Zest

An event as spontaneous as the music
Jazz Week to feature
the Woody Herman and
Cab Calloway orchestras

BY GLORIA STRAVELLI
Staff Writer

Zest An event as spontaneous as the music Jazz Week to feature the Woody Herman and Cab Calloway orchestras BY GLORIA STRAVELLI Staff Writer

An event as spontaneous as the music
Jazz Week to feature
the Woody Herman and
Cab Calloway orchestras
BY GLORIA STRAVELLI
Staff Writer


Calloway BrooksCalloway Brooks

The musicians weren’t the only ones improvising during 30 years of jazz concerts sponsored by the Monmouth County Library System.

A wrong turn on the highway, or a forgotten piece of equipment meant that Jack Livingstone would have to improvise a solution to continue presenting the jazz concerts he founded at the library’s Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury.

"We were doing a tribute to Duke Ellington and the band came without music stands. I couldn’t believe it," recalled Livingstone, then director of the library system.

"It was a Sunday afternoon and 1,000 people are sitting there and I’ve got the orchestra there with no music stands. I was mad as the dickens, but that wasn’t going to get me any music stands."


Kenny Davern TrioKenny Davern Trio

Scrambling to come up with the stands, the Ocean Grove resident had musician friends in the audience who quickly located stands and left to pick them up while Livingstone tapped the audience for an interim act.

"While we were waiting for them, I had Sir Roland Hannah, a great piano player, come up with a trio and start playing," Livingstone recounted. "He was almost better than the orchestra."

Another Jazz Week and a wrong turn had Livingstone enlisting local talent.

"It was pouring rain that night and again we had a packed house at the branch," he recalled. "We had the great Jimmy Witherspoon. The blues singer had flown in from California and Lester Myrl the drummer, was there. They were supposed to start at 8 p.m. but there was no piano player or bass player. They called at 8:20 p.m. and said they made a wrong turn and they were on Route 80 heading for the Poconos."

Livingstone reached out for local stand-ins and came up with one of the best.

"I called a couple of bars and couldn’t find anyone then somebody said, ‘How about Tal Farlow?’" he said.

The legendary jazz guitarist lived in Sea Bright.

"We called and he came over and I announced he would be playing."

Still one musician short, Livingstone skipped the niceties and drafted Eddie Bonnemere, a jazz pianist whose trio was scheduled to perform.

"Fortunately Eddie showed up early," he said, "It was raining and he was dripping wet. I pulled his coat off and I said, ‘Get up on that stand and play a Duke Ellington medley.’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I shoved him up there."

The fact that an evaluator from the National Endow-ment for the Arts was sitting in the front row made the frantic last-minute scrambling seem like a Marx Brothers script.

"There’s a million of them," Livingstone said about the anecdotes connected to his 30 years of jazz programming at the library. "Those were two of the funniest."

The long-running series highlighted every November by Jazz Week has been moved to library headquarters on Symmes Drive in Manalapan this year due to renovations scheduled at the Eastern Branch.

But attendance is expected to remain high for the 30th Jazz Week Nov. 18-23.

"We have people come from all over the county to the series which is free," Livingstone said last week. "We expect 800-1000 people on the weekend for the Cab Calloway and Woody Herman orchestras."

This year, Jazz Week will include a program on jazz films presented by Bob Rickles Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m., a jazz poetry reading by Charlie Mosler Nov. 19, 7:30-8:30 p.m., and performances by the Harry Allen Quartet, Nov. 20 7:30-9:30 p.m., the Mike Longo Trio Nov. 21, 8-10 p.m., the Cab Calloway Orchestra, Nov. 22, 8-10 p.m., and the Woody Herman Orchestra, Nov. 23, 2-4 p.m.

The idea to do free jazz programming at the library came from a conversation Livingstone had in 1973 with a jazz musician who couldn’t afford a place to play and was looking for a venue.

"Out of the blue I said, ‘You can use the library; we’re closed on Sunday," he said.

Livingstone borrowed risers for the band from a high school and enlisted his sons to rearrange the main reading room at the Eastern Branch for the concert.

