CANCELLED – Xylophonist Heather Thorn To Lead Trio at March Social

February 17, 2020

Given the progression of COVID-19, we have decided to cancel this Sunday’s Jazz Social out of concern for the health and safety of our members and guests. We will continue to monitor the situation and hope to be able to safely resume future events as soon as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Story and Photo by Mitchell Seidel

A Heather Thorn performance can be called a trip into the Roaring ’20s. The question is whether it’s back to the 1920s or forward to the 2020s. The Orlando, Florida, resident’s instrument of choice is the xylophone, something of a throwback to the early days of jazz, before the invention of the amplified vibraphone, popularized during the Swing Era by the likes of Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo.

While Thorn’s instrumentation is anchored in the past, her — and her band’s — repertoire spans several generations. What can you say from a set that might include a Benny Goodmanesque “Sing, Sing, Sing,” a breakneck rendition of “Tico Tico,” a transcribed Red Norvo solo of “I Got Rhythm”, and a nod to Ray Charles’ version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You”?  With the vintage instrumentation of the xylophone and her modern musical aesthetic, Thorn brings to mind some of the newer New Orleans brass bands in that she’s unafraid to perform a broad range of music.  As a player she is capable of performing sweetly melodic solos for some tunes, then sifting to furiously mallet-bending runs for others.

The percussionist can often be heard leading her band, Vivacity, a nine-piece retro swing group with a large following in central Florida, as well as orchestral groups featured in the Disney Orlando-area parks. The Canadian-born musician’s fame reaches beyond her home. Last year Vivacity, featuring Thorn, was the headline act for the I Love Jazz International Jazz Festival in Brazil. Last November, she was one of the stars at the Suncoast Jazz Classic in Clearwater Beach, FL. 

On Sunday, March 15, Thorn will be leading a trio at the New Jersey Jazz Society’s Jazz Social at Shanghai Jazz in Madison. Following this performance, she is booked as a guest performer one evening with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks in Manhattan. Thorn has invited along two metro area stalwarts of the swing tradition, saxophonist Michael Hashim and pianist Alberto Pibiri to join her at the Social.

Despite his youthful appearance, Hashim has been a fixture on the jazz scene for more than 40 years, going back as far as the Widespread Depression Jazz Orchestra in the 1970s. A talented leader and frequent sideman, he has performed with such musicians as guitarist Chris Flory, bassist Dennis Irwin, drummer Kenny Washington, keyboardist Mike LeDonne, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, drummer Jo Jones, pianist Brooks Kerr, drummer Sonny Greer, and pianists Jimmy Rowles and Judy Carmichael. Hashim is no stranger to the New Jersey Jazz Society, having performed at the annual Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp, a Jazz Social in a small group and in concert with his Billy Strayhorn Orchestra. 

Italian-born Madison resident Pibiri is heavily influenced by the work of Oscar Peterson and also has earned a spot as one of the better go-to names in swing jazz. He is mainstay of saxophonist Adrian Cunningham’s band, Professor Cunningham’s Old School, and appears on its latest Arbors CD release, Professor Cunningham and His Old School Swings Disney.

The New Jersey Jazz Society produces 10 Sunday Jazz Socials a year, all of which are free to members. Admission is $10 for non-members, and there is a $10 food/beverage mininum for all attendees.  Shanghai Jazz is located at 24 Main St. in Madison. Doors open at 2:30 p.m., and the music is performed from 3-5 p.m., with one short intermission. For more information, call (908) 380-2847 or email

Funding for the NJJS Socials has been made possible in part by Morris Arts through the New Jersey State Council of the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment of the Arts.

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