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A Gypsy Jazz Journey

Brian Torff looks back on collaborating with legends



Torff strums away on his bass, practicing some new music in his Fairfield University office.

Photo by Ryan Lavine

Perched on a shelf of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in Brian Torff’s office at Fairfield University and surrounded by an extensive collection of CDs and books are two photos. Together, they suggest that Torff is a good deal more than a longtime popular music educator at Fairfield, and a noted national authority on the Gypsy jazz of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, who influenced such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and BB King. Torff is also a jazz bassist himself who—in the course of the past four decades—has played some of the world’s largest stages with an array of important musicians, including the great jazz pianists Erroll Garner and George Shearing and celebrated bandleader Benny Goodman.

The first photo, from 1986, depicts Torff onstage at Carnegie Hall beside the pre-eminent jazz vocalist Frank Sinatra. It’s an encounter that, to this day, Torff remembers with a sense of happy astonishment. In the second image, a decidedly younger looking Torff—with shaggy dark hair and a well-kept beard, at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1977, is standing next to a musician who would have a profound effect on the trajectory of Torff’s career.

Though he was in the twilight of his career when the photo was taken, renowned French musician Stephane Grappelli had lost none of his virtuosity. Grappelli, a pioneering violinist in his own right, was also a major early artistic collaborator of Reinhardt, with whom he formed a band known as the Hot Club Quintet. He would function as the young Torff’s entree into the fascinating world of Reinhardt and Gypsy jazz.

“Django was so far ahead of his time as a guitarist. He was really the first to be able to play fluent solos, not just chords. Jazz guitar was usually a background instrument because it wasn’t loud enough, it couldn’t compete with drums and horns,” says Torff from his office in a recent interview. “Once you heard his recordings, you realized there’s a whole language that this guy is playing on guitar that no one had really heard before.”

On the road with Grappelli, Torff began to learn that complex language. “Django and Stephane are the first European jazz musicians to find their own voice. They took the American form and did their own thing with it,” Torff explains. “Now people are taking jazz all over the world. But they were really the first to say it’s not just American music, it’s a universal music.”

Torff’s involvement with Grappelli led to a lifelong fascination with Reinhardt. 

Beginning in 2002, Torff served as musical director of the Django Reinhardt New York Festival and played with the Django Reinhardt All Stars, a group that reinterpreted the fast fingerpicking and “hot swing” of the legend in a modern context. 

Torff credits his passion for music to his upbringing. During his childhood in the early 1960s in a Chicago suburb, his father, a lawyer, would play everything from opera to jazz to classical on their home stereo. As a teen, by which point he had dabbled with piano and guitar and had dedicated himself to bass, Torff became transfixed by rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Cream, as well as bands fusing rock and jazz, like Chicago and Weather Report, which opened Torff’s eyes to the freedom of playing jazz. “Jazz was like another world. It opened up all sorts of possibilities for me in music,” Torff says. Indeed it did. By the age of 20, Torff had played his first show at Carnegie Hall. Barely a year later, he was touring with Grappelli.

“There’s nothing like playing with the source. It’s one thing to play Muddy Waters’ tunes, but it’s not the same as playing with Muddy Waters,” Torff says of the early thrill of performing with Grappelli. “He was the first guy I worked with in the Django style. And who better to work with than the guy who was there, the guy who helped create it?”

Though Torff left the Django-festival directorship in 2015 to focus on other artistic projects, the influence of the “hot club style” associated with Reinhardt and Grappelli persists in his playing.


IN THE ARENA  Brian Torff spends his days in front of a Fairfield U classroom, and many nights jamming with top jazz musicians. 

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April 2017

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Sponsor: Silvermine Arts Center
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Cost: Free

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Cost: Free

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Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
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1 Museum Drive
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
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Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

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1 Museum Drive
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203 869 0376
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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40 Beech Street
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View map »


Sponsor: Clay Art Center
Telephone: 914-937-2047
Contact Name: Nancy Yates
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 22 through Tuesday, April 25 Wilton Library’s Annual Gigantic Book Sale Saturday, April 22: 7 – 9 a.m. Early Buyers with $15 admissions fee, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. free...