"They helped me take books off the shelves by the hundreds. We emptied the shelves and moved them and put chairs in auditorium fashion," he said. "It was back-breaking work."

The work paid off.

"I didn’t have any musicians there that anybody had ever heard of and the place was packed with people," Livingstone said.

A second chance encounter made the program into a series.

"I bumped into jazz clarinetist Kenny Davern from Manasquan; he’s one of the best in the country, and he said he would play the library.

"He brought in a quartet of jazz musicians, people I had bought records of for years. They packed the place and we were off and running."

Once the series, which has continued monthly at the Eastern Branch since, was on a solid footing, Livingstone instituted Jazz Week.

"I came up with the idea for a different program every night of the week," he said. "That’s what we started and Jazz Week highlights the jazz concert series."

Jazz has been a lifelong passion, admits Livingstone, who retired several years ago as New Jersey state librarian.

"I’ve loved jazz from the time I was a kid in Philadelphia," he confided "I can remember as a 10-year-old trading with a friend for a Louis Armstrong record, it was a 78 rpm and I wanted that record in the worst way. I traded a Glen Miller to get it."

The Ocean Grove resident admits he didn’t anticipate the music scene that would develop at the library — he was just trying to make the library more accessible.

"We expanded right away into classical concerts and other things. I had no idea what I was walking into," he acknowledged. "I was using it as a way to build enthusiasm for the library because people usually come to the library by themselves."

"It’s a solitary activity and they may or may not speak to anybody in the library. There is no ‘Little League’ enthusiasm," he noted. "You build that with something like this — crowds of people coming in who get to know each other. Now they come in groups and I kid around with them. It’s like somebody coming into my living room."

Livingstone likes to mix it up with the series’ programming and for several years Jazz Week has featured a program of jazz video presented by Rickles.

"I’m a fervent jazz collector with a collection that includes some 5,000-6,000 jazz CDs and a few hundred jazz videos of concerts, historical footage, movies," explained Rickles, a Marlboro resident. "Most are unobtainable in this country. I trade with collectors all over the world."

This year’s program on Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter will include rare footage of performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

"She was a wonderful pianist who has been unrecognized," said Rickles who heard Williams play at Town Hall in New York in 1947.

Born in 1910, Williams was black and one of the few women who played piano with an orchestra.

The other half of Rickles’ program will be devoted to Benny Carter, who died in June at the age of 95. Carter, who played alto sax and trumpet, was a musician, arranger, composer who founded Benny Carter and his Orchestra, and, according to Rickles, was probably the first black hired by Hollywood studios to write, arrange and perform for movie scores.

"What I’ve learned is that music and poetry are a lot closer than people know," explained Mosler, a performing poet who first read at Jazz Week in 1989.

"You’ve got a sound in your head, so does a musician. In poetry and music you have rhythm, spacing, you have words, you have phrasing, you have all of these factors going on," said Mosler, who has been putting poetry and music together since the early 1970s. "You’ve got to get the sound in your head on paper. You’ve got to get it out of your system.

The program of poetry and jazz will feature the Nancy and Spencer Reed Duo, vocals, electric bass and guitar, plus poet Rick Kearns.

"Working with music and phrasing and timing are my game," said Mosler, who has read locally at Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation events as well as at the Poets Wednesday series at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge. 

"I’ve learned so much about performing poetry from listening to jazz and blues. The thing that I really love is getting up there with the musicians and saying I want this tune, I want this at this tempo, and we work it out."have rhythm, spacing, you have words, you have phrasing, you have all of these factors going on," said Mosler, who has been putting poetry and music together since the early 1970s. "You’ve got to get the sound in your head on paper. You’ve got to get it out of your system.

The program of poetry and jazz will feature the Nancy and Spencer Reed Duo, vocals, electric bass and guitar, plus poet Rick Kearns.

"Working with music and phrasing and timing are my game," said Mosler, who has read locally at Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation events as well as at the Poets Wednesday series at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge. 

"I’ve learned so much about performing poetry from listening to jazz and blues. The thing that I really love is getting up there with the musicians and saying I want this tune, I want this at this tempo, and we work it out."