By Emily J. Weitz
This Friday night, people strolling through the Parrish Art Museum will get more than a feast for their eyes. As the Richie Siegler Quartet plays jazz in the lobby of the museum, the music will float down the spine of the space and into all the galleries. While hearing the gentle croon of a saxophone, patrons will also take in the winding ribbons of a deKooning painting, and the bold sheen of a John Chamberlain sculpture.
“I believe music in general and jazz in particular is an art form and it belongs there [at the Parrish],” says Richie Siegler, who plays the drums in the quartet and is the founder of Escola de Samba Boom. “DeKooning and Pollock? Who do you think they were listening to? They were listening to Coltrane. It’s like a big circle.”
When Siegler came to the executive director of the Parrish, Terrie Sultan, he says she lit up at the idea.
“The new building offers endless possibilities for programming, including heightened potential for live performance,” says Andrea Grover, curator of special projects at the Parrish. “Richie is a talented and popular East End musician who knows how to inspire and mobilize a crowd.”
While there is a special performance space, the Lichtenstein Theater, the staff decided to set up the Richie Siegler Quartet right in the lobby.
“We wanted the music to travel through the spine and into the galleries,” says Grover, “reaching the ears of those experiencing the works on view. The building’s central corridor is a great delivery system for sound and more – it connects all activities in the building.”
Siegler has been playing the drums since he was four, and he grew up in Greenwich Village listening to jazz masters. Both at home and on vacations with his family in the Catskills, Siegler was introduced to Latin jazz, including legends like Tito Puente.
While Siegler can play the drums for any genre, it’s jazz, and in particular Latin Jazz, where he has found a following.
He founded the Escola de Samba Boom, a free, year round music school with Monday night workshops. During the summer, when the workshop is held at Sagg Main Beach, it turns into an all out party with hundreds of people crowding around a tight circle of 60 or so drummers. Siegler is often found in the middle, directing with a whistle and riding the sound.
“It’s like cooking a stew,” says Siegler. “We have all the ingredients – 12 people in one section, six in another. My job is to make it all gel. Maybe we need a fresh herb, or some pepper and salt. I make a little adjustment, and when it kicks in, it’s a high. Often we’ll go out afterwards, and we’re all buzzed from the performance.”
At the Parrish this weekend, Siegler brings together a quartet of local talents that includes Siegler on the drums, John Ludlow on alto saxophone, Jeff Koch on bass, and Max Feldschuh on the vibraphones.
“We do some straight jazz,” he says, “and Latin-influenced. We do our own arrangements. I like the group because it has a light sound. There’s no keyboard or guitar. There’s a lot of air in what we do, and I try to stay off the ground.”
Of these four instruments playing together, Siegler doubts it’s the first time a quartet has been comprised of drums, alto sax, vibes, and bass, although he can’t recall another group that had this combination.
“But jazz has been around a long time,” he says. “Everything’s been done.”
Because of the stark design of the Parrish, marble and glass, Siegler feels particularly strongly that there needs to be a good crowd.
“People are acoustical tiles,” he says. “They absorb a lot of sound.”
Siegler has ideas for the Parrish, and he hopes to ride on the success of this weekend’s performance to create a more lasting relationship. Siegler remembers growing up in Manhattan, spending Thursday evenings at MoMA, enjoying live jazz.
“I’d like to see it become a monthly thing at the Parrish,” he says. “People will be encouraged to walk through the galleries and the music will follow them.”
The Richie Siegler Quartet will kick off the evening at 6 p.m. at the Parrish. Tickets are $10 for non-members and free for members.
“Membership is an exceptional deal,” says Grover, “paying for itself manifold if you plan to attend just four or more of our events in a year. I feel lucky, and hope others do, too, to have a major museum in a small community – it makes the bonds of art and life even tighter and more meaningful.”