Cost: free

Where:
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137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 120-376-23950
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More information

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View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

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Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum and Culturespaces
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

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Cost: 0

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
View map »


Telephone: 914-937-2047
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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Cost: free

Where:
Silvermine Arts Center
1037 Silvermine Road
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View map »


Sponsor: Silvermine Arts Center
Website »

More information

“SPECTRUM 2017:  Grayscale”Carriage Barn Arts Center, home to the New Canaan Society for the Arts will host its 27th annual Spectrum Contemporary Art Show.  Spectrum is a...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carriage Barn Arts Center
681 South Avenue
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View map »


Sponsor: New Canaan Society for the Arts
Telephone: 120-397-21895
Contact Name: Hilary Wittmann
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
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Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Linda Christensen
Website »

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Sponsor: Fairfield County's Community Foundation
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Cost: Free

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Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

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Cost: $7 adult, $6 Senior/student, under 5 and member free

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1 Museum Drive
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

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Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
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1 Museum Drive
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203 869 0376
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
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View map »


Sponsor: Clay Art Center
Telephone: 914-937-2047
Contact Name: Nancy Yates
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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66 Elm Street
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View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

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Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum and Culturespaces
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

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Cost: 0

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Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
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View map »


Telephone: 914-937-2047
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

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Cost: free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Silvermine Arts Center
Website »

More information

“SPECTRUM 2017:  Grayscale”Carriage Barn Arts Center, home to the New Canaan Society for the Arts will host its 27th annual Spectrum Contemporary Art Show.  Spectrum is a...

Cost: FREE

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View map »


Sponsor: New Canaan Society for the Arts
Telephone: 120-397-21895
Contact Name: Hilary Wittmann
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

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Sponsor: Fleur De Lis
Telephone: 203-664-1673
Contact Name: Dottie DeLuca
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Cost: free

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 120-376-23950
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
SilverSource
2009 Summer Street
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View map »


Sponsor: SilverSource
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Linda Christensen
Website »

More information

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Where:
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Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
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Carvel®… America’s Freshest Ice Cream® is kicking off ice cream season by celebrating their annual Free Cone Day next Thursday, April 27, from 3-8 p.m. EST Guests who visit...

Cost: Free

Where:
Carvel Nationwide
, CT


Sponsor: Carvel®
Website »

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Be the front-runner on Thursday, April 27th by joining L’Armoire for the New Canaan Mounted Troop Derby Party between 5 - 7pm. L’Armoire owner Diane Roth, is encouraging...

Cost: Free

Where:
L'Armoire
102 Park Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Website »

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The Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP) announces the opening of Visions/Revisions on Saturday, April 8, 2017, with a reception from 3pm to 5pm. This exhibition features works by The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Center for Contemporary Printmaking
299 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Website »

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Art that represents music, tones paired with visions of grandeur, will be on exhibit at the Maritime Garage Gallery this spring. The exhibit, entitled “Chromatic,” features art that...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Last Days of Pangea: In the Footsteps of Dinosaurs November 19, 2016 - July 16, 2017 Image: Cast skull of Postosuchus, one of the largest carnivorous reptiles during the late Triassic, 200...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 Senior/student, under 5 and member free

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Canvas and Cast: Highlights from the Bruce Museum’s Art Collection February 11 – June 11, 2017 On February 11, 2017, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, opens its newest...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203 869 0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard   Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, CT  10573
View map »


Sponsor: Clay Art Center
Telephone: 914-937-2047
Contact Name: Nancy Yates
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to announce Matters at Hand, a mixed-media exhibition of works by Sarah Amos, Pegan Brooke, Beth Dary, Jessica Drenk, Valeria Nascimento and Cheryl Ann...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899): Impressionist Master at the Bruce Museum from January 21, 2017 - May 21, 2017 The Bruce Museum and the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence,...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum and Culturespaces
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the last 60...

