Jazz trio, church stepping up for Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund

  • The Bob Sparkman Trio — from left, Kara Noble, Jerry Noble, and Bob Sparkman — plays vintage jazz, blues and swing Dec. 13 in a benefit for the Gazette’s Toy Fund. Photo by Jon Crispin/courtesy Brit Albritton

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2020 4:06:13 PM

Brit Albritton has been arranging benefit choral concerts for the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund for a number of years now. And even with a pandemic, the choral singer has found a way to do it in 2020.

On Dec. 13 at 4 p.m., as part of an ongoing livestreamed music series at Northampton’s Unitarian Society (see sidebar, Page A5), which divides ticket revenues 50-50 between musicians and the society, the Bob Sparkman Trio will play a show to aid the Toy Fund, which distributes vouchers to needy families in the Valley for buying gifts for the holiday.

“It became pretty clear awhile back that we were not going to be able to do a choral concert this year,” said Albritton, a longtime member of the society’s choir who has also arranged a number of musical events at the Main Street church. “It’s just not safe to have singers together on a stage.”

Albritton produced a number of benefit concerts for the Toy Fund in the early-mid 2000s with the vocal group Hodie, than revived the show the last two years with some new and returning singers, including Arianne Abela, who first sang in the production as a Smith College student and in the past two years as the director of the Amherst College choral program.

But given the Unitarian Society was able to livestream concerts this year, “I wanted to do something for the Toy Fund,” Albritton said. “It’s a great program with a long history in the community. I reached out to [the Bob Sparkman Trio] to be part of this, and they were happy to do it. I think they’ll be a great fit.”

For over 20 years, the trio was actually a duo of Sparkman, a longtime clarinet player, and pianist Jerry Noble; the two have played a wide range of jazz, swing and blues in concerts around the area. Three years ago, though, Noble’s wife, Kara, joined the group on bass, and Albritton says they now “sound better than ever — Kara really fills in the bottom of the music.”

Jerry Noble, a multi-instrumentalist and composer who recently retired from Smith College after 34 years as their staff accompanist, says playing opportunities have been a lot more limited this year because of COVID-19. So the opportunity to do a gig to the help the Toy Fund, begun in 1933 to help families during the Great Depression, was welcome, he said.

“[The Toy Fund] has been around so long — it’s just part of the community and a really good cause,” Noble said.

The Toy Fund can also provide a welcome boost this year for the stores participating in it, Albritton noted, given the fragile state of the economy.

This will actually be the second appearance of the Bob Sparkman Trio at the Unitarian Society this year. They first played in summer to start the music series, and high humidity made playing conditions challenging. “We were the guinea pigs,” Noble said with a laugh. “Now we’ll get another crack at it.”

He said there might also be a little jazz-flavored holiday music on tap at the show: For starters, he knows a fast version of “Jingle Bells” made famous by the late stride pianist Dick Wellstood.

To watch the concert and to make a donation to the Toy Fund (and the musicians), visit livefromsanctuary.org.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury, and Leverett, or in Holyoke in Hampden County.

18 Degrees Family Services for Western Massachusetts, at 59 Interstate Drive in West Springfield, verifies families’ eligibility, while the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

The following stores are accepting the vouchers this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Blue Marble/Little Blue, 150 Main St., Level 1, Northampton: Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; High Five Books, 141 N. Main St., Florence; The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Once Upon A Child, 1458 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 W. Bay Road, Amherst; World Eye Bookshop & Magical Child Toy Store, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., 1584 Dwight St. No. 1, Holyoke.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA 01061, or made through gazettenet.com. Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

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Northampton, MA 01061


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