By Tom Baldino
On a warm June Friday night, the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation awarded four scholarships to graduating High School seniors at the June Reckless Steamy Nights concert series sponsored by the law firm of Joseph G. Hughes, Esq. and Oppenheimer & Co. Our musical guests, long time JSJBF member Sandy Sasso and her band, started the evening off with a set of jazz tunes that showcased this very talented group, comprised of Charles Ruggirello on guitar, Brad Mandigo on keyboards, and Mike Carino on upright bass.
It also was the debut of our new sound system, with board member Gary Neuwirth at the board, purchased with funds generated by the Mega 50/50 held earlier this year. After a brief instrumental interlude, Sandy took the stage to sing a gorgeous version of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood.” The set included “Sweet Blindness,” a Laura Nero gem, the standard “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” complete with audience participation, and “Paper Moon” which featured a terrific piano solo by Brad.
Sandy, the consummate professional, talked about the history of the Reckless mansion and recited interesting tidbits about the songs before her vocal range captivated the full house. After closing with her signature “Meet the Flintstones,” where each of the band members showed off their formidable musical chops, President Tom Baldino introduced board member Chris Zemla, chair of the Community Outreach Committee, to award the scholarships.
Eve Riggio, daughter of board member Joseph Riggio, received the Lloyd Daley Memorial Scholarship. Eve is an accomplished singer-songwriter who will pursue a major in music production at Brookdale Community College. Our second recipient, Monica Conforti, received the Jerry Topinka Memorial Scholarship. She is a graduate of Donovan Catholic H.S. and is a multi- instrumentalist who will be attending Ocean County Community College, where she plans to major in music production. April Ivan, a graduate of M.A.S.T., sings and plays guitar. She received the Music Matters! Scholarship and will be a pre-med student this fall at Hofstra University with music therapy in mind. Lastly, Melissa LaRochelle, the third sister in her family to receive the Mark LaRochelle Memorial Scholarship is a largely self-taught vocalist, songwriter and guitarist. She has performed in the Youth Open Mic started by her late father since its inception in 2016. She plans on attending NYU, majoring in Global Public Health with a minor in music.
We then resumed with the second set, and again Sandy included some interesting song choices like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and Diana Krall’s “Peel Me a Grape,” with an introduction about the wonderful cheese, charcuterie and grape platter she brought to our table of light refreshments. An upbeat version of “Summertime” had the audience swaying in rhythm, and an original ditty, inspired by a father’s wisdom, “Be Your Natural Self,” had the crowd smiling. A beautiful rendition of the 1930’s tune “Poinciana” made me feel like I was on a tropical isle, and she urged the audience to become familiar with Michael Franks before diving into his song “Sanpaku.”
A reprise of “Meet the Flintstones” closed out an incredible evening of music and awards. Kudos to our scholarship winners, the band, and all the volunteers who made this evening possible.