Dr. Sussman has an abiding passion for jazz.
Steven Sussman, a prominent West Hartford physician, helps keep jazz alive by bringing world-class performers to town to play in posh living room concert settings most jazz fans can only dream about. Just a few years ago, Sussman, a friendly, 47-year-old physician, who's known affectionately to his patients as "Jazz Doctor," leaped from his pleasant, passive role as devout fan and voracious CD collector to become a concert producer. But Sussman, who's altruistic, is the absolute antithesis and even the antidote to the stereotyped image of the wheeler-dealer impresario out to make a quick buck with music with a beat.
An idealistic prophet-seeker rather than a greedy profit-maker, Sussman in 1998 began organizing some of the state's classiest concerts as fund-raisers for his pet project, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. And for a good and noble reason.
Sussman's daughter Rachel, 18, a freshman at Wesleyan University who plans to go on to medical school, has juvenile diabetes. The entire Sussman family, Steven, his wife, Nancy, and daughters Rachel and Sara, 19, a sophomore at the University of Rochester, have long pulled together in support of research for juvenile diabetes.
A tightly knit family, the Sussmans have done everything from pitching in at fund-raisers to marching in the annual Walk to Cure Diabetes. Nancy, who's an assistant attorney general, serving under Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, has served as president of the Greater Hartford/Western Massachusetts Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and continues in an advisory capacity.
With his abiding passion for jazz and fervent support for the Juvenile Diabetes Fund, using jazz as a fund-raising tool was a natural step for the Jazz Doctor. With moral support from his wife, who has little love for jazz, Sussman has single-handedly presented a stunning series of yearly benefit concerts. And he's handled every phase of the production process from lining up acts, to promotion, to setting up tables and chairs. Sussman's soirees aren't merely concerts. They are intimate, celebratory, communal events, which serve a worthy humanitarian cause.
For $125, you get to sit only a few feet from the performers. There is no distracting chatter. Everybody comes to listen, not just to be seen and heard. And you'll be well fed with a catered dinner, including a selection of wine, beer, coffee and dessert, all donated to the cause by friends of the benefit series. As a bonus, you get to nosh and schmooze one-on-one with the musicians between sets. In this cozy, domestic ambiance, performers are not the least bit fan-phobic.
Since the crowd is small—maybe 125 to 150—you feel a genuine camaraderie in the room. It's the sort of warm, human connection you rarely experience in a concert hall. "You don't even have to like jazz to enjoy the evening's ambiance," Sussman suggests. "And Shirley Horn performs at the Indium jazz Club in New York City.
$125 is tax deductible," he adds Thanks to his concert series' unique qualities, Sussman has contributed a significant, highly original element to West Hartford's flourishing jazz community. Nationally, West Hartford is renowned as a first-rate training ground for jazz excellence. Hall High School's prestigious program, to cite just one highly prized local jazz asset, wins more often in national competition than the New York Yankees. Cadres of talented young West Hartford graduates have gone on to college and then out into the real world, achieving success even in the rough-and-tumble competition of the Big Apple and beyond. Most famously, Brad Mehldau, a Hall High School alumnus (Class of 1988), Grammy nominee and jazz superstar, has been hailed as the jazz pianist of his generation.