akiko

Jazz organist Akiko Tsuruga will perform with her trio in concert on Sunday, March 15 in Burlington to kick off the 16th season of the Jazz and Blues Showcase Series presented by Russell Quagliata.

Jazz is alive and well in South Jersey and you have Russell Quagliata to thank for that.

Now in its 16th year, the Jazz and Blues Showcase Series has brought top-notch musicians to area jazz fans at affordable prices.

This spring’s program kicks off with a performance by noted jazz organist Akiko Tsuruga and her trio from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 at the Lyceum Hall Center for the Arts in Burlington.

Tsuruga was honored as “Best Organist” in 2017 by “Hot House” magazine. Saxophone legend Lou Donaldson calls her “Queen of the Organ”, while organ giant Dr. Lonnie Smith wrote: “Akiko's playing is like watching a flower blossoming, a bird spreading her wings in the music world.”

Organized by Quagliata, the Jazz and Blues Showcase Series has been held in several South Jersey locations since beginning in 2005.

“A venue’s rental cost, and audience turnout essentially determine location,” said Quagliata. “My effort has been to grow appreciation and interest in jazz, a great, but under-appreciated art form with live, professional programs. Previous venues were in Collingswood, Haddonfield, Medford Lakes and Medford. In 2020, they’re at Burlington’s Lyceum Hall Center and the Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Tabernacle. It’s a second season in Burlington, and fifth in Tabernacle.”

Quagliata says “keeping the series afloat is an ongoing labor of love”.

“There aren’t many affordable venues to present shows,” said Quagliata. “Developing an audience to financially sustain the series remains challenging, as well considered America’s musical gift to the world, sadly jazz is far less appreciated in the United States than in Europe, Japan and elsewhere. Despite this, it’s too great an art form to abandon, and my attempt to grow awareness and appreciation for it continues.”

Quagliata’s affinity for jazz developed during his college years in the 1960s.

“My career that followed was in education,” he said. “By 1980, however, jazz became a serious avocation as I began to assist the late, legendary jazz baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne with his musical career. It was a two-decade experience in which I met and engaged some notable contemporaries of his. Among them were Clark Terry, Lou Donaldson, Slide Hampton and Pepper Adams. At the same time, I also got to know some of that period's rising stars, with Eric Alexander, Joe Magnarelli, Steve Davis and Joe Farnsworth among them.”

Quagliata’s college years began in the Midwest in the 1960s, but were completed in New Jersey. He received a bachelor’s degree at Newark State College, now Kean University, and then a master's at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey).

Quagliata, who has lived in Shamong for the last 34 years after a decade in Trenton, has maintained those friendships over the years and his networking in the jazz community has allowed him to continue the series that he loves.

“It allows me to present shows with some of the jazz world’s top artists right in South Jersey. It also reduces the need to travel to Philadelphia or New York for such programs,” said Quagliata, who is in his late 70s. “Limited on the number of shows I can afford, variety’s always considered. The importance of the organ in jazz is the theme of this spring’s programs. With some of today’s top jazz organists featured, they honor the organ tradition in jazz and organ greats who paved the way for them.”

Performing with Tsuruga this weekend are guitarist Charlie Sigler and drummer Byron Landham.

Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for senior citizens and $10 for students. The Lyceum Hall Center for the Arts is located at 432 High Street in Burlington. For more information, call 609-239-0029 or visit www.jazzandbluesshowcase.com.

Other concerts in the series this spring include: Radam Schwartz Trio, Friday, April 17, 7:30 to 10 p.m., Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Tabernacle; Kyle Koehler/Nick Hempton Quartet, Sunday, May 17, 3 to 5:30 p.m., Lyceum Hall Center for the Arts, Burlington; Pat Bianchi Trio, Friday, June 12, 7:30 to 10 p.m., Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Tabernacle.

“The trio programs are both led by noted jazz organists,” said Quagliata. “Saxophone or guitar, and drums complete these groups. The quartet is co-led by well-known jazz artists on organ and saxophone. Guitar and drums round out this ensemble.”

Quagliata will also present an additional program for jazz fans this spring.

The Jason Tiemann Trio, featuring jazz pianist Larry Fuller, will perform in concert from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 26 at Jacobs Music, located at 1409 Route 70 East, in Cherry Hill.

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