LOCAL JAZZ IS STILL JUMPING IN RHODE ISLAND: Despite musical headwinds, local jazz is still alive and swinging in Rhode Island

Jazz in the Ocean State has seen a myriad of tough times, including, COVID aftershocks, digital streaming, stubborn inflation, and changing demographics. But, just like the changing tides of Narragansett Bay, local jazz is here to stay. Live music venues and great jazz musicians have come and gone, but jazz lovers should not despair. 

While iconic landmarks, such as the Celebrity Club, Bovi’s, and the sizzling Hi-Hat Lounge have drifted into jazz heaven, a new crop of venues carries on the American jazz tradition.


Several nights a week, clubs including The Red Door, Knickerbockers, The Parlour, and Askew feature some of Rhode Island veteran jazz players such as trumpeter John Almark, bassist Joe Potenza, well-known drummer Vinnie Pagano, and guitar wizard Gino Rosato.

Some may say that jazz is dominated by men, however many women have made a significant contribution to the venerable art form throughout the years, starting with jazz great and pioneer Carol Sloane. Sloane began her career in the 1950s, signed to Columbia Records, and showcased at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961, which opened the door for the current lineup of amazing female jazz vocalists, including  Kim Trusty, Shawnn Monteiro, Tish Adams, and Dyan Kane.

With a career that has spanned decades in a variety of entertainment fields, including movies and acting on TV, Dyan Kane recently brought her breezy, well-honed jazz stylings to one of my favorite jazz spots, The Red Door in downtown Providence. Kane, whose style is steeped in the classic jazz divas, including Sara Vaughn, Billie Holiday, and Nancy Wilson, showcased her considerable talents in the cozy upstairs venue backed by a stellar band that was anchored by guitar wizard Gino Rosato. 

From the opening number you could hear in Kane’s phrasing years spent listening and cultivating a captivating voice. As a young woman, Kane joined a Harlem gospel choir and soaked in the soulful sounds of the legendary Ray Charles and Baptist music. Her jazz stylings are influenced heavily by its ancestor, the American blues.

Following a stint in Los Angles doing movies and TV, Kane left L.A. for the Big Apple. While working at the Blue Note, a legendary jazz spot in Greenwich Village, Kane’s airy and powerful style reflected the vocal stylings of  jazz greats such as Carmen McCrae, Al Jarreau, master jazz vocalist, and Better Carter, one of the most important jazz singers of the 20th century.

She floated effortlessly as she mixed Brazilian influenced stylings with American jazz standards and wove in updated pop songs that showcased her vocal diversity on numbers such as the Bee Gees’ mega hit “To Love Somebody”, which she performed with a bluesy lament, as well as “Use Me” a Bill Withers mainstay, which she molded into a funky Brazilian jazz groove. 

(Note: For the avid listener, I recommend the Bill Withers 1973 live album  Live at Carnegie Hall. On it, Withers awes listeners with an eight minute version of the soulful “Use Me”.)

While listener’s might want more, Kanes’ latest release, Soul of the Water, recorded with a veteran L.A. sidemen, is available on Interplay Records and features a healthy dose of Kane’s main influences from “Summertime”, a gem from the great American Songbook along with “Moonglow” and “Caravan”, a Duke Ellington masterpiece.

For Rhode Island jazz lovers looking for more jazz, I highly recommend The Red Door, which was literally created by a mainstay in the Rhode Island music scene, Phil Martelly, who, following graduation from Berkeley School of Music, dabbled in the music business and played with a variety of bands before investing in a chain of music schools for young musicians called the School of Rock

During the height of COVID, Martelly invested in The Red Door, offering free jazz every Monday night. He understands the music business and said, “I want to keep it free’ adding “People will come.” 

The Blue Room in Pawtuxet Village also offers sizzling jazz nightly, while Sardella‘s, a delicious Italian restaurant in Newport, offers Wednesday night jazz. Talk about a night out, feasting on shrimp scampi while listening to some of the best jazz in Newport!