CD led to a week-long engagement as solo pianist at the New York Village Vanguard, the first time in the club’s 70-year history. Fred Hersch Plays Jobim on Sunnyside was cited as one of the Top Ten jazz releases of 2009 by NPR and The Wall Street Journal.
Mr Hersch has collaborated with well-known musical artists ranging from Bill Frisell to singer Renée Fleming, has received commissions, and has produced and performed on four benefit recordings. His music has been featured on a wide variety of National Public Radio programs. Currently, Mr Hersch is on the faculty for Jazz Studies at The New England Conservatory and at Rutgers University.
“I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager,” Mr Bates said of the recognized jazz musician.
As with the previous artists who have been a part of the Live At Edmond Town Hall series (Low Anthem, Brown Bird, Bill Frisell & Sam Amidon, and Phosphorescent), Mr Bates has found that his true appreciation for the artists gives him courage to reach out and contact top-notch performers to come to ETH.
“I’ll check with their managers, and see if their concert series brings them into the Connecticut area. I’ve been working since the last show in April to plan out the next show. Some of the shows I had hoped to book just didn’t work out. With Fred Hersch, everything kind of fell together,” Mr Bates said.
Edmond Town Hall has appeal to artists interested in preservation projects and historic areas, Mr Bates said.
“It’s so unique, and that’s an extra little selling point,” he said. On December 31, Mr Bates received notification that Steinway had offered to sponsor the piano for the Fred Hersch show. “They will be providing a special Steinway grand piano for Fred to play for the evening,” he said. “Steinway will ship the piano in, load it on our stage, and have it professionally tuned special for the event. “[It is] absolutely terrific news, and certainly this will be the finest instrument to ever grace the theater’s stage,” said Mr Bates.
In a phone interview Thursday, January 2, Mr Hersch said he was looking forward to playing at Edmond Town Hall. “I’ll be playing in Old Lyme on Friday and Saturday of that weekend,” he said, “so it made sense to fit the concert in Newtown into my schedule.”
Late afternoon and evening concerts in community spaces open up the audience to families, he said, unlike club venues. A space the size of ETH offers a comfortable capacity, said Mr Hersch.
“Generally, for anything I do, the 150 to 500 seat range is best. Larger than that, I have to think a little differently about how I’ll be playing and projecting,” he said. “I do enjoy a smaller venue. Probably my favorite club anywhere is the Village Vanguard, which seats about 160, packed in,” Mr Hersch said.
The size of the ETH audience has another attraction, he said. “It’s nice that I can meet people after, in the lobby, and maybe sign CDs.”
The Newtown audience can look forward to a mix of Mr Hersch’s original material and reworks of jazz standards at the February 9 concert. He tends to not set a play list until 10 to 15 minutes before he plays, basing it on what the piano and hall are like, and “what I feel like playing. I have a starting point, but then I’ll go from there,” he said.
Part of being a concert pianist means dealing with different pianos, in different conditions, all the time, Mr Hersch said. His working relationship with Steinway means that the company frequently provides him with an instrument, and he is pleased that Steinway is providing the piano for the ETH concert.
“It’s the best piano,” Mr Hersch said. “You can’t beat it for range, color, and dynamics.
“I look forward to playing for people who want to listen, and hope that people will be open to what I want to play,” Mr Hersch added.
Since booking Fred Hersch, Mr Bates has discovered an interesting coincidence.
“It turns out that Fred Hersch was a piano teacher to Jo Schnorikow of Phosphorescent,” he said of one of the bands that previously performed a Live at ETH concert.
Mr Hersch possesses a rapport with the audience that is not typical of solo pianists of that stature, said Mr Bates.
“I think we have a neat treat in store for ourselves,” he said.
Local musicians Vance Provey and Rob Rabinowitz of Outfunked will provide an exciting opening act to Mr Hersch, said Mr Bates.
“We always try to go with a local act for the opener, at this series. Vance plays trumpet, and Rob is on flute and saxophone.”
Mr Bates is humble about his contributions to moving Newtown’s old town hall building into the future.
“This series was never going to be the sole source of revenue,” he said, with each show in the series producing approximately $2,500 after costs. More importantly, said Mr Bates, the series serves to raise public awareness of the crucial needs of the aging building and brings new people into the theater, creating “our own cultural niche.
“It’s a combination of the Board of Managers understanding the need to make changes in the building and of public awareness,” he said.
Mr Bates has personally challenged himself to get more Newtown residents out to the Live At Edmond Town Hall events.
“Our biggest draw to the series, so far, has been from outside the area. People come from New York and from down county. Edmond Town Hall is a jewel, right here in front of us. Through the quality of acts we can change the face of the build to make it that much more attractive,” he said.
Tickets for “Fred Hersch, an evening of solo piano” are $25. Doors will open at 6:30, and the performance will begin at 7 pm. To purchase tickets to the February 9 Fred Hersch concert, go to www.edmondtownhall.org. Visit that website also to get on the mailing list for the Live At Edmond Town Hall series.