Most Saturdays, 3:30PM - 7:30PM
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[Updated Dec 2021] If you find yourself at a top NYC jazz club (say the Vanguard or Birdland), sidle up to the musicians during a break and mention that you’re from Trenton. More often than not, one of the performers (maybe not the headliner, but one of the sidemen) will say something like, “You go to the Candlelight? I love that place!”
Trenton is strategically located between two of the top jazz centers in the US: New York and Philly. Larry Hilton, who books the Jazz Masters series, takes advantage of this fact by booking acts on Saturday afternoons. Performers can pick up a few extra bucks in Trenton, and still make their regular Saturday gig in the big city. It’s not going to be a headliner, but likely one of the sidemen, who gets to stretch out a bit in Trenton as the leader of an extended jam session with the Candlelight’s “house band”.
The result is an amazing series of jazz performances at an amazing price: a $20 cover (which gets you dinner) and only a $10 drink minimum (which buys you TWO beers). You could see some of the same folks in Philly, or NYC, and drop $150 easy (before food). Check out this video created by our friends at Roebling Lofts:
It’s a friendly, knowledgeable crowd, with a LOT of regulars. Mostly people in advanced middle age, but often a sprinkling Gen X and Gen Y hipsters as well. As one musician told me, “I love playing the Candlelight, because it’s one of the few clubs where people seriously listen to the music. And when I make a mistake, they know it!” And the players are good, if not necessarily famous. For example, the alto player in the video, a guy named Joe Ford, has serious “cred”: he studied with Jackie McLean, and performs as a sideman in 7 recordings with McCoy Tyner. It’s the real deal.
Generally the serious music listeners bunch up front, near the “stage”. The gabbers in back. It’s a very intimate space, and you can easily talk to the performers during their breaks. Music is usually “straight ahead” jazz: hard bop or post bop. Mostly instrumental, though you’ll sometimes get a jazz or blues singer.
The performances are subsidized by the Lounge (the owner, EC Bradley is an avid alto player), and by a loose confederation of contributors organized by Larry Hilton called the Trenton Jazz Disciples. If you find yourself going to the Candlelight often, you should consider making a contribution.
The first set starts pretty promptly at 3:30, and appetizers are served during the first break, usually around 4:30. Dinner gets served after the second set, usually around 6, and the music stops at 7:30. The food isn’t “great” but it’s better than edible.