Jazz At The Mezz Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

With Straight Ahead Jazz By Unified Jazz Ensemble


On Sunday, November 15, Jazz Beyond Borders marks the one-year anniversary of its supper time world music and jazz concerts held monthly at Café Mezzanotte in Severna Park. Listeners will enjoy a concert and a surprise gift to mark the occasion. A new fall menu will be unveiled featuring items from the restaurant’s organic garden.

Currently, the only live music series offered in mid-Anne Arundel County, the series has featured leading performing and recording artists since culture vultures Paulina Phillips and Theresa Sise from Jazz Beyond Borders began partnering with restaurant owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis last year. Coming from a Navy family, Sise had deep ties to the area. Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, Phillips grew up on the Magothy River and is a former county arts director.

The restaurant’s Mediterranean cuisine and 100-seat room were a perfect match for their diverse musical offerings performed by artists from Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil and the United States. After enjoying many sold-out concerts in early 2020, the series took a three-month hiatus from April through June, resuming with summer outdoor concerts. Shows moved indoors in fall with social distancing, masks and seating at under 50% capacity for the health and safety of artists, staff and patrons. A bank of windows provides fresh air in the concert area.

The celebratory November 15 concert features the region’s most popular and enduring jazz group, Unified Jazz Ensemble, known as UJE by fans throughout the region. The group toured for many years before making its auspicious debut appearance in the area at the Annapolis Jazz Festival (then headed by the late, legendary guitarist Charlie Byrd). UJE became known as the go-to band for solid, straight-ahead jazz with distinctive instrumentation. Due to UJE’s modest demeanor, many fans aren’t familiar with the level of individual and collective achievement in the group’s history.

UJE was founded in 1992 by graduates of the prestigious jazz program of University of North Texas, including original member Mike Noonan (vibraphone, piano and trombone). Acoustic bassist John Pineda joined two years later and the two have been stalwart members of the ensemble ever since. As performers and educators, they introduced adults and children to the world of jazz, touring small towns under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and introducing school children to jazz under the auspices of Washington Performing Arts and Chamber Music America’s Residency Partnership Program funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The band’s bread and butter is providing great jazz for grownups. They’ve performed tens of thousands of concerts and recorded eight albums to date.

Founding member Mike Noonan is originally from Silver Spring. He holds degrees in jazz studies and composition from Berklee College of Music and University of North Texas. The multi-instrumentalist plays vibraphone, marimba, piano and trombone. An experienced composer and arranger, Noonan has had works featured on recordings by UJE and other jazz artists. He is an Innovative Percussion mallet artist, and two-time recipient of the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Awards. He provides clinics in jazz improvisation and composition, and has served as faculty at several colleges and universities.

John Pineda has been a professional bassist since high school days in LaMarque, Texas. After studying at San Jacinto College in Houston and University of North Texas, he moved to the jazz Mecca of Boston. Influenced by virtuosi Charlie Haden, Scott LaFaro and Dave Holland, he developed a solid, in-the-pocket playing style that gained him a far-reaching reputation. His sensitivity and earthy groove make him a sought-after player. Since 1994, he has appeared on UJE albums. He has also recorded with legendary drummer Joe Hunt and worked with Eddie Daniels and Steve Davis among others. His bass is maintained by Shank's Strings.

Drummer Frank Russo is a highly skilled and passionate musician and educator. Currently teaching at Towson University, he is also an artist/educator for Sabian Cymbals, Baltimore Drums and Vic Firth. Raised in the New York City area, Russo enjoyed a distinguished career with the prestigious Naval Academy Band, playing with and leading several ensembles. He has performed in jazz festivals in North America, Asia and Europe with many noteworthy musicians. A Summit Records recording artist, he has had recordings praised by national publications such as Downbeat, JazzTimes and Modern Drummer.

For this concert, guest guitarist Mike Pavone will take the place of UJE trumpeter Tim Stanley. From Waterbury, Connecticut, Pavone grew up playing music with his father, internationally recognized jazz bassist and composer Mario Pavone. Mike Pavone attended Berklee College of Music, where he and Mike Noonan met as undergraduates. He has since recorded as both a sideman and leader, and worked extensively in Boston, Detroit and New York as well as in the Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis triangle.

Jazz lovers can anticipate hearing some of the best in the business as they dish out some of the greatest tunes known to the genre, many of which are heard on their 2019 recording, “Standards…Basically.” They include titles by beloved composers such as Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter and Henry Mancini that have stood the test of time.

Café Mezzanotte is located at 765 Ritchie Highway. Just 15 minutes north of Annapolis and 20 minutes south of Baltimore City, the venue offers free and convenient parking. Seatings are at 4:30pm and 7:00pm. Concert tickets are available from www.instantseats.com. For more information, call 410-647-1100.

Now in its fifth year, Jazz Beyond Borders is a cultural diversity project of the Maryland based Phillips Agency. The organization brings world music and jazz artists to festivals concerts and classrooms and launches albums and tours in North America and Europe. Events are presented in live, streaming and hybrid formats.


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