The Kennedy Dream Project Studio Orchestra, conducted by Tom Manuel,...

The Kennedy Dream Project Studio Orchestra, conducted by Tom Manuel, practices for The "Swing Into Spring" Jazz Festival. Credit: Carole Trottere

The Jazz Loft is celebrating the change of season with its “Swing Into Spring Festival,” which will be held throughout the village of Stony Brook and surrounding areas from Tuesday through Sunday.

“Jazz is the soundtrack of our country,” says The Jazz Loft founder-president Thomas Manuel. “It’s fun to be able to walk around the village and have music everywhere. This is as close as we could get to when there used to be music in every club on 52nd Street.”

Over the course of six days, live jazz will be happening at various locations including The Jazz Loft, local restaurants and even a candy shop.

“The idea is to present art to people because it’s something they’ve been deprived of for a while,” Manuel says. “They need healing on so many different levels.”

Oliver Nelson Jr. will perform the flute during the performances...

Oliver Nelson Jr. will perform the flute during the performances of his father's album "The Kennedy Dream" on March 26 and 27. Credit: Elizabeth Banks


The centerpiece of the festival will be two special performances of late jazz composer-performer Oliver Nelson’s 1967 album “The Kennedy Dream'' by a 35-piece jazz orchestra, led by Manuel. The first will take place at The Jazz Loft at 7 p.m. Saturday followed by an encore Sunday night at The Staller Center for the Arts.

“Jazz aficionados are very aware of this record. But for most people, it would be considered very obscure,” Manuel says. “I felt we needed to present something historic. So many of the themes on the album are still very relevant today.”

Manuel even reached out to Oliver Nelson Jr., who will join the orchestra on flute. “My father was inspired by the ideals of John F. Kennedy. He, along with his brother Robert, was a shining light creating hope for the African-American community,” says Nelson Jr., 66. “I believe if President Kennedy hadn’t died, the world would be different today.”

The album is an emotional roller coaster ranging from inspiration moments to dark times. Three live narrators will present the president’s words throughout the program in between the music.

“It very much sounds like a movie score with a 30-something-piece ensemble including a full string section and all the instrumentation that would be in a film soundtrack,” Manuel says. “Some movements are very upbeat with a lot of energy, while others are jarring hinting at the turmoil our country was dealing with in the ‘60s such as the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations that were happening.”


The second part of the program will consist of new compositions by Manuel as well as internationally recognized jazz trombonist Ray Anderson, who is the director of jazz studies at Stony Brook University, Nelson Jr. and Grammy-nominated Israeli drummer Dan Pugach, who will debut his composition “Schlep,” which was inspired by Oliver Nelson. 

“I love Nelson’s way of writing simple melodies and clear statements, which are rare ingredients in jazz,” says Pugach, 38. “Jazz can sound arbitrary to an untrained ear so I try to make it coherent.”

Tom Manuel and fellow musicians from the Jazz Loft in...

Tom Manuel and fellow musicians from the Jazz Loft in Stony Brook and will be performing at various locations around the village. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara


Live jazz will be available at local venues like Bliss, Sweet Mama’s, Madiran the Wine Bar, the Three Village Inn and the Country House Tuesday through Thursday. In addition to an evening jam session on Wednesday, there will be a showcase of local talent at Community Jazz Night at The Jazz Loft on Friday. The next day children can enjoy live jazz at Stony Brook Chocolate, where hot chocolate will be sold. As an added treat, kids will have chocolate pops shaped like jazz instruments to melt into their cocoa. 

“There will be small duos and trios, the largest is a quartet, throughout the town,” says Manuel. “Businesses are still hurting, so the live music will be an incentive to boost our local restaurants. We want to get people out on a weeknight and have a good time.”

The aim of the event is for Long Islanders to experience live jazz in the moment, he adds.

“There are layers in a live setting that you don’t get from just listening to a record, like facial expressions, eye contact and even the introductions or stories in between the tunes that can make the songs more meaningful,” says Manuel. “You can’t replicate that experience. It’s something you have to witness live in the room.”


WHEN/WHERE Tuesday-Sunday, throughout the village of Stony Brook and the hamlet of East Setauket

INFO 631-751-1895,

ADMISSION Tickets range from $5-$30 depending on the event

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