Cost: 0

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
View map »


Telephone: 914-937-2047
Website »

More information

Explore the earliest history of Pequot Library, the opening of its doors in 1894 as a public library, "free as air to all," and the founding efforts of Virginia Marquand Monroe and Elbert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

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Silvermine Arts Center is pleased to present Highlight: New Canaan.  This exhibition is guest-curated by Paul Efstathiou, a second-generation art dealer and recent Southport resident, and...

Cost: free

Where:
Silvermine Arts Center
1037 Silvermine Road
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Silvermine Arts Center
Website »

More information

“SPECTRUM 2017:  Grayscale”Carriage Barn Arts Center, home to the New Canaan Society for the Arts will host its 27th annual Spectrum Contemporary Art Show.  Spectrum is a...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carriage Barn Arts Center
681 South Avenue
Waveny Park
New Canaan, CT
View map »


Sponsor: New Canaan Society for the Arts
Telephone: 120-397-21895
Contact Name: Hilary Wittmann
Website »

More information

Fleur De Lis Antiques and Design is having a Huge Spring Tent Sale Thursday April 27th-Saturday April 29th from 11-5pm. Did you know we were right in your own back yard? We are tucked away...

Cost: free

Where:
Fleur De Lis Antiques and Design
4 Long Ridge
Redding , CT  06896-1111
View map »


Sponsor: Fleur De Lis
Telephone: 203-664-1673
Contact Name: Dottie DeLuca
Website »

More information

SilverSource – a leader in advocating for the needs of older adults and their families– announced today that it is now accepting nominations for the 2017 SilverSource Awards.  The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
SilverSource
2009 Summer Street
Stamford, CT  06905
View map »


Sponsor: SilverSource
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Linda Christensen
Website »

More information

The Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP) announces the opening of Visions/Revisions on Saturday, April 8, 2017, with a reception from 3pm to 5pm. This exhibition features works by The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Center for Contemporary Printmaking
299 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

Art that represents music, tones paired with visions of grandeur, will be on exhibit at the Maritime Garage Gallery this spring. The exhibit, entitled “Chromatic,” features art that...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Last Days of Pangea: In the Footsteps of Dinosaurs November 19, 2016 - July 16, 2017 Image: Cast skull of Postosuchus, one of the largest carnivorous reptiles during the late Triassic, 200...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 Senior/student, under 5 and member free

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Canvas and Cast: Highlights from the Bruce Museum’s Art Collection February 11 – June 11, 2017 On February 11, 2017, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, opens its newest...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203 869 0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard   Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, CT  10573
View map »


Sponsor: Clay Art Center
Telephone: 914-937-2047
Contact Name: Nancy Yates
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to announce Matters at Hand, a mixed-media exhibition of works by Sarah Amos, Pegan Brooke, Beth Dary, Jessica Drenk, Valeria Nascimento and Cheryl Ann...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899): Impressionist Master at the Bruce Museum from January 21, 2017 - May 21, 2017 The Bruce Museum and the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence,...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum and Culturespaces
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the last 60...

Cost: 0

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
View map »


Telephone: 914-937-2047
Website »

More information

Explore the earliest history of Pequot Library, the opening of its doors in 1894 as a public library, "free as air to all," and the founding efforts of Virginia Marquand Monroe and Elbert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Silvermine Arts Center is pleased to present Highlight: New Canaan.  This exhibition is guest-curated by Paul Efstathiou, a second-generation art dealer and recent Southport resident, and...

