The Heights – a Column by Joe Barna

Written by on November 7, 2023

The Heights – a Column by Joe Barna.

Throughout every era of music there exists those generational talents that transcend their given art forms. These artists cement themselves into the lore as timeless voices becoming living legends, inevitably leaving the mortal realm behind as icons of their craft. Coming to Alias Coffee Roasters in Troy, NY on Saturday, November 18th and Sunday, November 19th will be two such individuals. Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and trumpet legend Joe Magnarelli are among the most valued and sought after soloists on the international jazz scene. Each possesses a resume that rivals even the greatest masters from the past 100 years of recorded music. For 2 days in November upstate NY will have the esteemed opportunity to meet and listen to these icons up close and personal.

In regards to icons of music, 2023 is the 100th anniversary of jazz luminary Thad Jones. Not only a great trumpet player, Jones is one of jazz music’s most prolific composers, arrangers and bandleaders. Born in Pontiac, Michigan during March of 1923, he eventually made his way to NYC to pursue his love of music, in particular jazz. You might have heard of his 2 brothers, pianist Hank Jones and drumming shaman Elvin Jones. To say Thad grew up in a musical family would be the understatement of the century. All 3 of these brilliant artists left their stamp on jazz, leaving behind hundreds of recordings and many fond memories in the minds of the audiences with whom they inspired. Sadly, Thad passed from this realm on August 20, 1986. However, his legend certainly lives on.

Why am I mentioning Thad Jones? Well, get ready for this, because you will not want to miss out on a rare opportunity to hear Jones’ original music in person.

I was recently in talks with 10 time Downbeat Magazine award winner for greatest baritone sax player alive Gary Smulyan about a return to the Alias stage. After an explosive performance at the end of 2022 I knew it wouldn’t be long before Smulyan would need to make his presence felt once again. Little did I know what he had in store for this year’s performance. Given that both he and Magnarelli have spent the better part of the past 40 years performing in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (Now the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) Smulyan said he would like to present a 2 day centennial celebration in honor of the 100th year of Thad Jones’ birth. Can you even imagine the light that went on in my heart and the smile on my face when those words hit my ears??? I’ve never been so inspired to prepare for a performance in my 30 years as a professional drummer. Playing the music of a jazz superhero the likes of Thad Jones should never be taken lightly. When you combine that with the fact that these shows will include a collaboration with 2 individuals that played in the band one must be prepared and ready to play Jones’ music with the utmost integrity.

  A little about Gary Smulyan;

Smulyan is one of the most decorated instrumentalists in music history. His numerous awards from Downbeat Magazine, The Grammy Foundation, Jazz Journalist Society and JazzTimes magazine are too vast to list. He has performed with the who’s who of jazz history including Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Dave Holland, Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band and many more. He is an international recording artist and has 7 Grammy Awards to his name.

  A little about Joe Magnarelli;

Over the course of the past 40 years Magnarelli has emerged as one of the premier trumpeters, composers, recording artists and educators in jazz. His talents have led him to performances with luminaries such as Lionel Hampton, Jack McDuff, Ray Barretto, Village Vanguard Orchestra, Aretha Franklin, Jane Monheit, Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra and many others. He is a first call sideman for many of the world’s top touring groups and an international recording artist who has over 125 albums to his credits.

Those who have been to an Alias Coffee Roasters performance already know how magical the atmosphere, sound, energy and performances have been. In the year 2023 we have seen multiple live albums recorded from inside this eclectic venue. We’ve witnessed timeless performances with artists the likes of Keith Pray, Ray Vega, George Garzone, Ralph Lalama, Greg Glassman, Jon Gordon, Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, Caroline Davis and many others. Having this venue in upstate NY has been nothing short of a miracle for those wishing to create new memories listening and meeting some of the greatest artists around. For those still hesitating to make one of these shows, I encourage you to take the time and get engaged. Alias is one of those special rooms that was a happy accident. The room was never originally intended for live music, but once we realized its potential the rest is history.

I’d like to thank Gary Smulyan and Joe Magnarelli for choosing Alias to present this special 2 day engagement in Troy, NY. Being it’s my home-town, I’m honored to have this opportunity.  Gary and Joe have been mentors to me over the past 20 years. They have helped me build my confidence, focus on what’s important, reach some of my musical goals and have taught me the value in hard work. For this I am eternally grateful.

I believe all things happen exactly as they should. There are no accidents, only opportunities to learn. When I moved back to Troy in August of 2015 there was literally NO live jazz in Troy. Basically, there was no live music period in Troy. It saddened me because I grew up listening to so many of the great talents that inhabited this historic city. How could I live in a place with no live music to explore? Looking back, it’s a privilege to live in this community with so many talented artists, listeners and new venues. From my home-base of 518 Craft on Monday nights, to a Tuesday residency at Twisted Fiddler with Justin Henricks (guitar) and Ian MacDonald (organ), SongCity at The Ruck and beyond, this resilient little city now has a heartbeat that can’t be stopped. Music is all around us for those who choose to embrace its presence. But, you must take the time to stop and consume its overflowing beauty if you wish to be a part of its growth

Now, onto the show……

We invite each of you to be a part of the resurgence unfolding right before our eyes in Troy, NY. Come celebrate with us at Alias Coffee Roasters, 219 4th Street, on Saturday, November 18th and Sunday, November 19th for what will surely be one the most talked about live performances in the capital region for 2023. Gary Smulyan and Joe Magnarelli stand as 2 of jazz music’s most recognizable voices. For 2 nights they will present an incredible program of Thad Jones’ compositions. It will be a weekend to remember for all in attendance.

Here are the details…

~ The Gary Smulyan-Joe Magnarelli Quintet / Performing the Music of Thad Jones

~ Saturday, November 18th | sets at 7;30pm & 9pm

~ Sunday, November 19th | sets at 6pm & 7:30 pm

~ Tickets will be available for pre-order on beginning November 1st

$35 Adults

$20 Students (only on Sunday)

Warmest Regards,



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