Joel Zelnik Trio at Grunin Center

May 21, 2024

On October 23, 1968, legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans was recorded during a performance at the Top of the Gate, the upstairs restaurant/bar at the Greenwich Village jazz club, the Village Gate. Twenty-two-year-old engineer George Klabin was given permission to make the recording by Evans’ manager, Helen Keane, but the resulting album, Bill Evans: Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate, wasn’t released until 2012, by Resonance Records. Reviewing it for AllAboutJazz, Edward Blanco pointed out that although Evans died in 1980, “his music continues to inspire new generations of young musicians and remains an integral part of jazz history.”

Jazz pianist Joel Zelnik (photo above) met Evans in the mid-1960s when, as an accompanist for vocalist Stan Edwards, he alternated sets with him on Monday nights at the Top of the Gate. “I have never forgotten sharing the stage with the great Bill Evans,” said the 79-year-old Zelnik. “He had such an impact on me as a young man, and his approach to jazz was so influential.”

On Sunday, June 2, in a program called “My Bill Evans — A Personal Conversation”, Zelnik will lead a trio celebrating Evans’ music, by playing signature Evans works as part of the Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon series at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts in Toms River, NJ. “We’ll perform several of Bill’s signature pieces,” he said, “such as ‘Waltz for Debby’, ‘The Touch of Your Lips’, ‘Emily’, and ‘You Must Remember Spring’. I’ll also add a piece or two of music I think he might have wanted to perform or record.”

Evans was born in Plainfield, NJ, and Zelnik was born in Elizabeth. At one time, they both lived in Closter. “I helped to establish a wall in our library called the Closter Wall of Fame,” Zelnik said, “where Bill is listed along with his photo and contributions.” Zelnik recalled one night when, prior to the performances at the Top of the Gate, Evans was playing some Rachmaninoff Preludes. “He then commenced to go into double time and transpose them into different keys!” In addition his genius, Zelnik pointed out, “He did have a great sense of humor!”

Zelnik will be joined in Toms River by bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and drummer David Cox.

The New Jersey Jazz Society is a proud supporter of the Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon series. The series is made possible, in part, by the support of the Wintrode Family Foundation. The Joel Zelnik Trio concert begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 2. The Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts is located on College Drive on the campus of Ocean County College. For information and tickets, log onto or call (732) 255-0500.



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