Cost: free

Where:
Silvermine Arts Center
1037 Silvermine Road
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Silvermine Arts Center
Website »

More information

“SPECTRUM 2017:  Grayscale”Carriage Barn Arts Center, home to the New Canaan Society for the Arts will host its 27th annual Spectrum Contemporary Art Show.  Spectrum is a...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carriage Barn Arts Center
681 South Avenue
Waveny Park
New Canaan, CT
View map »


Sponsor: New Canaan Society for the Arts
Telephone: 120-397-21895
Contact Name: Hilary Wittmann
Website »

More information

Celebrate spring and opening day at Hollister House Garden. The early garden is gentle with only a hint of the exuberance to come later in the season. Come join us as we welcome a new season in...

Cost: $5

Where:
Hollister House Garden
300 Nettleton Hollow Road
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Hollister House Garden
Telephone: 860-868-2200
Contact Name: Pamela Moffett
Website »

More information

Fleur De Lis Antiques and Design is having a Huge Spring Tent Sale Thursday April 27th-Saturday April 29th from 11-5pm. Did you know we were right in your own back yard? We are tucked away...

Cost: free

Where:
Fleur De Lis Antiques and Design
4 Long Ridge
Redding , CT  06896-1111
View map »


Sponsor: Fleur De Lis
Telephone: 203-664-1673
Contact Name: Dottie DeLuca
Website »

More information

SilverSource – a leader in advocating for the needs of older adults and their families– announced today that it is now accepting nominations for the 2017 SilverSource Awards.  The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
SilverSource
2009 Summer Street
Stamford, CT  06905
View map »


Sponsor: SilverSource
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Linda Christensen
Website »

More information

Pequot Library in partnership with Music for Youth present Jim Royle and Brian Ente , percussion April 29th,  2 pm at Pequot Library.   Join  us for the next MFY Free Young...

Cost: Free (kids aged 12 & under)

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06901
View map »


Website »

More information

Contra Dance with George Wilson and Dave Kaynor with their Capital District Mega Band! For all ages and abilities – come celebrate SPRING by “springing around” with your friends...

Cost: $5-$10 individual and $10-$15 adults

Where:
Mettabee Farm
551 Harlemville Rd.
Hillsdale, NY  12529
View map »


Website »

More information

New Pond Farm (101 Marchant Rd., West Redding) is hosting an astronomy program that is open to the public on Saturday April 29th starting at 8:30 p.m. In celebration of International Astronomy Day...

Cost: $4 per New Pond Farm member, with a maximum of $16 per family, and $6 per non-me

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
View map »


Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

More information

The Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP) announces the opening of Visions/Revisions on Saturday, April 8, 2017, with a reception from 3pm to 5pm. This exhibition features works by The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Center for Contemporary Printmaking
299 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

Last Days of Pangea: In the Footsteps of Dinosaurs November 19, 2016 - July 16, 2017 Image: Cast skull of Postosuchus, one of the largest carnivorous reptiles during the late Triassic, 200...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 Senior/student, under 5 and member free

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Canvas and Cast: Highlights from the Bruce Museum’s Art Collection February 11 – June 11, 2017 On February 11, 2017, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, opens its newest...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06878
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203 869 0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard   Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, CT  10573
View map »


Sponsor: Clay Art Center
Telephone: 914-937-2047
Contact Name: Nancy Yates
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to announce Matters at Hand, a mixed-media exhibition of works by Sarah Amos, Pegan Brooke, Beth Dary, Jessica Drenk, Valeria Nascimento and Cheryl Ann...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899): Impressionist Master at the Bruce Museum from January 21, 2017 - May 21, 2017 The Bruce Museum and the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence,...

Cost: $7 adult, $6 student, member and under 5 free. Free to all on Tuesdays

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum and Culturespaces
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

Clay Art Center is pleased to present REVISIT: The Boneyard Featuring works by 40 internationally acclaimed ceramic artists who have taught workshops at Clay Art Center over the last 60...

Cost: 0

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
View map »


Telephone: 914-937-2047
Website »

More information

Explore the earliest history of Pequot Library, the opening of its doors in 1894 as a public library, "free as air to all," and the founding efforts of Virginia Marquand Monroe and Elbert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Show More...
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