Jazz at the Check-Out Counter
Husband, wife team offer music at Whole Foods
Not exactly a smoky jazz club, to be sure, but every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. first-rate jazz musicians play a two hour set for an appreciative audience, some of whom are surprised to encounter jazz riffs while buying tofu and soy milk in the check-out line, and others, including some regulars, who listen attentively at tables in what is normally the store's dining area, nodding their heads and tapping their feet.
The idea for the jazz series at Whole Foods came from Yashmin Abler, a Brazilian-born bossa nova singer and West Orange resident who works at Whole Foods in Montclair.
In 2007, Abler was helping Whole Foods open a huge new store in lower Manhattan on the Bowery and Houston streets. "The space was so beautiful that it deserved some jazz," she recalled.
Abler proposed a jazz series to Rob Twyman, the store's manager, who agreed.
Produced by Bossa Nova Music Productions, run by Abler and her husband, guitarist Paul Abler, the concerts featured well-known jazz musicians like Yusef Lateef and Ted Curson and were an immediate hit.
Other Whole Foods stores in New York and New Jersey picked up on the concept, including the West Orange store in 2008, where it has been running as the "Baldwin Piano Series" ever since.
"We love that it makes the grocery store more of a community gathering place," said Denise Dagnino, marketing team leader in the West Orange store. "Jazz appeals to just about everyone and all of our customers seem to be enjoying it."
And having a free concert series also gives the store "a bump on a slow night," said one store employee.
The Ablers see the concerts as a way to expose the public to an art form that is usually neglected by the mass media.
"You have to bring jazz to uncommon venues in this day and age," said Paul Abler. "You have to be creative."
During a break in a recent concert at the store performed by Paul on guitar, Yashmin on vocals and Tomoko Ohno on piano, a wide-eyed little boy came up to Paul and wanted to touch his electric guitar.
"We see that a lot," Yashmin said. "A lot of children are exposed to this music for the first time here, after they've been bombarded by bad music on TV and radio, and they're fascinated by it. We've seen hundreds of kids over the past two years, and it's really one of the benefits of doing this."
The series also benefits local musicians like Bob DeVos, Dave Stryker, Xavier Davies, Virginia Mayhew and Vic Juris.
"It's a good gig," Paul Abler said. "It's close to home and early enough so that they have time to play somewhere else later."
The series also attracts a group of regulars, including Nate Geiger and his wife Susan.
"Each week it's a delight," said Mr. Geiger, a retired business executive who lives in West Orange.
"We look forward to it every week," added Susan Geiger, a retired music teacher. "All the musicians that come in are top caliber, it's only a few minutes from our home and it's free."