On a crisp fall evening, there’s music in the air at Gateways Inn in downtown Lenox.
It’s been a while since the landmark inn hosted piano-based entertainment in its comfortable lounge. Starting this month and running through spring, new owner Mill Town Capital, in association with Berkshires Jazz, is presenting top area jazz ensembles three nights a week, with month-long residencies — all free with no cover charge — and ticketed concerts by acclaimed visiting artists.
Gateways’ jazz series is curated by bass player, band leader and educator Andy Wrba, who for 10 years has presented Monday night jazz at Pittsfield’s Mission Bar. Performing weekly with a rotating lineup of area and New York-based musicians, Wrba has assembled a roster of some 180 performers that he can draw from for Gateways Inn.
“The previous owners were dedicated to live music and jazz,” Wrba said during an interview by phone. “Now, under new management, we’re ramping up our programming. We’re excited for what is to come.
“The idea of monthly residencies came up, and we’re thrilled to have Kris Allen and his trio performing on Thursdays, and Armen Donelian on Fridays with a different lineup each time. Saturdays are rotating, we have a great list of folk [including] Samirah Evans.
“Armen [Donelian] has been around for a long time. He’s a master of piano, and has an amazing touch, beautiful sound, great song selections. He plays straight ahead jazz tunes, blues, Armenian-inspired music. He’ll be there with a few different lineups during the month, there’s a lot of different influences that everyone brings to the table.”
He added, “Kris [Allen] is an alto saxophone player and director of the jazz program at Williams College. He’s just a beautiful player. Technically he’s so on point, so sharp, he’s a master improviser and plays with so much soul. He’s a joy to play with and listen to.
“Samirah [Evans] does a really fun mix of classic jazz tunes, R&B, a little back-beat funk. She can do it all.”
With café tables throughout the lounge, plus overflow seating in the lobby and bar area, guests can also enjoy an inventive bar menu curated by executive chef Jeremy Berlin.
“Musicians really love this room,” Wrba added, “it sounds great and there’s a beautiful piano.”
The highlight of the month is an Oct. 24 concert with the Ted Rosenthal Trio.
“Ted is a fabulous pianist from New York City, he’s a world class player that [performs] all over the globe,”Wrba said. “He recently bought a home in the Berkshires and has been eager to get infused with the Berkshire jazz scene. He’s really jumping right in. He’s hoping to bring musicians up from New York and we’re planning a holiday concert.”
Rosenthal will perform his unique interpretations of George Gershwin compositions with longtime drummer Tim Horner and bassist Jay Anderson.
“I’m excited that [Gateways Inn] is starting a series with more of a concert feel to it,” Rosenthal said, reached by phone in Cuzamel, Mexico, during a jazz cruise, fresh from swimming with dolphins. “I played [there] as part of the Lenox Jazz Stroll.”
Rosenthal added, “We’re doing two full sets, concert style.”
The program is based on his CD “Rhapsody in Gershwin,” which features his arrangements of well-known tunes including “Strike Up the Band,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
The centerpiece is Rosenthal’s take on Gershwin’s 1924 theme “Rhapsody in Blue.”
“I’ve played it in all its forms,” he said, “solo piano [to] the original version with a 20-piece jazz band.”
When approached to do a jazz trio version, Rosenthal wanted room for improvisation, “one of the things I have to offer,” he said. So he cut back on the written part to keep the length close to the original. “I hit all the main themes and structure, but opened it up for improvisation from all of us.”
“People appreciate when you’re adding something,” he said, “it’s a little surprising, a little new.”
So many aspects of Gershwin’s style are related to jazz, Rosenthal added. “The rhythmic vitality and harmonic complexity suits jazz treatments very well. My jazz style has drawn on classical music and written notes, it’s part of what I do. And Gershwin fits the bill very nicely.”
In December, Rosenthal will perform a Gateways Inn concert highlighting his CD of holiday music arrangements, “Wonderland.”
“I’m going to bring up the trio, and Karrin Allyson, a wonderful [Grammy-nominated international] vocalist from Northampton is planning on joining us,” he said.
Over the years, in addition to Gateways, Rosenthal has performed for Berkshires Jazz, at Mission, and at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, where he will present his opera “Dear Erich” in concert in 2022.
Wrba said he has great plans for the Gateways jazz series — including his own group, which has played the venue a few times.
“We’ll sneak ourselves in there every now and then,” he said. “We’re improvising and creating the moment, and also responding to the people in the room. That’s the spirit of jazz.”