On a cool fall evening, there’s music in the air at the Gateways Inn in downtown Lenox.
It had been a long time since the iconic inn had hosted piano entertainment in its cozy living room. From this month until the spring, the new owner Mill Town Capital, in association with Berkshire Jazz, features the region’s best jazz ensembles three nights a week, with month-long residencies – all free with no cover charges – and paid concerts by renowned guest artists.
The Gateways Jazz Series is curated by bassist, conductor and educator Andy Wrba, who for 10 years presented Monday night jazz at Mission Bar in Pittsfield. Performing weekly with a rotating lineup of musicians from the region and New York City, Wrba has assembled a roster of some 180 artists to draw from for Gateways Inn.
“The previous owners were dedicated to live music and jazz,” Wrba said in a telephone interview. “Now, under new leadership, we are increasing our programming. We are excited for what is to come.
“The idea for monthly residencies came up, and we’re delighted that Kris Allen and his trio perform on Thursdays and Armen Donelian on Fridays with a different lineup each time. Saturdays turn, we have a great list of folk [including] Samirah Evans.
“Armen [Donelian] has been around for a long time. He’s a master of the piano and he has amazing touch, wonderful sound, great song selections. He plays straight jazz, blues, Armenian-inspired music. He will be there with a few different lineups over the course of the month, there are a lot of different influences that everyone brings to the table.
He added: “Kris [Allen] is an alto saxophonist and director of the jazz program at Williams College. He’s just a good player. Technically, he’s so precise, so sharp, he’s a master improviser and he plays with so much soul. It is a pleasure to play with and to listen.
“Samirah [Evans] makes a really fun mix of classic jazz, R&B, a little back-beat funk. She can do anything.
With cafe tables throughout the living room, as well as infinity seating in the lobby and bar, guests can also enjoy an inventive bar menu curated by executive chef Jeremy Berlin.
“The musicians really love this piece,” Wrba added, “it sounds great and there is a beautiful piano.”
The highlight of the month is a concert on October 24 with the Ted Rosenthal Trio.
“Ted is a fabulous pianist from New York, he is a world class player who [performs] all over the world, ”Wrba said. “He recently bought a home in the Berkshires and was looking forward to immersing himself in the Berkshire jazz scene. He is really embarking on the adventure. He’s hoping to bring in musicians from New York and we’re planning a holiday concert.
Rosenthal will perform his unique interpretations of George Gershwin’s compositions with longtime drummer Tim Horner and bassist Jay Anderson.
“I am delighted that [Gateways Inn] starts a series with more concert feel, ”said Rosenthal, reached by phone in Cuzamel, Mexico, on a jazz cruise, fresh out of swimming with the dolphins. “I played [there] as part of the Lenox Jazz Stroll.
Rosenthal added, “We’re doing two full sets, concert style.”
The program is based on his CD “Rhapsody in Gershwin”, which features his arrangements of well-known tracks including “Strike Up the Band”, “Fascinatin ‘Rhythm” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”.
The centerpiece is Rosenthal’s take on Gershwin’s 1924 theme “Rhapsody in Blue”.
“I have played it in all its forms,” he said, “the piano alone [to] the original version with a jazz group of 20 musicians.
When approached to do a jazz trio version, Rosenthal wanted room for improvisation, “one of the things I have to offer,” he said. So he reduced the written part to keep the length close to the original. “I hit all of the main themes and structure, but I opened it up to all of us improvising.”
“People like it when you add something,” he said, “it’s a bit surprising, a bit new.”
So many aspects of Gershwin’s style are related to jazz, Rosenthal added. “Rhythmic vitality and harmonic complexity are very suitable for jazz treatments. My jazz style was inspired by classical music and written notes, that’s part of what I do. And Gershwin does the trick very well.
In December, Rosenthal will give a concert at the Gateways Inn showcasing their CD of holiday music arrangements, “Wonderland”.
“I’m going to talk about the trio, and Karrin Allyson, a wonderful [Grammy-nominated international] the singer from Northampton is considering joining us, ”he said.
Over the years, in addition to Gateways, Rosenthal has performed for Berkshires Jazz, Mission and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, where he will present his opera “Dear Erich” in concert in 2022.
Wrba said he has big plans for the Gateways jazz series – including his own band, who have performed in the venue several times.
“We sneak in there from time to time,” he said. “We improvise and create the moment, and also respond to people in the room. This is the spirit of jazz.