By Joseph Sapia
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – On a recent spring evening, the three-piece Art Deco combo softly played jazz in the woodsy foyer of the Strauss Mansion Museum.
Quietly listening to guitarist Doug Clarke, Joe Accurso on electric piano and Gary Mazzaroppi playing stand-up bass were a sparse group of about a dozen people.
Then, Audra Mariel, a wisp of a woman stepped up. Girlishly twirling her hair with her left hand, holding microphone in her right hand, she begins singing George Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” in an unexpected sultry, smoky voice.
“The house sort of glows at night,” said Lynn Fylak, president of the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society, which owns the 1893 21-room, wooden mansion on Prospect Circle. “It’s dimly lit. There’s just an energy buzzing in here. It’s pretty cool.”
Cool is the society’s “Music at the Mansion” series, a combination of music, food and beverage (brought by guests) and fundraising.
“Hopping,” said Chris DuBarton, a member of the society’s board of directors, describing the scene at Music at the Mansion nights. “Everybody has a good time. “They wind up playing till they have to go home.”
Over the years, the mansion, once owned by New York City businessman-philanthropist Adolph Strauss, has hosted small music events.
“The house has to be used,” Fylak said. “My focus was to get more activities and programs.”
So, it was a natural progression after Fylak and Mariel met to begin a music series last summer. Mariel voluntarily hosts the events, where she often performs.
“She was very enthusiastic about being in the house,” Fylak said. “It’s a vibe.”
Music at the Mansion serves various purposes, getting people acquainted with the society and area musicians, along with raising funds for the society. The $15 admission fee is split between the musicians and the society – normally the splitting of about $400 taken at the door, Fylak said.
The concerts will continue at least until November, Fylak said.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Harry Moorhouse, 68, of Monroe between sets on this recent night. “I think the vocalist is amazing, to put it in the least. I really enjoy it.”
“I listened to a lot of different vocalists growing up,” said Marial, 31, a Middletown resident whose creative side is actress, teaching theater workshops at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre and singing. “I don’t want to sound like anybody else, but I imagine I’ve been influenced by people.”
Mariel said she generally performs jazz standards. So, on the recent night, she sang such selections as “Summertime,” “Always” and “Blue Skies.”
“I love this kind of stuff, especially the Great American Songbook,” said Thomas Wiedmann, 21, of Howell. “I grew up on that at my grandma’s house – Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Harry James.
Wiedmann was familiar with Mariel and Art Deco from a performance they did at Brookdale Community College, where he attends school and where Accurso of Atlantic Highlands, Clarke of Asbury Park and Mazzaroppi of Rumson are music professors.
The performance at the mansion “has the whole aesthetic to it,” Wiedmann said.
“The atmosphere can’t be beat, evocative of the turn of the (19th-to-20th) century,” said Craig McKeown, 65, who attended with his wife, Cynthia.
“We enjoy this kind of music,” said Cynthia McKeown, 62. “My daughter thought we would enjoy the atmosphere. The band was great.”
“The ensemble was absolutely charming,” Craig McKeown said.
Craig McKeown said those attending the concert were “very congenial.”
“Eating, drinking and listening to music, what could be better?” Mariel said. “An opportunity for the community to go out and have a fun night and be a community. And a local venue for musicians to play.”
Scheduled concerts in the “Music at the Mansion” series:
Thursday, May 26, hosted by Audra Mariel, performing Joe Francis and friends.
Thursday, June 30, hosted by Audra Mariel, performing Jazz Gypsies.
Thursday, July 28, hosted by Audra Mariel, performing Arturo, Denner and Avidon.
$15 admission, bring beverage or food to share.
All start at 7 p.m. and run to about 10 p.m. at the society’s Strauss Mansion Museum, 27 Prospect Circle, Atlantic Highlands. Sponsored by the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society www.ahhistory.org.
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