A good “06880” story tells readers about an underrated location in Westport. Or he describes a little-known event. Maybe it celebrates someone (a person) or something (the arts).
This one does all that.
I’ve written about Greg Wall before. A saxophonist who doubles as the spiritual leader of Westport’s Beit Chaverim – or vice versa – he is one of the most interesting and versatile Westporters, in a city filled with both.
For several years, he and a group of top musicians played at local venues, including the Spotted Horse, Saugatuck Rowing Club and 323 Restaurant. They formed the Jazz Society of Fairfield County and raised funds to purchase the famed Steinway piano at the historic Village Gate Jazz Club in New York City.
On March 12, 2020, Rabbi Wall performed at his then regular venue, Pearl at Longshore. That day, the pandemic roared through Westport.
Eight months later the restaurant closed, victim of COVID.
One day, not so long ago, the rabbi was driving down Riverside Avenue, near his Lincoln Street home (conveniently, within walking distance of his synagogue). He met his wife, out for a run, near the VFW.
Something clicked. He asked her to stop there, to see if it was suitable for live music.
Westport’s VFW Joseph Clinton Post 399 is a great place. For more than 100 years, it has served veterans and their families. After the remodel, it is a nice venue for class reunions, birthday parties or anniversary celebrations. There is also a quay aft, with low cost mooring lines.
Yet most Westporters know it — if they think about it at all — as the building at the tricky corner intersection with Riverside, Saugatuck, and Treadwell avenues, with the cannon ahead. (Fun fact: it was sunk in 1799, then placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate our 1777 battle against the British. The cannons on the beach are now replicas.)
The door was locked. But a man got out of his car in the parking lot and asked if he could help. He was Quartermaster Phil Delgado – and he sure could.
Soon he and the rabbi were talking. Soon after, the rabbi was blowing his horn at the VFW. ‘Thursday Night Jazz’ was back – and renamed ‘Jazz at the Post’.
He had 2 shows there, both very successful. In fact, says Rabbi Wall, the VFW is unlike any place he has played other than a university. As a non-profit organization, all they want is for everyone to have a good time. Delgado fully supports the arts (and can add local art to the walls of the new Jazz Room.)
The back room – with a great view of the Saugatuck River – is a great place to relax and listen to live music.
Plus, says the rabbi, the acoustics are fantastic.
Rabbi Wall’s next gig is tonight (Thursday, May 5), featuring guitarist Bob Devos, bassist Phil Bowler and drummer Steve Johns. There are 2 sets: 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. He will be back on May 26 with trombonist Steve Davis, and June 9 (with Roberta Piket on Hammond B3).
There is a $10 cover. For reservations, email [email protected] or call 203-227-6796. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m.
“Westport is not a late community. Things close early,” he notes. “Commuters come home after 6 a.m. They eat and don’t go out after.”
So, although the VFW kitchen is closed, a Beit Chaverim devotee, Leon Pasternak, found chef Derek Furino to bring food to serve. The VFW loves it so much that it collaborates on other projects.
Westport’s VFW may not be alone in the country with regular music shows.
It may not even be the only one presenting jazz.
But it must be the only VFW with its own Jazz Rabbi.
BIS: Here’s another idea: bring back the Steinway piano. It is in storage now. But it could soon grace the VFW. Play it again, Rabbi!