Brubeck
Eric Mintel performs with the Eric Mintel Trio at Trumpets. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local

You probably know “Take Five,” the 1959 hit jazz tune recorded by Dave Brubeck, which has been covered more than 40 times and made appearances in commercials for Cadbury or Infiniti.

On Friday, Feb. 22, The Eric Mintel Trio played a tribute concert to Brubeck at Trumpets Jazz Club.

Mintel has a long connection to Brubeck.

“Dave Brubeck inspired me in so many ways,” Mintel said. “It isn’t only his music. It’s is humanity, his work ethic, his creativity.”   

In fact, Brubeck has inspired Mintel since he was 14, when he picked up a 45 of “Take Five” and played it on his turntable. He was mesmerized.

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“I don’t think I could have told you what it was, exactly,” Mintel said. “I didn’t know it was called jazz. But I knew that it was the music I wanted to play.”

Mintel has paid tribute to the master ever since, even opening for Brubeck at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2002.

The Eric Mintel Trio, featuring Mintel on piano, Dave Antonow on bass, and Dave Mohn on drums, has been together for about 25 years, “longer than some marriages,” Mintel says with a laugh.

“In the competitive world of jazz, it’s unusual for people to work together so well for so long,” he added. “Our saxophonist, Nelson Hill, would be here, too, but he’s on tour with Carole King.”

At Trumpets, the Trio performed original songs and jazz classics before launching into a tribute to legendary jazzman Brubeck.

Brubeck
Eric Mintel at the piano. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

BECOMING A JAZZ MAN

Mintel was a young boy just beginning piano lessons in Bucks County, Pa., when he surprised his music teacher by playing standards like Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” The teacher listened for a few minutes before packing up his introductory lessons and walking out the door.

Over the course of his career, Mintel has played for President Clinton and President Obama at the White House, and he’s played at the United Nations. He has also appeared on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” on NPR.

Mintel lists Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong — in addition to Brubeck — as his strongest influences. Like them, Mintel is an excellent improviser, incorporating lush modern arrangements into traditional signatures seamlessly.

The Trumpets audience clearly appreciated the Trio’s confident yet loose interpretations of jazz standards. Mintel’s muscular piano playing, Mohn’s drumming and Antonow’s bass fused into the kind of groove that happens over years playing together in an ensemble.

Brubeck
Enrico Granafei (Trumpets owner) plays the harmonica with the Eric Mintel Trio at Trumpets.
NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

APPRECIATING A JAZZ CLUB

Topping off the evening, at Mintel’s invitation, Trumpets owner and fellow musician Enrico Granafei joined the Trio onstage. Granafei played his hands-free chromatic harmonica and sang soulfully.

Born and raised in Italy, Granafei is well-known for his virtuosity using the hands-free harmonica invented by Vern Smith. He also plays classical guitar and sings. He met his wife, co-owner Kristine Massari, when she was a member of the audience for one of his New York performances. The couple purchased Trumpets in 1999, though the club has been a Montclair institution since 1985.

Music gives meaning to life, Granafei said, adding that it has been his calling for as long as he can remember, first as a child in Calabria, Italy and later as a young jazz musician in Rome.

“If you open a jazz club, it’s for the love of jazz,” Granafei said. “It isn’t to become rich.”

At the end of the evening, Mintel said he was happy with the music and the partnership formed between the audience and the musicians at Trumpets.

“It’s a true collaboration,” Mintel explained. “Our audience is collaborating with us. It’s not us and them — we’re creating a world together. That’s how it works. We are creating something meaningful.”