The luscious voice of Terrie Richards, wife of Howard Alden, with Howard accompanying (on his new Benedetto Custom 7-String)
The luscious voice of Terrie Richards, wife of Howard Alden, with Howard accompanying (on his new Benedetto Custom 7-String)
Happy patrons Bob and Cindy Benedetto with Howard Alden and Terrie Richards
Happy patrons Bob and Cindy Benedetto with Howard Alden and Terrie Richards. Photo: Nick Sarpola

On a rainy Sunday night in late February, the 28th, Bob and I decided to put down the chisels and computer mouse, respectively, and go hear Howard Alden who was performing with his lovely wife, singer Terrie Richards, and a bass player at a wonderful restaurant called the Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey. Now, I grew up and graduated high school in nearby Chatham Township and know the Shanghai is in a posh section of north Jersey's Morris County. (Main Street in Madison is a Norman Rockwellesque slice of Americana, with each shop prettier than the next.) The restaurant/club is very attractive and is faithful to the genre — they feature live jazz five nights a week. Once you go, it's easy to see why the Shanghai was voted New Jersey's "Top Jazz Club" by the Star Ledger (Dec .'98).

It's spacious yet intimate. The decor is understated elegance, casual yet classy. The owners, husband & wife David Niu and Martha Chang, are a charming couple and very enthusiastic about good jazz and the artists. They also clearly know how to run a successful restaurant. Bob and I were graciously received and given the best seat in the house, right near the band. (that's one of the perks when you are married to the performing guitarist's luthier!) The music started on time.

Tasteful bassist Dick Sarpola accompanied with excellent timing and feel
Tasteful bassist Dick Sarpola accompanied with excellent timing and feel

Howard Alden never disappoints. One of the instrument's true sweethearts — and always a gentleman— he plays with a maturity and sophistication that belie his young 40 years. It doesn't get better. And Terrie's lush singing is a treat. She's been described by Benny Green as having "a slightly breathless, immensely feminine voice ... with an excellent sense of time and rhythm." Manhattan bassist Dick Sarpola, whom we met for the first time that night, complemented them both with his impeccable timing and feel.

The trio opened with a Fats Waller tune, "I'm Crazy about My Baby and My Baby's Crazy about Me" and followed it with Julie Stein's "Just in Time". Terrie next sang a gorgeous, slow, luscious "The Very Thought of You" (my second favorite tune of the night). Other tunes included "Sweet Lorraine" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do". For the 100th anniversary of Duke Ellington's birthday, she sang a swinging, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". (Tony Bennett would surely have approved!) They performed a feeling version of a Julie London/Barney Kessel arrangement of "Gone With the Wind" followed by "Blue Skies" and a rousing "Lady's in Love with You" to close the first set.

The second set started with Johnny Mercer's "Talk to Me Baby" and Sigmund Romberg's "Lover, Where Can You Be". Terrie then did a killer performance of "Making Whoopee". Terrie taking a short break, Howard and Dick duoed on Bill Evans's "Very Early" followed by a moving "Time after Time". Since it's one of my all-time favorites songs — and Howard knows this — he selected the next tune, "My Funny Valentine". It pays to know the band! (Interestingly, Terrie told us it was the first time she had sung that song for Howard.) Call me sentimental, but Howard's version is the best in my book. Harold Arlen's "As Long as I Live" followed. Terrie wanted to close the show with "something happy" she said so she dazzled the audience with the ever-charming "Jeepers Creepers". The trio is a class act. I'm sure they'll be back.

Shanghai Jazz proprietor David Niu introduces the Howard Alden Trio
Shanghai Jazz proprietor David Niu introduces the Howard Alden Trio
Cindy
Cindy's requisite Group Shot: (l to r) Howard Alden, Bob Benedetto, Terrie Richards, David Niu, wife Martha Chang, and bassist Dick Sarpola

Did I mention the great food? The Shanghai has a sumptuous menu and the choices a big cut above your standard Chinese fare. I had a delicious vegetarian dish of spinach with ginger sauce and Bob had a wonderful fresh fish entrée which was excellent as well. Our dessert — which we usually forego but weakened — was a homemade apple cobbler-type dish, very rich and well-worth the "cheating". (Since it was our first time there, owners David and Martha —a class act themselves — treated us to a complimentary house apple wine, which was just the right finish to a lovely dinner. Definitely try it.) The service is terrific — attentive and courteous. Genuinely courteous.

The Shanghai has already showcased an impressive list of jazz guitar artists including Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Tay




Visit the Shanghai at 24 Main Street (Route 124) Madison, NJ 07940-1818 or their website at www.shanghaijazz.com (973) 822-2899. Reservations strongly recommended.


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