Listening to world-class jazz in a bucolic Newport Beach setting might seem like a novel idea these days.
Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach, however, has been presenting live jazz concerts on Saturday afternoons since August 15. These performances will continue through September 26.
Bayside’s first three “Summer Jazz Lunch @ Bayside” concerts featured singer Sara Gazarek, saxophone player Eric Marienthal and pianist/composer Josh Nelson.
The concert series is the brainchild of Jerry Mandel, saxophone player, jazz performer and president of the Irvine Barclay Theater — the nearby venue that hosts live jazz concerts, chamber music, ballet recitals, symphony concerts, solo performances, plays, musicals and lectures, in its theater on the UC Irvine campus. The Barclay, along with nearly every entertainment venue nationwide, went dark in early March.
In a phone interview, Mandel — who plays his tenor sax with his jazz band on Thursday evenings at Bayside, and Wednesday evenings at its sister venue, Bistango restaurant in Irvine — talked about his decision to have the Barclay host the Saturday afternoon gigs in Newport Beach.
“People are waiting for the world to return to normal. But I think the world we knew before will never be the same,” he said. “Nobody knows when we will be able to put on shows at the Barclay again. Maybe we can do it in January but we don’t know.”
Mandel talked about discussions he has been having with his staff with the possible goal of presenting outdoor concerts near the Barclay. “We are desperate to hear live music,” he said. “But no place on campus has the right feeling for performances.”
Bayside, however, has the perfect ambiance, he explained, especially with a section of the parking lot converted to a dining and listening area, shaded by a canopy and several umbrellas. The expansive space can accommodate 125 to 130 people, with couples and larger parties seated safely apart.
With this inventive plan, Mandel has booked “some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world,” as so many of them live nearby in Los Angeles, and don’t want to travel far these days. He adds that all of the musicians to perform at Bayside are Grammy award winners or nominees. He rhetorically adds, “These are the cards we’ve been dealt … and what do we do with them?”
Mandel, assisted by his devoted Barclay Theater staff, is hiring the musicians, planning the concerts and managing the ticket sales. Bayside Restaurant is providing the venue, its staff and servers and its world-class food and drinks for guests to enjoy while listening to the music.
The first Bayside concert on August 15 featured jazz vocalist Sarah Gazarek and her quartet. The Grammy nominated singer performed renditions of popular songs from the last several decades, some of them suitable for people in quarantine, as she remarked. One of the songs was Tea for Two (1924). Lyrics include: “Just tea for two / And two for tea / Just me for you / And you for me alone.” She sang Blackbird (1968) by the Beatles, with the lyrics: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.” And she sang Jolene (1973) by Dolly Parton, which includes: “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.” During her performance, Gazarek talked about the thrill of singing live for the first time in several months.
For the second concert on August 22, saxophonist Eric Marienthal and his quartet played lively and soulful jazz standards. Braving the 90 degree heat, he also remarked about the joy of performing live. Marienthal, a Grammy award winner, has played his saxophone with Chick Corea, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and several other renowned performers.
The third Bayside concert featuring the Josh Nelson Quartet, with Nelson as pianist-composer-bandleader, was presented on August 29. The Southern California native has performed over the years with many renowned jazz artists including Natalie Cole, Jeff Hamilton and Sara Gazarek.
After a Labor Day weekend break, the Barclay Theater and Bayside will present three more concerts on Saturdays at noon.
John Clayton, double bassist, Jeff Hamilton, drummer, and Graham Dechter, guitarist, will band together for a September 12 performance. Guitarist/composer Anthony Wilson will perform on September 19. And Hamilton will return to Bayside on September 26, playing with keyboard artist Akiko Tsuruga.
The first three concerts at Bayside have proven to be so successful — with the musicians expressing gratitude for the opportunity to perform live — that Mandel is considering continuing them into October, depending on the weather, or perhaps scheduling more concerts next year. Stay tuned.
Reservations for the Barclay Summer Jazz Lunch @ Bayside concerts can be made through this link. Or call 949-854-4646 from Noon to 4 p.m. daily for bookings of more than 4 in one party. Tickets at $90 to $135 include lunch, tax, tip and 90 minutes of music. Guests are expected to wear masks except when seated and to have their temperatures taken upon entering. Valet parking is complementary.
Bayside Restaurant is at 900 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach.