On a warm Saturday evening in July 2021, The Chubby Pickle (23 Bay Ave, Highlands, NJ) played host to the bimonthly Jazz Café. This series, created by Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation (JSJBF) board member Joseph Vincent Riggio, has gained a reputation for showcasing some of the finest local Jazz artists the Jersey Shore has to offer. This evening’s performance proved that Hip Pocket Jazz was no exception. Group leader Greg Berger ably handled the keyboards while veteran Mike Hogan, who has graced this stage before, excelled on guitar and the rhythm section of Gary Mcilwain on bass and Al Johnson on drums not only anchored the tunes, they were excellent soloists as well. Joseph who not only books the acts and promotes the shows also handles the sound board. He did a yeoman’s job in making the sound great despite equipment problems that plagued him throughout the evening.
Hip Pocket Jazz lived up to their middle name, taking familiar tunes and putting their unique stamp on them while never straying too far from the structure, keeping them in the “pocket”. My dear friend, the late Jazz guitar master Jerry Topinka, used to tell me the key to a good solo was never to get so far out there that you get lost. The band certainly adhered to that principle, leading off with Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy”. The tight arrangement allowed Mike’s Gibson ES335 to stretch out, sometimes in counterpoint to Greg’s Nord Stage 2 keyboard, while never straying too far. A terrific rendition of Stevie Wonder’s classic tune “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” showed the band could shift gears without missing a beat on his lovely rendition. A varied set list also included songs like “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock and the Beatles “Michelle”.
The second set kicked off with a spirited version of Spyro Gyra’s “Shaker Song” but the tune that really got the room moving was Miles Davis “So What”. Their version was much funkier than the original and showcased the muscular drumming of Al Johnson and exceptional fret work of bassist Gary Mcilwain, much to the delight of the crowd. After that tour de force, a scintillating version of Marvin Gaye’s signature tune “What’s Going On” was just what the audience needed. Dipping back into Herbie Hancock’s song book for “Watermelon Man” was a great way to end a memorable evening of music. Hip Pocket Jazz are a quartet of seasoned musicians who bring their considerable skills to the table on each and every song. They are not to be missed.
Stop by the Chubby Pickle on our next Jazz Café