Saxophonist Vincent Herring was taking a break after playing a song by jazz pianist Cedar Walton when he decided to address the crowd during “The Battle in the Bronx II” night at An Beal Bocht Café.
Despite the fact that the Dec. 7 event was advertised as a battle of jazz musicians, he had nothing but admiring words to say about his instrumental opponent, Eric Alexander.
“He’s unbelievably great,” Herring told the crowd.
Alexander, a Riverdale resident and a fellow world-class musician of Herring’s, said that the event name was “just hyperbole.” The two have nothing but respect for each other, he said.
“The audience likes the idea of the saxophonists battling it out so it’s really competition without animosity,” he said. “But hopefully the friendly competition elevates the level of the music and the audience can hear that.”
“The Battle in the Bronx” is an annual event, now in its second year, that the program’s founder Linda Manning presents on the first Wednesday of each month during her Linda›s Jazz Nights at An Beal Bocht Café.
Linda’s Jazz Nights has been going strong for six years now. Manning and Alexander met when she was planning a benefit event filled with theater and musical performances at the Spuyten Duyvil School P.S. 24. So between his music career and her theater career, the rest is performance history.
“Wanting to have a little more color, a little richer cultural life, and here I had these musicians who were so wonderful, wanting to do something, so that›s how it started,” Manning said. She also said she had a “desire to grow this community” and has since moving to Riverdale.
Today, Linda’s Jazz Nights is popular with Riverdale jazz enthusiasts. During the first set of “The Battle in the Bronx,” the space allotted was at capacity. There was nowhere to move until it was over. And even then, many people stuck around for the second performance.
“It sounds a little corny, but [these events do] matter,” Manning said. “To be in the room with the live experience, there›s just no replacement. At the moment with the artists who are up on stage doing what they do right in front of you and you become a part of that. It’s valuable.”
The musicians themselves have something else valuable to offer audiences: their never-ending jazz expertise.
The group accompanying Herring and Alexander – Anthony Wonsey on piano,
Motoi Kanamori on bass, and Yoichi Kobayashi on drums – are no strangers to working with the two. In the last six years, they have gone on tour together at venues in China and Japan.
“They have this encyclopedic knowledge of the music,” Manning said of the ensemble. “They just call a tune and they all know it.”
When it comes to the impact jazz music can have on local residents, Alexander said that sometimes people forget that cultural events exist in their surroundings – especially people who are raising a family and are focused on providing their children with the best education. A reminder, he said, can be helpful.
“It’s important to bring jazz everywhere, not just Riverdale in particular,” he said. “[But] to get something like this started, I think it is important to the community, and it’s been an incremental step by step building up the fan base, so people know now this happens the first Wednesday of the month.”
Manning has similar ideas of how her monthly series benefits the community.
“What›s happening in your community affects your sense of self and your identity,” she said. “And to have a high quality cultural event happening where you live that you can have access to, I think it›s really meaningful to people.”
The Linda’s Jazz Nights series occurs the first Wednesday of every month at An Beal Bocht Café, located at 445 W. 238 St.