Meet Ari (ImpressARIo) Silverstein

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Sometimes the best moments come from mistakes. That realness seems to be missing from studio albums​. I rarely buy ​music unless it's a live set. I think people try to make recordings too perfect. It's jazz!
Some people are jazz aficionados. Then there's Ari Silverstein. Hooked from the moment he saw the light of jazz, was he content merely to listen? Not Impress-Ari-o! Once he was in, he was in all the way, from organizing concerts to getting his New York tour guide license in order to start shepherding tourists to his favorite New York city night spots. Read on to find how how Ari turned his love of music and musicians into a part-time professional calling.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm originally from Forest Hills, Queens. I actually live in the apartment where I grew up. I'm passionate about the community I live in. I'm sort of a local mayor. I originally worked in fashion. Then I started my real estate career about 11 years ago, which affords me the ability to support my jazz habit and music endeavors. Almost two years ago I got a New York City guide license and started offering a variety of live music tours around Manhattan with my own tour company, NYCJazzTour.com. Some of my passions outside of music include train travel, food, and following the sun (wink to my friend Michelle Walker, who wrote a song called "Follow the Sun").

How did you turn your love of jazz into a business?
In college I was elected to various student government offices and served on a number of committees. Through those relationships I started a faculty speakers series at the college, and started booking concerts with various musicians, including Sheila Jordan, Cameron Brown, and Mark Murphy. After college, I booked a jazz/cabaret series called High Standards: The Legacy of The Great American Songbook at the Burchfield Penney Art Gallery in Buffalo. In New York City, I produced and emceed three seasons of music at the downtown club, Pangea, as well as the Life Celebration for legendary vocalist Mark Murphy. That's how I got my nickname impress-Ari-o (Ed note: coined by Tessa Souter).

How old were you when you got your first record, and what was it?
I think it was Alvin and the Chipmunks, and it was a 45 played on a kid's record player with a built-in speaker. I also remember wearing out a 45 of Michael Jackson's "Bad" on that same purple record player.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
When I was growing up, my mother took me to many of the pop acts of the day, like Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and Barry White. The first one that really made an impression was Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out of the Dark" concert at Madison Square Garden. I was 10, and this was her comeback after her devastating bus accident. It seemed like the whole arena had their lighters ignited on that song, and I'll never forget that incredible moment; so many emotions were there: sadness, happiness, perseverance. It was quite something.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
Probably the most significant experience was taking a Jazz and Rock Foundations course at Buffalo State College, taught by my now life mentor and great friend, Professor Chuck Mancuso, who offered a multi-media approach to teaching the subject matter. He used three large screens displaying his collection of over 100,000 slides, audio recordings, and video, in addition to occasional live performances. Mark Murphy was a frequent guest and co-teacher, and back in 2000, he told Professor Mancuso: "If you don't donate these slides to the Smithsonian, I'm going to kill you; no, I'm going to come back from the dead and haunt you!" People come from around the world come to audit his courses, and he welcomes them with open arms.

An advisor had warned me that the class was challenging, but if I applied myself, I would get a lot out of it. Well, she was right, it sure was difficult. But I was rewarded with this great music. That class saved my life! We got to Chapter 10 of the course, "Creme de la Creme: Cabaret," and the first thing I heard was Mabel Mercer. I was blown away. I thought, "Whatever that was, I need it in my life!" A little later on he played Blossom Dearie—again, instant love. On my breaks from college I would go back to Manhattan and try to look up as many of the artists as I could. Keep in mind I was a broke student, and cabaret and jazz clubs aren't inexpensive. Many of the artists had such generous hearts they would comp my admission and allow me to see their shows. In return I would interview them and write about what I saw and report back to Professor Mancuso. One in particular stands out in my mind: Steve Ross in his "My Manhattan" show at the Stanhope. Anyone who sees me at their gig really has Professor Mancuso to thank.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
About 19 years now.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
As much as possible; usually four to five nights a week, multiple gigs per night.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
The experience of being there, being in the moment, seeing the artists interacting with their instruments and their audiences, the audiences responding. It's also the vulnerability of the artists. They are putting themselves out there on stage in front of people. It's really an emotional experience. Sometimes the best moments come from mistakes. That realness seems to be missing with studio albums. I rarely buy music unless it's a live set. I think people try to make recordings too perfect. It's jazz!

What are the elements of an amazing jazz concert?
The emotional ride that the artists take you on. Really, to hook you in, make you feel good, sad, bring you back to that high again. To me, the instrumentalist who really does this better than anyone is Dr. Lonnie Smith. Among vocalists, it's Freddy Cole.

What is the most trouble you've gone to getting to a jazz performance?
Well, blizzards! I like snow, though. I used to chase Mark Murphy everywhere—Toronto, Montreal, Miami—to see him perform in different venues. It was just awe-inspiring to be in front of such artistry.

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?
There are a few. Shirley Horn, Nina Simone, and Carmen McRae.


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