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Rome Neal's Banana Puddin' Jazz celebrates 10 years

KEITH "THE CAPTAIN" GAMBLE Special to the AmNews | 6/20/2013, 12:39 p.m.

Ahoy mates! This is the Captain speaking!

On April 7, 2003, a young man embarked on a mission to present the arts of music and theater to the New York-tristate masses. Award-winning actor-director-jazz producer-vocalist Rome Neal, while visiting many jazz clubs in order to research and develop his Thelonious Monk character in Laurence Holder's one-man play "Monk," found himself becoming enthralled with the musicianship and environment.

This revelation instilled in him a desire to bring that same energy of the jazz jams of 1940s and 1950s--which still exists in some clubs in Harlem today--downtown to his artistic home, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. This world-renowned venue, located in Greenwich Village, made famous by such vaunted poets as Miguel Pinero, Bimbo Rivas and Ntozake Shange, continues its cutting-edge, groundbreaking artistic expressions through the music of jazz through the vision of Neal.

Personalizing the jazz jam with his signature confection, banana pudding, Neal created a concept of serving up a great culinary dish and simultaneously serving the arts communities by exposing new talent live on stage. For the last 10 years, Neal has presented and produced over 120 shows, including 500 artists and performers.

Last Saturday night, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe helped to celebrate Neal's Banana Puddin' Jazz. This gala affair also served as a fundraiser to carry on the work and operations of future productions. Over the last 10 years, Neal has been extremely proud of his programming, paying tributes to living legends like Danny Mixon, Bob Cunningham, Bill Lee (Spike's dad), Katsuya Abe, Andy McCloud III and even yours truly. Neal also made it a priority to illuminate the talents of all the community: Japanese jazz artists, women in jazz, the young and the jazzy, as well as LGBT greats, for which he received two Fresh Fruit Awards for producing jazz.

Neal also acknowledged his many sponsors, including Cobi Narita, who has supported jazz music and the arts for more than 40 years. Among the jazz and theatrical luminaries who spoke praises and anecdotes about the life, loves and times of the AUDELCO award-winning impresario were included former Assistant Attorney General-turned jazz impresario Jack Kleinsinger (who has presented 41 years of "Highlights in Jazz"); legendary Broadway conductor and jazz pianist Frank Owens; Kim Weston Moran, daughter of jazz great pianist Randy Weston, who recalled Neal directing her in the seven-AUDELCO-Award-winning play "Don't Explain"; and rising newcomer song-stylist Jazzmeia Horn. They all received Neal's Shakere Award, showing his appreciation to those artists who he symbiotically supported.

Those who performed live at the fete included bassist Hillard Greene and drummer Clay Herndon, jazz pianists Sullivan Fortner, Mfengu, and Mamiko Watanabe, along with Frank Owens, jazz guitarists Darryle Pooser and Marvin Horn, saxophonists Patience Higgins and Gene Ghee and, yes, Keith "The Captain" Gamble on vocals and harmonica.

Neal is a true champion of the arts--and he's even the father of Olympic Bronze-medalist swimmer Lia Neal. We can champion and continue his artistic vision to, in Neal's words, "re-invent Banana Puddin' Jazz ... and expand our reach on a global level ... keep the thing moving!"

To lend your most appreciated support to this great artist's cultural vehicle, visit. www.romeneal.com.