Concert series commemorates Mo Jazz Cafe

Friday June 14, 2013

WILMINGTON -- The Mo Jazz Cafe was a part of the local music scene for a better part of a decade starting in the late 90's.

Its musical director, Christopher Bakriges, a world class jazz pianist, has recently organized a summer concert series to commemorate the cafe, while donating its proceeds to various charities in the area.

"It was great because we had this cute, little place underneath the Village Pub, which reminded people of a walk-down jazz club you'd find in Europe," said Bakriges. "It was a pretty Bohemian club. People came from all over the place to attend and play it."

The Mo Jazz Club closed in the summer of 2007. It had offered jazz exclusively on the weekends.

On June 14, Bakriges will play with bassist James Daggs and drummer Kevin Sharpe at Memorial Hall on Main Street in Wilmington for the Mo Jazz Remix Jazz Series' first concert. The event will be held from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission will be by donation only.

This first concert's proceeds will be donated to the West River Habitat for Humanity, an organization that has been responsible for building two homes in Wilmington and one in both Whitingham and Wardsboro. It became incorporated as a non-profit charity on Aug. 3, 2001 with the mission to partner with others to build affordable homes in its affiliated area.

The concert series will run through Columbus Day weekend, ending on Oct. 11. Each month, different musicians will share the stage with Bakriges to play jazz. All profits will benefit local non-profit organizations.

In July, the proceeds will go to the Rotary International. Jessica's Closet, which donates prom dresses to girls, will be the recipient in August. In September, the concert's proceeds will go to the National Association of Mental Illnesses. Fund collected from the October show will go to Wilmington's Pettee Memorial Library, which needs a new roof and a ceiling repaired.

Bakriges hopes the concerts will raise awareness, not only for those who attend but for the organizations as well. He hopes that charities will learn of other charities in the area so there can be future collaborations.

"We can do it through music," he said. "I think music is the universal language. It brings people together."

In discussion with the former Village Pub and Mo Jazz Cafe owner Mary Jane Finnegan, who currently runs Twice Blessed, the idea to memorialize the cafe came up. It has been six years since the cafe was shut down.

They were interested in the idea, especially with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene fresh in their minds. A piano that a patron had bought for Bakriges to play at Mo Jazz Cafe was taken down the river as a result of the floods.

"In thinking about wanting to do something to celebrate the memory of the club, we thought, ‘Why don't we raise funds for organizations? Why not make a series?'" said Bakriges. "Memorial Hall is kind enough to give us that space once a month. We have musicians who have played the club in years past and will come back and play the events, then we have special guests as well."

Bakriges told the Reformer that the musicians who were asked to play are world-class performers.

He wants the jazz concerts to become an annual series, where the opportunity to designate funds for various local charities can happen.

Finnegan will be decorating Memorial Hall to have a coffee house feel to it. Refreshments, wine and beer will be available.

"For whatever people want to pay, they can come in, eat great food and hear great music and know the funds are going to go towards a good cause," said Bakriges.

As a resident of Whitingham, he is excited to play in Wilmington because he doesn't get the chance to play locally much. Although he teaches in Boston and Western Massachusetts, Bakriges travels to other states and countries to play live.

"With jazz, you have to go long distances to make any kind of living," he said. "I play in places like Denver, St. Louis and Chicago more than I would in my own home state. So this is really special for me because it gives me the opportunity to stay at home and play jazz music right in my own backyard."

Bakriges was originally from Detroit. He moved to Toronto, then Brattleboro, and bought his home in Whitingham in 2002.

One of his greatest memories of the Mo Jazz Cafe was during a snowstorm in 2001.

"I remember we ended up recording two nights during a weekend, where there was 13 feet of snow and it was probably the best playing any of us have ever done," said Bakriges. "We were recording it and about three people would show up because everyone was socked in. But it was the best two nights of recording I ever did and no one would have known it had we not documented it."

Upcoming concerts are as follows:

-- On July 12, drummer Eric Nathan, saxophonist Steve MacGlaughlan and bassist Rich Mollin will perform.

-- On Aug. 16, drummer Gabe Jarrett and bassist Rich Mollin will play.

-- On Sept. 13, drummer Ken Lovelett and bassist Rich Mollin will perform.

-- On Oct. 11, the performers include clarinetist Perry Robinson, drummer Ken Lovelett and bassist Rich Mollin.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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